Filmed lecture: Civilkurage i en värld av hat

Available for viewing or download on UR Play.


Now in paperback: 101 historiska hjältar

Available as a pocket paperback from these sellers.


Whistleblower: My interview with Edward Snowden

The interview can be watched on YouTube.


TEDx talk: Courage can be almost as contagious as fear

Here is my 15-minute talk at a TEDx event in Göteborg.


New book: 101 historiska hjältar

101 historiska hjaltar

Ola Larsmo and I have written 101 portraits of heroic individuals — 101 historiska hjältar.  Details at Historiska media, including sample chapters here and here and here.  The book is available in hardcover and now also in softcover from bookstores and these web shops.

Here is UNT’s book review.  Aftonbladet (Oct. 19) wrote: “En inspirerande bok med en gemensam nämnare: Alla dessa hjältemodiga människor har en förmåga till inlevelse, vilket präglar deras livshållning.”


Past interviews

Here is Upsala Nya Tidning’s interview with me as well as Svenska Dagbladet’s piece on the Raoul Wallenberg Calendar and Uppsala Fria Tidningen’s article on the calendar and the show.  In English, there is an interview in The Local.  Ordfront #2/2013 (April) has an interview with me about civic courage.


Multimedia lecture:  Courage That Changes the World

Sophie Scholl left her classes to secretly distribute pamphlets against Adolf Hitler; eleven-year-old Malala Yousafzai lived amidst the Taliban while blogging about their brutality. Anthropologist Brian Palmer is haunted by such individuals who risk everything for a more humane society. He gathers wisdom from heroic lives and applies it to everyday questions of surviving as an idealist in an unforgiving world. What can our bravest contemporaries and fallen friends teach us about how to live?


Calendar now available

Raoul Wallenberg Calendar

The 2013 Raoul Wallenberg Calendar — with 365 portraits of civic courage — is available in Swedish for 39 kr.  There are also English and South Korean editions, and a four-language wall calendar, pictured here.  Thank you to friends who contributed ideas about whom to portray in the calendar.


New show:  Secret Conspiracy of Hope

Musician/performer Ida Lod and I have created a show about civic courage called ”Secret Conspiracy of Hope.” We use words and song to bring to life our bravest contemporaries and fallen friends, whose acts of courage touch the mystery of existence.

The show weaves together stories of seven remarkable individuals (including Anastasia Baburova, Anna Politkovskaya and Maximilian Kolbe) with powerful songs — as well as reflections that draw on Simone Weil, William James, a Buddhist nun and others.

The show is available in English or Swedish.  It runs one hour without an intermission; shorter versions are possible.  Ida Lod and I can lead discussions or workshops immediately following a performance.

The first performance was at Uppsala’s Regina Theater.  Here are related articles from Upsala Nya Tidning, Svenska Dagbladet, Uppsala Fria Tidningen, and The Local.  The show is based on the Raoul Wallenberg Calendar (details below).


Raoul Wallenberg Calendar

In memory of Raoul Wallenberg, Forum för Levande Historia commissioned me to create a calendar about civic courage. I had made memorial calendars twice before: as a college student I put on my wall the names of fallen champions of justice and peace; and since then I have gathered material so that I can begin my lectures with the life stories of individuals who did something beautiful and brave on a particular date: ”It was on this day in 1943 that Sophie Scholl set out to distribute her last leaflet against the Nazis…”

The 2013 calendar describes 365 persons who have risked/given their lives or made other sacrifices for human rights, democracy, and peace. A team of colleagues and I produced it. The print edition is being distributed for free to Swedish high-school students, paid for by government monies. Three publishing houses are printing and selling an English-language edition, a South Korean edition, and an illustrated global edition in four languages. Sveriges Radio/Radioteatern will run a five-minute piece about each day’s individual during every day of 2013.

See below for links to articles about the calendar.  There is additional information on the websites of Forum för Levande Historia and Concess.


Background to the Raoul Wallenberg Calendar

I remember when I first started to think about people who risk their lives for others. I was a college student then, and I was reading in the New York Times about a young man who had tried to defend the rights of indigenous people in the Brazilian rain forest. Two ranchers – who wanted to take over more land – arrived in a pickup truck and shot him dead.

Something about that man made me pause. Aware that others had been killed, he had kept going. I didn’t want to lose him, so I wrote down his name on a sheet of yellow paper and taped it to my wall.

Soon I noticed other stories of courage: a “disappeared” democracy activist whose body was found in a ditch, a mother who had drowned while swimming out to save someone else’s child. I added their names to the sheet of yellow paper.

What is it about unselfish bravery that makes us want to hold onto and cherish it? What is it that moves us? When someone risks her life for a stranger, we feel that she is ”our born superior,” the psychologist William James observed in 1902. The courageous person, James argued, dares to touch the world’s brutality and try to dissolve it. To suffer for others is part of what it means to be human. ”In heroism,” James wrote, ”life’s supreme mystery is hidden.”

That mystery was present one summer day in 1941 at Auschwitz, when Prisoner #16670, a Polish man named Maximilian Kolbe, saw another inmate on the way to being executed. The condemned man cried out, ”My wife! My children! Who will take care of them?” Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to be killed in place of the other prisoner.

The mystery was there, too, in the life and death of Anastasia Baburova. As a journalism student in Moscow, she began writing about violent extremist groups. Soon she realized that she had become their target. But she did not give up.

The calendar you have in your hands tells of 365 lives of courage. Together they form a counterweight to a world of violence and greed. They remind us of what we are capable of – that amidst the dark night of indifference, it is possible for our species to shine so magnificently.


New workshop:  Developing Moral Authority: Lessons from Our Bravest Contemporaries

A workshop for companies, government offices, NGOs and other organizations.

Details are here in PDF format.


Other news items

Svenska Dagbladet put the Raoul Wallenberg Calendar (Wallenbergkalendern) on the cover of the culture section:  Here is Upsala Nya Tidning’s interview with me and Uppsala Fria Tidningen’s article about the calendar and the accompanying show.  In English, there is an interview in The Local.

Here is my brief comment for a news report about bystander passivity.

In the past several months, my work has been profiled in Arbetaren Zenit, Ergo, Länstidningen (Östersund), Helsingborgs Dagblad, Flamman, Uppsala Demokraten and Västerbottens Folkblad, and I was interviewed on Swedish Television’s Gomorron Sverige.

Sept. 23-24 — Camino Magasin, Göteborgs bokmässa

Camino, monter B02:41

11:20 – 11:50 Malin Aghed, Brian Palmer
Camino intervjuar civilkurageforskaren och författaren Brian Palmer – om berättelsen som central aktör för förändring

16:00 – 16:20 Johanna Stål, Brian Palmer
Camino intervjuar civilkurageforskaren och författaren Brian Palmer – om berättelsen som central aktör för förändring

Oct. 10 — Uppsala stadsbibliotek, Uppsala

Lika Olika – Alla på samma ort

Föreläsningsserie om identitet, mångkultur och mänskliga rättigheter

Mod som förändrar världen

Måndag 10/10 kl 18.00
Brian Palmer tillämpar visdom från heroiska liv (som Malala Yousafzai & Edward Snowden) på vardagliga frågor. Vad kan våra modigaste samtida lära oss?
Fri entré. Biljetter via Stadsbiblioteket

Samarrangemang med Uppsala Kristna Råd, Studieförbunden Bilda och Sensus, Förbundet kristen humanism samt Bibliotek Uppsala.

Oct. 13-16 — Harvard University, Cambridge, USA

Oct. 17 — Dickey Center, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA

Dickey Center lecture hall in 041 Haldeman Center (29 North Main Street, Hanover, NH) at 4:30PM on Monday, October 17th, for a talk entitled “Courage that Changes the World.”

Nov. 8 — Valvaka, Uppsala stadsbibliotek, Uppsala

Nov. 9 — Kultur- och fritidsförvaltningen, Partille

Nov. 10 — Impact Hub, Stockholm

Nov. 16-20 — American Anthropological Association, Minneapolis, USA


Sleepwalking into Extinction: Elaine Scarry’s S.O.S. to Anthropologists

Elaine Scarry believes that nuclear war is the most probable path to human extinction, a graver threat than climate change. Readers of her new 600-page book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, are likely to agree. But Scarry is astonished that so few people are talking about these questions. We have a machinery of death in which a single U.S. submarine can – by intention, accident or hacking – exterminate all life in Europe or Asia, but few citizens seem to mind.
This forum brings Elaine Scarry into conversation with anthropologists to discuss why our species may be sleepwalking into a thermonuclear extinction. Scarry is haunted by the question of why it is hard to take seriously our preparations for the killing of billions. What makes the possibility of thermonuclear annihilation difficult to fix our attention on in a sustained way? Why is the matter easy to put out of our minds, to forget?
One piece of the puzzle, Scarry argues, is that the “thermonuclear monarchy” recasts us all as small children rather than sovereign citizens. But the mystery of human passivity in the face of possible imminent extinction runs deeper than that, and Scarry believes that our discipline may hold some of the keys to understanding and overcoming that passivity. Together we can seek to answer the question: What would it take to make nuclear weapons policy a focal point for democratic deliberation and popular protest?
The month of November, 2016, is a fitting moment for such a discussion, as a new United States president is soon to receive the “nuclear football” containing the launch codes that could begin humanity’s final countdown.
Elaine Scarry’s study of torture and war, The Body in Pain, brought her international recognition. Her writings about the September 11th, 2001 attacks and the subsequent suppression of human rights led both Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines to list Scarry as one of the top 100 global public intellectuals. In Thermonuclear Monarchy, Scarry demonstrates that today’s weapons of mass destruction are fundamentally incompatible with democracy. Whether through war, accident, terrorism or hacking, these weapons may one day annihilate us all.
Seven anthropologists will converse with Elaine Scarry before opening the floor to audience voices. Based on research in Russia, Melissa Caldwell explores how ethics and practices of hope and optimism help people act in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. Christina Garsten examines the role of think tanks and policy professionals and what this implies for democracy. Hugh Gusterson undertakes ethnographies of nuclear weapons facilities and other military activity. Vasiliki Neofotistos investigates violent ethno-nationalism in the Balkans and ponders the links between emergency politics and political passivity. Brian Palmer writes about civic courage and personal risk-taking among dissidents, journalists and humanitarian workers. Yana Stainova explores the transformative power of music practice for Venezuelan youth as they aspire to craft their lives amid violence and state repression. And Janine Wedel illuminates unaccountable global elites as they move between public and private institutions.

Dec. 6 — Wiks folkhögskola, Uppsala

Dec. 7 — Thorildsplans gymnasium, Stockholm