Nick Offerman is trying to differentiate himself from Ron Swanson, the carnivorous, libertarian patriot he played for seven seasons on Parks and Recreation. He’s shaved his facial hair and lost some weight with the goal of landing roles that allow him to tap into something other than an insatiable appetite for bacon. But Offerman’s latest project is neither a movie nor a television show. It’s a book, his second, and it’s as full of heart as Swanson’s face was full of mustache — which is to say, very.
Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers, out May 26, tells the stories of 21 artists, politicians, writers and prominent figures who share what Offerman calls “a general sense of American pluck.” Some, like Benjamin Franklin and Carol Burnett, will be familiar to most readers. Others, like Thomas Lie-Nielsen — whose company, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Offerman calls the “Cadillac” of American hand tools — may be new to anyone who isn’t handy in the woodshop.
In his exploration of these 21 lives, Offerman touches on both the personal (hard work, tolerance and the joy of creating) and the political (gay rights, marijuana legislation and some of the more unsavory aspects of American history, such as slavery and the treatment of Native Americans). But more than anything, he hopes to encourage readers to think about “how can we all continue to be more decent to one another.” Offerman applies this to things like how we talk about the pay gap between men and women, and the way religious principles are sometimes wielded in ways that, as he sees it, can hamper the quest for decency.
In his first book, the bestselling Paddle Your Own Canoe, Offerman mines his own experiences for meaningful (and humorous) advice. Here, he turns the focus on the lives of others, but with the similar goal of encouraging the reader to find some inspiration to live with more honesty, integrity and tolerance for the choices of others.
In conversation with TIME, Offerman talks about the eye-opening experience of moving from a small town to the big city, what feminism means to him and the plight of the American meat eater.
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