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50th Anniversary of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

Former first lady, writers and actors recall how the classic novel changed their lives

Best-selling author David Baldacci notes how, given its many layers, To Kill a Mockingbird is the rare book that grows with you.

"As you become older, you read things into the book that you wouldn't have gotten when you were 15," he says. "You go back and read it again, and you get more out of it when you're 40 and 50."

Baldacci, who calls Mockingbird "the Huck Finn of its generation," was first taken with it as a sophomore in high school, feeling a kinship with Scout and Jem, and viewing the book as "this great, grand adventure for kids."

But by the time he entered the legal profession —- Baldacci spent 10 years as a trial lawyer — Atticus Finch had become a touchstone for young lawyers like himself as they discovered the limits of their idealism.

"At some point in our lives, every lawyer wanted to be Atticus, and then realized that in the real world, it probably wasn't a viable option," he says. "But we can try. We can try each day to be Atticus Finch."

That sense of optimism is the root of the book's timelessness. Looking back from an era in which young readers are more commonly captivated by fantasy, a la Harry Potter or Twilight, Lee created a relatable, real world tale of simple pleasures and brutal horrors, and despite the worst of it, left readers with the sense that we have the power to lead society in the right direction.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a cornerstone of right and wrong, and gives us hope that we can do better," says Baldacci. "We can be more human, more humane, and fairer than we are right now, and Mockingbird is a source of all that. It gives you everything you want, in 300 or so pages, about what you need to live your life."

"This book is quite amazing," adds Strasberg. "It really represents a lot of what is good in America."

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