The Call of Service

The Call of Service

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by Robert Coles

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In this book, Coles explores the concept of idealism and why it necessary to the individual and society.  See more details below


In this book, Coles explores the concept of idealism and why it necessary to the individual and society.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a searching, inspirational probe, eminent Harvard psychiatrist Coles ( The Moral Life of Children ) examines the idealistic motives of people who engage in volunteer work, community service or civil rights activism. Mixing autobiographical reminiscence, analysis and oral testimony, he interviews Peace Corps members as well as volunteers in hospitals, schools, prisons and nursing homes. Coles finds that volunteer work can have a transformative influence on those who heed the ``call of service,'' even though they frequently experience doubts, misgivings, depression and even a sense of futility and despair. Rich in empathy and insight, his informed study interweaves his own experiences as a child psychiatrist helping Southern children caught up in the school desegregation struggle, an account of his current work as a volunteer inner-city elementary school teacher near Boston, recollections of his 1950s service in a Manhattan soup kitchen with Catholic Worker activist Dorothy Day and portraits of his mentors Anna Freud and poet/physician William Carlos Williams, who set him on his altruistic path. Author tour. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Coles is the prolific and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such works as The Spiritual Life of Children ( LJ 11/1/90). Here he examines idealism, the drive that leads people to be of service to others. This service takes a variety of forms, from the formal (e.g., the Peace Corps) to simple volunteer work in hospitals, schools, and the like. Coles makes the subject interesting by letting the people who serve talk about their work. These doers, including Coles himself, tell of the satisfactions and the hazards of service. Let it be known that idealism or service is not a one-way street, Coles maintains. Those who give are as much receivers and learners. This engaging and inspiring book is highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/93.-- John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York
Kirkus Reviews
An exceptional blend of observation and reflection, literary report and personal revelation, that once again finds Coles (Psychiatry and Medical Humanities/Harvard; Anna Freud, 1992; etc.) exploring important social concepts—community service and the sources of altruism—with the tenacious moral energy that has characterized his writings for 30 years. From the first, Coles clearly cherished his encounters with people whose conduct claimed his imagination: In book after book, he presented them with dignity and respect. Here, he recalls the six-year-old integrating a southern school who sees ahead not trouble but opportunity; admires the white teacher who introduces Tillie Olsen's short story "O Yes" to a class of black middle- schoolers; learns from the Bowery bum who values not only the daily meal at his shelter but also the staff's acceptance of his angry moods; and understands the older tax lawyer who maintains that "there's still a little of 1964 in me." Coles contends that—while motives vary and overlap and stresses frequently wear people down—the satisfactions of service are plentiful and sustaining, conferring importance on small interactions and providing affirmation to those involved (often in place of, say, apparent social change). In his usual meandering way, he examines not only what those who serve mean to us and what their actions mean to them—most of his subjects emphatically resist the "idealist" designation—but also his own part in the equation (as volunteer and witness) and his enduring sources of inspiration: the examples of his own parents; of novelists whose ideas he finds edifying; and of mentors familiar from earlier works.Early on in his career, Coles abandoned the jargon of psychoanalysis and staked out his own territory—and a grateful audience. This work, a wellspring for those touched by "national service" headlines, echoes the spiritual tones of previous books and secures the author's place as a peerless interpreter of individual initiative and moral direction.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Meet the Author

Robert Coles is a winner of the National Medal of Freedom.

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