"A welcome change from the sloganeering, political mudslinging and products of spin doctors."The Philadelphia Inquirer
Based on the NPR series of the same name, This I Believe features eighty Americansfrom the famous to the unknowncompleting the thought that the book's title begins. Each piece compels readers to rethink not only how they have arrived at their own personal beliefs but also the extent to which they share them with others.
Featuring many renowned contributorsincluding Isabel Allende, Colin Powell, Gloria Steinem, William F. Buckley Jr., Penn Jillette, Bill Gates, and John Updikethe collection also contains essays by a Brooklyn lawyer; a part-time hospital clerk in Rehoboth, Massachusetts; a woman who sells yellow pages advertising in Fort Worth, Texas; and a man who serves on Rhode Island's parole board.
The result is a stirring and provocative trip inside the minds and hearts of a diverse group of people whose beliefsand the incredibly varied ways in which they choose to express themreveal the American spirit at its best.
About the Author
Jay Allison is one of public radio's most honored producers. He has produced hundreds of nationally broadcast documentaries and features for radio and television. His work has earned him the duPont-Columbia and five Peabody Awards, and he was the 1996 recipient of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Edward R. Murrow Award for outstanding contributions to public radio, the industry's highest honor. He was the curator and producer of This I Believe on NPR and he produces The Moth Radio Hour. Before his career in broadcasting, Jay was a theater director in Washington, D.C. He is also the founder of the public radio stations for Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod where he lives.
Dan Gediman is the executive producer of This I Believe. His work has been heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Marketplace, Jazz Profiles, and This American Life. He has won many of public broadcasting's most prestigious awards, including the duPont-Columbia Award.
Read an Excerpt
“At a time when the tide runs toward a sure conformity, when dissent is often confused with subversion, when a man’s belief may be subject to investigation as well as his actions . . .”
It has the ring of a 2006 mayday call of distress, yet it was written in 1952. Ed Murrow, introducing an assemblage of voices in the volume This I Believe, sounded a claxon.
It is an old story yet ever-contemporary. In 1791, Tom Paine, the most eloquent visionary of the American Revo-lution, sounded off:
Freedom has been hunted around the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear made man afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth is that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing . . . In such a situation, man becomes what he ought to be. He sees his species not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy, but as kindred . . .
It is the pursuit of this truth that appears to be the common tenor of all the voices you hear in this new volume.
We need not dwell on the old question: What is truth? What you see with your own eyes may differ from the received official truth. So old Pilate had only one decision to make: find the man guilty or he, the judge, will be sent back to the boondocks. Pilate did what any well-behaved hack would do. Though he had his hands scrubbed and rub-a-dub-dubbed with Ivory soap, 99.44% pure, he could not erase the awful truth of the dirt on his hands. Though Pilate’s wife pleaded for a show of mercy, he made an objective decision.
In our time, James Cameron, the nonpareil of British journalism, dealt with the matter in his own way. “I cannot remember how often I’ve been challenged for disregarding the fundamental tenet of honest journalism, which is objectivity.”
His bearing witness in North Vietnam during that war convinced him, despite all official Washington arguments to the contrary, that North Vietnam was inhabited by human beings. He was condemned for being non-objective and having a point of view. Cameron confesses, “I may not have always been satisfactorily balanced; I always tended to argue that objectivity was of less importance than the truth.”
Errol Morris, film documentarian, who appears in this book, shares the obstinancy of Cameron: “Truth is not relative. . . . It may be elusive or hidden. People may wish to disregard it. But there is such a thing as truth.” What really possesses Morris is the pursuit of the truth: “Trying to figure out what has really happened, trying to figure out how things really are.”
The chase is what it’s all about. The quarry is, as always, the truth.
On a small patch of Sag Harbor dirt is a simple stone easily passed by. Nelson Algren is buried there and his epitaph is simple: “The journey is all.”
Andrew Sullivan, editor of The New Republic, who appears in this volume, has a similar vision. He and Algren may have differed considerably in their political views, yet here, as to fundamental belief, they were as one. “I believe in the pursuit of happiness. Not its attainment, nor its final definition, but its pursuit.”
I’d be remiss with no mention of Helen Keller, whose vision we saw and whose voice we heard fifty years ago, a deaf, dumb, and blind child. It was her sense of wonder and her pursuit of truth which she saw much more clearly than sighted people, and heard much more clearly than hearing folk. They were voices in need throughout the world she heard so vividly. Above all it was her faith that the human being was better than his/her behavior.
What I believe is a compote of these ingredients. Yes I do have a point of view which I express much too frequently, I suspect. And yet there’s always that uncertainty. In all my adventures among hundreds of Americans I have discovered that the rule of thumb does not work. I’ve been astonished too often by those I’ve visited: ordinary Americans, who at times, are extraordinary in their insights and dreams.
I find the labels “liberal” and “conservative” of little meaning. Our language has become perverted along with the thoughts of many of us.
“Liberal” according to any dictionary is defined as the freedom to speak out, no matter what the official word may be, and the right to defend all others who speak out whether or not they agree with you. “Conservative” is the word I’ve always associated with conserving our environment from pollution, ensuring that our water is potable and our grass green. So I declare myself a radical conservative. Radical, as in getting to the root of things. Pasteur was a radical. Semmelweiss was a radical. “Wash your hands,” he declared to doctors and nurses. He may have wound up in a nuthouse, but he pursued the truth, found it, and saved untold millions of lives. I am a conservative in that I’m out to conserve the blue of the sky, the freshness of the air of which we have less and less, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and whatever semblance of sanity we may have left. As for faith, I’ve always called myself an agnostic. Were Ambrose Bierce alive today, he would no doubt have added to his Devil’s Dictionary: “An agnostic is a cowardly atheist.” Perhaps. But perhaps I do believe there is a God deposited in each of us ever since the Big Bang.
I secretly envy those who believe in the hereafter and with it the idea that they may once again meet dear ones. They cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there is such a place. Neither can I disprove it. I cannot find the bookmaker willing to take my bet on it. How will one who guesses right be able to collect his winnings? So speaking on behalf of the bookies of the world, all bets are off.
Maybe the poet Keats was right after all in the “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” He envied the fortunate youth who is forever chasing his love, never quite catching her. The pursuit is all.
And yet there is something which I believe with no uncertainty. There is something we can do while we’re alive and breathing on this planet. It is to become an activist in this pursuit of a world in which it would be easier for people to behave decently. (I am paraphrasing Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement.)
Being an activist is self-explanatory: you act; you take part in something outside yourself. You join with others, who may astonish you in thinking precisely as you do on the subjects, say, of war, civil liberties, human rights.
My belief came into being during the most traumatic moment in American history, the Great Depression of the 1930s. I remember seeing pots and pans and bedsteads and mattresses on the sidewalks. A family had just been evicted and there was an individual cry of despair, multiplied by millions. But that community had a number of people on that very block, electricians and plumbers and carpenters, who appeared that very evening, and moved the household goods back into the flat where they had been. They turned on the gas, they fixed the plumbing. It was a community in action accomplishing something.
Albert Einstein once observed that westerners have a feeling the individual loses his freedom if he joins, say, a union or any group. Precisely the opposite is the case. Once you join others, even though at first your mission fails, you become a different person, a much stronger one. You feel that you really count, you discover your strength as an individual because you have along the way discovered others share in what you believe, you are not alone; and thus a community is formed. I am paraphrasing Einstein. I love to do that; nobody dares contradict me.
So, my credo consists of the pursuit and the act. One without the other is self-indulgence. This I believe.
Copyright © 2006 by This I Believe, Inc. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Be Cool to the Pizza Dude
Leaving Identity Issues to Other Folks
In Giving I Connect with Others
Remembering All the Boys
The Mountain Disappears
How Is It Possible to Believe in God?
William F. Buckley, Jr.
The Fellowship of the World
There is No Job More Important than Parenting
A Journey toward Acceptance and Love
A Shared Moment of Trust
The Hardest Work You Will Ever Do
Good Can Be as Communicable as Evil
A Daily Walk Just to Listen
The Elusive Yet Holy Core
My Father's Evening Star
William O. Douglas
An Honest Doubter
Have I Learned Anything Important Since I Was Sixteen?
Elizabeth Deutsch Earle
An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man
The Power and Mystery of Naming Things
A Goal of Service to Humankind
The God Who Embraced Me
John W. Fountain
Unleashing the Power of Creativity
The People Who Love You When No One Else Will
The Willingness to Work for Solutions
The Connection between Strangers
An Athlete of God
Seeing in Beautiful, Precise Pictures
Disrupting My Comfort Zone
Science Nourishes the Mind and the Soul
In Praise of the "Wobblies"
The Power of Presence
A Grown-Up Barbie
Oscar Hammerstein II
Natural Links in a Long Chain of Being
Talking with the Sun
A Morning Prayer in a Little Church
Our Noble, Essential Decency
Robert A. Heinlein
A New Birth of Freedom
The Benefits of Restlessness and Jagged Edges
Kay Redfield Jamison
There Is No God
A Duty to Heal
Living Life with "Grace and Elegant Treeness"
The Light of a Brighter Day
The Bright Lights of Freedom
Harold Hongju Koh
The Power of Love to Transform and Heal
The Power of Mysteries
Life Grows in the Soil of Time
Why I Close My Restaurant
The Virtues of the Quiet Hero
The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading
There Is Such a Thing as Truth
The Rule of Law
Getting Angry Can Be a Good Thing
Mysterious Connection That Link Us Together
The Making of Poems
We Are Each Other's Business
The 50-Percent Theory of Life
The America I Believe In
The Real Consequences of Justice
There Is More to Life than My Life
Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day
Free Minds and Hearts at Work
Growth That Starts from Thinking
The Artistry in Hidden Talents
My Fellow Worms
When Children Are Wanted
Jazz Is the Sound of God Laughing
There Is No Such Thing as Too Much Barbecue
The People Have Spoken
Everything Potent Is Dangerous
A Balance between Nature and Nurture
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
Always Go to the Funeral
Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys
I Agree with a Pagan
Testing the Limits of What I Know and Feel
How Do You Believe in a Mystery?
Loudon Wainwright III
Creative Solutions to Life's Challenges
Frank X Walker
Goodness Doesn't Just Happen
When Ordinary People Achieve Extraordinary Things
Afterword: The History of This I Believe: The Power of an Idea
Appendix A: Introduction to the 1950s This I Believe Radio Series
Edward R. Murrow
Appendix B: How to Write Your Own This I Believe Essay
Appendix C: How to Use This I Believe in Your Community
Reading Group Guide
1. Studs Terkel's foreword raises the question of truth and how we discern it. What do the essays in This I Believe tell us about the way we go about deciding what is true and what should not be believed? Do you think there are any absolute truths that apply to everyone?
2. In two essays reflecting the toll of war, Newt Gingrich emphasizes the need for vigilance ("I believe that the world is inherently a very dangerous place"), while John McCain celebrates the power of the quiet hero ("The true worth of a person is measured by how faithfully we serve a cause greater than our self-interest"). What is your approach to the tides of danger and victory, destruction and reconstruction that have shaped the world for as long as history has been recorded? Do you think the future can be more peaceful than the past?
3. Several of the essays describe discrimination, such as Phyllis Allen's recollections of growing up in a racially segregated town, and Eve Ensler's observations about atrocities committed against women. What do you believe is at the root of discriminatory behavior? What causes some members of society to feel justified in causing the suffering of entire populations? How can we ensure equality in the face of the forces behind discrimination?
4. What did you observe about the essays from half a century ago compared with contemporary ones? Which issues have remained constant? What new ones have arisen that Edward R. Murrow's generation could not have imagined?
5. Questions of mortality and immortality are raised throughout the book, from Isabel Allende's response to her daughter's death to Elvia Bautista's experience of visiting her brother's grave. At the heart of many of these essays is the notion that love endures beyond a person's lifetime. How does this book define a life well lived and a grief that is not in vain?
6. Martha Graham's "An Athlete of God" closes by describing the acrobat as "practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall." In what way does this describe the tandem of fear and faith experienced in our daily lives? What does it take to "choose" not to fall?
7. What is the role of art and whimsy in shaping our beliefs? What do the contributors' words about fashion, reading, jazz, and other creative ventures say about the significance or value of imagination?
8. In "Seeing Beautiful, Precise Pictures," Temple Grandin describes how her ability to visualize resulted in humane new procedures for numerous livestock-handling facilities. What ethical balance shapes her work? What small vision could you translate into grand action in your community?
9. The contributors to this book express a broad variety of viewpoints about religious beliefs, including the belief that there is no God (Penn Jillette) and the belief that we should protect our fellow human beings from harm, even when their religious affiliations are quite different from ours (Eboo Patel). What cultural observations are made in the essays on religion? What is its role in shaping identities and worldviews?
10. Benjamin Carson pays eloquent tribute to his mother in "There Is No Job More Important than Parenting." What qualities make her a good parent? What beliefs enabled her to sustain and inspire her son? Who has held a similar role of redemption in your life?
11. In what ways does This I Believe serve as a time capsule for the dawn of a new millennium? What conclusions will future readers draw about our era when reading these entries in another half century?
12. Which of the essays resonated with you the most? Did any of them inspire you to become an agent for change, either globally or simply in the way you affect the life of another individual?
13. What do you believe? What were your greatest influences in shaping those beliefs? How have your beliefs changed throughout your life?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Listening to everyday people - from celebrities to single mothers and from teens to octogenarians - talk about their core beliefs, the things that see them through and guide their lives, is comforting. Yes, comforting in a time when the media would have us think that we're all a bunch of shallow, gimme-gimme, mindless twits with no substance (or all crooked with no scruples). Well, I'll take a stab at generalization, too, and guarantee that there are very few people who will not be inspired to greater introspection after having a first listen to this audio book. And, I further guarantee that listening to this WITH someone else will open up lines of communication that had been invisible. If a folk-music-lovin' 65 year old granny and a hard-core-metal-guitar-shredding 18 year old genius can connect on a deep philosophical level about homelessness and faithfulness and the power of a hug - you can use this to bridge any gap. In paperback or on audio book, these are powerful, very powerful.
What a wonderful book to give as a present, even for non-readers. A Book of small composed positive beliefs. A quick read to jump start your day.
The book gave a broad range of insights into what many different people from various walks of life, and from different times believe in. The book revitalizes my belief in people.
This is a wonderful book full of thematic essays on topics fundamental to the human condition. Many essays are moving, profound or just beautiful. It's not often a book can be chock full of inspiring words and be captivating at the same time. But this one is...
I started to feel reflective with the new year coming and reading this book provided the spark to get the ball rolling. It suprised me to notice that the essays were timeless. It didn't matter that some of them were written in the 50's or if they were written in 2006. If you like people watching this will give you a nice snap shot of our times
This is based on the NPR show of the same name, which is a revival of an early version of the show that broadcast in the 1950s. Very well worth it!
Anyone would benefit from listening to this illuminating look at the beliefs that guide people in their everyday life. It includes excerpts from a project in which people from all walks of life share their personal views on what they believe about life. Originally it was a radio show that aired in the 50's, so some of the people sharing their beliefs are historical figures like Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt. It is fascinating to listen to and is well produced. I was wishing for a volume II as soon as I popped the last CD out of my player.
Good stories. Many were really good - some were not my favorite. The length of the stories was ideal. The stories I liked best were ones written by people like you and me. I wasn't as impressed by the stories by "great" people.
A refreshing collection of beliefs, morals, hopes and ideas, not all of which are based on religious thought. Lovely.
For me, the pieces were too short. I like to sit down for an hour or two at a time with my books, and these little essays were too brief, making the experience feel choppy. Also, maybe I was expecting more profound insights than most of these people offered. My favorite essay was the one by Penn Jillette who wrote about why he is an atheist and how he believes that frees him to be a better human, but the rest were not even memorable.
What a great read! It is filled with insightful, thought-provoking essays, some very surprising, such as thoughts on barbecue, jazz, cultivating one's talents, feeding monkeys, being cool to the pizza dude and leaving flowers on graves. I listened to this book and found that some of the older essays were far too formal to enjoy. That formality is off-putting and stuffy. I also found that many of the essays by well-known people were seemingly contrived. John McCain's essay on service to one's country and Newt Gingrich's essay on the importance of American leadership fell flat, but Gloria Steinham's amazing thoughts on the nature vs. nurture debate opened new doors for me. I think everyone will find one point of view that challenges his or her own beliefs and provokes further contemplation, something we don't seem to do enough without external provocation.
Because I can¿t really comment on the usual things one does in a book review¿.plot, characterization, writing style, thematic elements¿ I will simply summarize the quotes from this amazing book that touched me the most.Novelist Isabel Allende: ¿Give, give, give ¿ what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don¿t give it away? Or having stories if I don¿t tell them to others? Or having wealth if I don¿t share it? I don¿t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and the divine.¿Composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein: ¿I believe that she (America) is at a critical point in this moment and that she needs us to believe more strongly than ever before in her and in one another, in our ability to grow and change, in our mutual dignity, in our democratic method. We must encourage thought, free and creative. We must respect privacy. We must observe taste by not exploiting our sorrows, successes, or passions.¿Also ¿ ¿¿one human being who meets with injustice can render invalid the entire system which has dispensed it.¿Elizabeth Deutsch Earle (from 1950): ¿Johnathan Edwards, a Puritan minister, resolved never to do anything out of revenge. I am a modern, a member of a church far removed from Puritanism, yet I have accepted this resolution. Since revenge and retaliation seem to have been accepted by nations today, I sometimes have difficulty reconciling my moral convictions with the tangled world being handed down to us by adults.¿Also ¿ ¿If I were to discover that there is no afterlife, my motive for moral living would not be destroyed. I have enough of the philosopher in me to love righteousness for its own sake.¿Law professor Michael Mullane: ¿The law is wonderfully strong and terribly fragile. In times of crisis and threat, there is a temptation to stop believing in the rule of law ¿ a temptation to think that it weakens rather than protects us¿.¿Maybe we do need to sacrifice personal liberties to be safe, but then I remember that generations of Americans bled and died to create and protect the rule of law, and I wonder: If we ignore it now, how will we ever get it back?¿English historian Arnold Toynbee: ¿To imagine that one¿s own church, civilization, nation or family is the chosen people is, I believe, as wrong as it would be for me to imagine that I myself am God. I agree with Symmachus, the pagan philosopher who put the case for toleration to a victorious Christian church, and I will end by quoting his words: The universe is too great a mystery for there to be only one single approach to it.¿This book, these essays are such amazing pieces of humanity. I was the most impressed by people whose names I did not know, people who had not had practice writing or giving speeches or being in the public eye. It was the cabdriver, the teacher, the sixteen year olds whose view of the world was most enlightening. And so it should be in everything.After reading this book, I of course started to think about what I would write. I believe so many things¿but which belief is the defining one? Which belief could I sum up in under 500 words? Which belief would I feel comfortable telling others about?¿This I Believe¿ is a wonderful collection of words and thoughts and dreams. Almost every essay contained an inspirational memory or thought that improved my view of humanity. That changed my idea of a person whose name I knew well. But I must finish this review with a quote from an essay that didn¿t change me at all ¿ and that certainly didn¿t surprise me at all, given my impressions of the writer. ¿I believe that the world is inherently a very dangerous place and that things that are now very good can go bad very quickly.¿- Newt Gingrich.
Fascinating range of personal philosophies, from the woman who believes in attending funerals to the man who swears by barbecue as the apex of life's pleasures. Even better as an audio book, read by the authors
I really wish I had listened to this in smaller chunks. It's a lot to take in. Some of the essays were not exceptional, but others were absolutely wonderful. Topics ranged from the rule of law, love, and freedom to barbecue and jazz. And listening to this collection, rather than reading it, really does add a lot to the experience. Not to mention the opportunity to hear such voices as Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Jackie Robinson.
The essays themselves are wonderful, delightful, thought-provoking. It's the format - the compilation - that leaves me underwhelmed. Essays for the 'This I Believe' project are typically either played on the radio or printed in journals once a week, a format that lends itself to careful consideration over time. The book - if you must read the book - is to be slowly digested. Plus I miss the audio. I'm familiar with many of the essays from NPR and though its true that the written essays each have a strong "voice"... I miss the real one (sans quotes).
My five star rating is for the audio edition I listened to on my mp3 player. I don't know if I would give it the fifth star if I read the book - I love listening to an author read his/her own words. It especially was interesting hearing the voices of current writers, like John Updike, and famous names from the past - Eleanor Roosevelt, and the serendipity of listening to Jackie Robinson just 10 minutes before the all-star game. The title is a little misleading - it depends on your definition of "remarkable". While many entries were from the famous, many were from "ordinary" people. I found all were interesting. Not having a book in front of me I don't know how many essays there are, but I was struck by how similar many were in their beliefs, even tho they were expressed in very different terms.
I couldn't stop myself from buying this book at the Texas Book Fair. I so liked the concept. The actual chapters, however, tended to be humdrum, broad and run-of-the-mill. The few exceptions were bright chapters by unknowns. Not as interesting as I had hoped.
From the popular NPR segment of the same name, this is a well-rounded sampling of the essays aired both from its current incarnation and from the original show around the time I was born, in the early 1950s. This anthology is nothing if not inspiring, and as an added bonus, it¿s a very fast read. One is compelled to reflect momentarily on the author¿s words and begin anew with the next essay. I will confess that a few of these personal accounts infuriated me, and some I saw more as an attempt to garner political points (you¿ll know them when you see them), and I readily admit that it may have not been intended that way, but in my interpretation. Most, however, seemed genuine and forthcoming, and I am inspired to write one of my own. The editors include guidelines as to length and content, and even provide a website for submission. I also appreciated the several pages of black-and-white photos of some of the essayists. I thought it was an added treat to see the faces of those who wrote such thoughtful, deeply-felt, private feelings. This ought to be required reading for anyone, anywhere.
The essays in this book were from both the 1950s version of the This I Believe radio show and the current day version of the show. Both famous and everyday people are included and they run the gamut from liberal, conservative, spiritual and secular. The best part - the essays are only three pages long, not long to suffer if you don't agree with the writer's views. My favorite essays were from a woman who wrote one for the 1950s show when she was 16 years old. The producers of the current show asked her, now a woman in her 50s, to write another one. It was interesting to see how a person's views change over that length of time.