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« All Together Now, by Jared Bernstein | Main | Talking Past Each Other, by Kusnet, Mishel, and Teixeira »


This I Believe, by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

By an everyday book reader
November 1, 2007

"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..." (Studs Terkel)

Those words of Terkel have the ring of a modern day mayday call of distress, yet they were written in 1952. Ed Murrow, introducing an assemblage of voices in 2006 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 Revolution, 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... (Thomas Paine)

It is the pursuit of this truth that appears to be the common tenor of all the voices you hear in this book. 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.

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women
by Jay Allison and Dan GedimanBook Picture

Softcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9780805086584, 0805086587
Holt Paperbacks
August 2007
(click below for softcover book)

Compact Disk (Audio CD)
ISBN: 9781593979782, 1593979789
Macmillan Audio
October 2006
(click below for audio CD version)

For NPR listeners, "This I Believe" will be familiar broadcast program in which people from a diverse cross section of life read a short essay expressing fundamental beliefs, personal creeds, or quirky individual mission statements.

The program originally broadcast in the 1950s and hosted by Edward R. Murrow was revived in 2005. This collection mixes 20 essays from the Murrow era (Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Leonard Bernstein) with contemporary pieces that include prominent figures (Colin Powell, John Updike, Bill Gates) and everyday people. The essays, each read by the author, surprise, inspire, and touch the heart.

Curator Jay Allison's short introductions of each remarkable writer are very fine and avoid repetitions that would prove tiresome in this collected form. Careful, skilled production of not just the individual pieces but the overall program, just adds icing to this exceptional audio collection. Do not miss it.

In the 1950s, the Edward R. Murrow - hosted radio program This I Believe prompted Americans to briefly explain their most cherished beliefs, be they religious or purely pragmatic. Since the program's 2005 renaissance as a weekly NPR segment, Allison (the host) and Gediman (the executive producer) have collected some of the best essays from This I Believe then and now.

"Your personal credo" is what Allison calls it in the book's introduction, noting that today's program is distinguished from the 1950s version in soliciting submissions from ordinary Americans from all walks of life. These make up some of the book's most powerful and memorable moments, from the surgeon whose illiterate mother changed his early life with faith and a library card to the English professor whose poetry helped him process a traumatic childhood event.

And in one of the book's most unusual essays, a Burmese immigrant confides that he believes in feeding monkeys on his birthday because a Buddhist monk once prophesied that if he followed this ritual, his family would prosper. There are luminaries here, too, including Gloria Steinem, Warren Christopher, Helen Keller, Isabel Allende, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Updike and (most surprisingly, considering the book's more liberal bent) Newt Gingrich. This feast of ruminations is a treat for any reader. (From Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

Jay Allison, the host and curator of This I Believe, is an independent broadcast journalist. His work appears often on NPR and has earned him five Peabody Awards. He is 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.

National Public Radio listeners have been moved to tears by the personal essays that constitute the series This I Believe. Created in 1951 with Edward Murrow as host, the sometimes funny, often profound, and always compelling series has been revived, according to host Jay Allison, because, once again, "matters of belief divide our country and the world." Oral historian Studs Terkel kicks things off, and 80 personal credos follow. Essays from the original series are interleaved with contemporary essays (selected from more than 11,000 submissions) to create a resounding chorus.

English professor Sara Adams says that one should "be cool to the pizza delivery dude." John McCain states, "I believe in honor, faith, and service." Iranian-born writer Azar Nafisi writes, "I believe in empathy." Jackie Robinson said, "I believe in the goodness of a free society." Rick Moody believes in "the absolute and unlimited liberty of reading." Appendixes offer guidelines and resources because the urge to write such declarations is contagious, and schools and libraries have been coordinating This I Believe programs, which we believe is a righteous endeavor. (Donna Seaman, American Library Association, Booklist Reviews)

You may enjoy the books page, where book titles are alphabetized, or browse by subject or topic. We also have book reviews listed chronologically here. To search by author name, you can use the search box on the right sidebar of this page.

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