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Soul of a Citizen, by Paul Rogat Loeb

By an everyday book reader
February 19, 2009

Though written ten years ago, here's a source of inspiration and integrity tailor-made for our times. Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time is an antidote to the twin scourges of modern life - powerlessness and cynicism. In his evocative style, reminiscent of Thomas Moore and M.Scott Peck, Paul Loeb tells moving stories of ordinary Americans who have found unexpected fulfillment in social involvement. Through their example and Loeb's own wise and powerful lessons, we are compelled to move from passivity to participation. The reward of our action, we learn, is nothing less than a sense of connection and purpose not found in a purely personal life.

"Rich, engaging, clearly written. An essential book for anyone who wants to work for change." - Howard Zinn
How do we challenge our culture's pervasive cynicism? Paul Loeb presents an alternative vision of hope and courage in his book, Soul of a Citizen. Based on thirty years studying the psychology of social involvement, Loeb describes how ordinary citizens can make their voices heard and their actions count in a time when we're often told neither matter. This book explores what leads some people to get involved in larger community issues while others feel overwhelmed or uncertain; what it takes to maintain commitment for the long haul; and how community involvement and citizen activism can give back a sense of connection and purpose rare in purely personal life.

This is a deeply spiritual book, but make no mistake, Loeb's writing, research, and integrity are as solid as they come. Soul of a Citizen is weighty enough to serve as a handbook for activism in the new millennium.

"I stayed up half the night reading Soul of a Citizen, finding it a beautiful and morally transcendent work. Paul Loeb is a personal hero of mine who gives decency and generosity a political character, in the humblest of ways." - Jonathan Kozal
In an engaging and evocative style, Loeb offers encouragement and insights about civic engagement:

  • Our efforts can do more - for ourselves and for the world - than we may ever imagine.
  • We don't have to become saints - or wait for the perfect situation - to take action.
  • Change happens little by little, step by step.
  • We can savor the journey of engagement, even though our ultimate destination is unclear.
  • The impact of our efforts will often ripple outward in ways we can't predict.
"A transformative book of courage and authenticity. If you have children, give it to them. If not, give it to your parents." - Paul Hawken
Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time is a highly personable story of integrity and commitment, a testament to our often-unrealized ability to lead lives worthy of our convictions. It profiles of a broad range of people who've learned these lessons, including:
  • A Maine housewife helps lead a path-breaking campaign finance reform initiative "so my kids won't grow up in a cynical world."
  • A Seattle environmental activist celebrates her hundredth birthday, still passionately involved. "You do what you can," she says. "Then you do some more."
  • A fisherman forges new links between environmentalists, fishermen and Native American tribes to restore Pacific salmon habitat. "It's draining to convince yourself you're powerless and swallow whatever's handed to you," he says. "You get a lot back when you work with a good group of people to take a stand."
  • An African American man serves seventeen years in the California prison system, then initiates a pioneering drug rehabilitation effort to give people "the support they need, in a language they can understand."
  • A Long Island teacher joins a nationwide campaign to force The Gap to treat the young workers who make its clothes with human respect. "The girl I saw in a video could have been my daughter, but her beautiful eyes were so clouded with despair."
  • An eighth-grade dropout joins a community group in her San Antonio barrio, helps design an innovative job program and eventually testifies before the U.S. Senate. "The group found some spark in me," she recalls. "I never knew I had it."
  • And many more.

If you want a copy, here's some specifics:
Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time
by Paul Rogat LoebClick here for more info
Softcover: 380 pages
ISBN: 9780312204358, 0312204353
St. Martin's Press
March 1999

This book is a keeper. It's a good, inspiring read, plus it's just good to simply have it around.

"Soul of a Citizen helps us find the faith we need to act on our deepest beliefs - and keep on." - Marian Wright Edelman, president, Children's Defense Fund

"Informed by his lifelong participation in peace, justice and environmental causes, Loeb offers Americans a new vision for personal engagement with societal issues. A Seattle-based scholar, he eloquently argues for a return to community involvement and social activism, which, he says, have declined since the 1960s and 70s. He gently chides former activists lost to private pursuits, fatigue and cynicism and warns of increasing social isolation and the widening opportunity gap between rich and poor, despite our robust economy. Throughout, Loeb emphasizes the psychological and spiritual importance of the human connection. Believing that personal stories, not politics, capture peoples attention, he seamlessly weaves in inspiring examples of unexpected heroism in ordinary people and successful activism. One such example is 100-year-old Hazel Wood, the grandmother of the environmental movement, who championed neighborhood, day care, economic inequity and pollution issues. Loeb challenges all citizens to take action on their concerns and suggests an activist model for our times, stressing a Zen-like satisfaction in the journey. Even readers who disagree with his liberal politics will find compassion, intelligence and thought-provoking wisdom here." - Publishers Weekly

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While and three other books. He has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other publications. He is an associated scholar at Seattle's Center for Ethical Leadership and lives in Seattle, Washington.

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