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BOOK REVIEW: This I Believe

THIS I BELIEVE: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

Holt Paperbacks, 2007,  pp 285

A few weeks ago, before I left for Puerto Rico, I went to Half Price Books, where I stumbled across an interesting book, This I Believe.

This I Believe was a five-minute CBS Radio Network program hosted by journalist Edward Murrow from 1951 to 1955.  According to Ward Wheelock who wrote a preface to the 1952 book, the reasons for the project were obvious:

… the uncertainty of the economic future, the shadow of war, the atom bomb, army service for one’s self or loved ones, the frustration of young people facing the future.

The show encouraged both famous and everyday people to write short essays about their own personal motivation in life and then read them on the air.


More and more, the news is about what is happening right now.  An hour is an eternity.  A day is a lifetime.  And little time is spent making sense of it all, reflecting, and determining how all of it impacts your beliefs and choices.  By contrast to most news programs, This I Believe was about some of the most important lessons that people learn in a lifetime.

More than fifty years after the series ended, though, a few folks sought to rekindle that spark.  The show was revived by Dan Gediman and Jay Allison on NPR from 2005 to 2009.

A simple invitation was extended: Write a few hundred words expressing the core principles that guide your life – your personal manifesto.

The requests were the same: “Frame your beliefs in positive terms.  Refrain from dwelling on what you do not believe.  Avoid restatement of doctrine.  Focus on the personal, the “I” of the title, not the subtly sermonizing “We.”  While you may hold many beliefs, write mainly of one.  Aim for truth without accusation, patriotism without political cant, and faith beyond religious dogma.”

The book This I Believe contains short essays that were submitted more than fifty years ago as well as essays that were submitted when the series was rekindled a few years ago.  Many of the essays tell how a particular belief was forged or confirmed; others explain what people were taught to believe or what they feel they should believe.

A portion of one essay, for instance, states:

I like people who run for public office.  For most of us, life is a series of quiet successes or setbacks.  If you get the Big Promotion, the hometown paper announces your success.  It doesn’t add, “Shields was passed over because of unanswered questions about his expense account” … But elections have been rightly described as a One-Day Sale.  If you’re a candidate, your fate is front-page news.  By eight o’clock on a Tuesday night, you will experience the ecstasy of victory or you will endure the agony of defeat.  Everybody you ever sat next to in study hall, double-dated with, or babysat for knows whether you won or, much more likely, lost.  Politicians boldly risk public rejection of the kind that the rest of us will to any lengths to avoid.

Having worked on four losing presidential campaigns earlier in my life and having covered the last seven as a journalist, I admire enormously the candidate able to face defeat with humor and grace.  Nobody ever conceded defeat better than Dick Tuck, who upon losing a California state senate primary, said simply, “The People have spoken … the bastards.

People are searching for meaning, pontificating about life and death, reflecting on defining moments, wanting to help others, and articulating beliefs that define who they are or will be.  Rest assured, though, that there is an interesting mix of essays – every essay is not about the “Golden Rule.”

The essays are written by innovators, movie stars, politicians, diplomats, taxi drivers, artists, blue collar workers, educators, authors, physicians, athletes, students, parents, police officers, teachers, judges, and even high school dropouts.

Our country is divided by beliefs.  We are still in conflict over moral standards, patriotism, religion, and many other issues.  Yet there seems to be too little listening and reflection.  People are simply too eager to criticize the beliefs of others without seeking to understand.

Too many news media are owned by a dwindling number of large corporations.  A healthy democracy, however, needs to bypass gatekeepers and create forums for people to exchange ideas and beliefs directly.  This book was not only a way to listen to other people, but also an exercise in self-examination.  Because the stories are all short, this was a perfect book to read at the airport.

Ryan Peckyno

Ryan graduated from West Point (BS) and Penn State, Main Campus (MBA). He worked for P&G, Lockheed Martin, the United States Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Motley Fool, Pinnacle Consulting, and various nonprofits.

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