This I Believe

by Louis Terkel, Jay Allison, Dan Gediman

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The significance of personal beliefs in accounting for individual success, as each person differently defines it, is central to This I Believe. The editors used a concept that had guided a 1950s radio show and applied it to early twenty-first-century life. The original show, hosted by Edward R. Murrow, ran on CBS, while the updated version, from producer and curator Jay Allison of Atlantic Public Media and executive producer Dan Gediman, aired on National Public Radio; the two series lasted about four years each. A simple guiding concept was that Americans would write brief monologues reflecting on their own philosophy about core values, then read the piece on the air. Both by invitation and in response to calls sent out, essays came from people in all walks of life.

Because the edited volume has eighty authors and each piece is so short, the only real cohesion is the concept. Each author addresses the topic of core values in their own unique way; one result is that, paradoxically, diversity becomes one of the few unifying features of the book. Allison and Gediman provide some structure and analysis in the introduction and conclusion that each provided. A notable feature is the foreword by Studs Terkel, which situates each series in the context of US social change of its respective decade.

The editors not only acknowledge their debt to the original series, but include numerous essays from that series. The highly successful people included range from Albert Einstein and Helen Keller from the earlier show to Bill Gates and Colin Powell from the modern era, but many ordinary Americans are also featured. From the later series, Chilean American author Isabel Allende, Native American author Joy Harjo, and African American doctor Ben Carson are among those who offer perspectives on values they see as important, sometimes in relation to newly assumed identities as Americans.

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