The Society of Timid Souls: Or, How to be Brave Paperback – 2 May 2013
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A dazzling synthesis of reportage, moral philosophy and memoir, Polly Morland's anatomy of courage moves effortlessly from the bullring and the battlefield to the concert hall and the maternity ward. Searching, startling and richly humane, this is the kind of book that reads you as you read it. A great achievement -- Matthew Sweet I have decided - a deep breath - to call The Society of Timid Souls together once more. If you would care to join me, then perhaps together we can work out how to be brave. I intend to discover a little of what it means - what it really means - to be brave. So it is that I have done, for me, a rather bold thing. I have quit my job and I have packed a notebook. Now come with me. I will be scared to go alone. -- Polly Morland Using her documentarian's eye, Polly Morland has written a moving and deeply personal book; an examination of courage brimming with humanity -- Amanda Foreman Polly Morland has written a beautiful and extremely moving book about the quintessentially human trait of bravery. A widely recognized concept that almost no one really understands, bravery has long needed a serious exploration like The Society of Timid Souls. It is gorgeously written, deeply felt, and sharply researched. This is one of the few books I know that leaves me literally grateful to the writer for doing the work they do. I loved it. -- Sebastian Junger Fascinating ... Morland's philosophical, extremely well-written book suggests that while some people - bullfighters, soldiers, tightrope walkers - are obviously wired to relish dangerous lives, the timid rest of us may be braver than we think. -- John Harding * Daily Mail *
An inspiring, revelatory and often moving investigation of courage in all its forms, from battlefields and bullrings to earthquakes and opera housesSee all Product description
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It would be hard to read this book without thinking that your understanding of courage and of human nature had been deepened, and without an admiration for the author, whose own courage seems to have been most tested in interviewing intellectuals, as she is brave enough to admit. She hasn't shirked philosophical or scientific literature either, but her accounts of these fields are not where the real value of the book lies.
What is perhaps disappointing is that no overarching theory of courage emerges, but that each and every interviewee just about has a life story that really matters to them (I wanted to be like Zorros; I wanted to really live; I wanted the thrill that comes with danger; I really enjoy being focussed as you are when it is life and death when dangling from a rope repairing a buildings - and so on). Some interviewees are comparatively inarticulate (e.g. the one who has lost a foot clearing mines and minefields but has being doing this work for years, to the great good of mankind) but no less brave for that. The author remarks that often the story about the courage may 'crystallise after the event' in many cases. Also that of course a lot of the activity for which people are called courages is something they train to do time and time and again so that the courageous behaviour becomes natural and automatic when it is called for.
And having recently read the books of Jonathan Haidt on the conscious (rider) and less conscious (elephant) parts of us all, I did wonder if this was part of the key. We do what we do fairly unconsciously for the most part - we train our less conscious selves to do what we consciously want - then we rely on those unconscious selves for instant action when the time comes. And we have a life narrative for ourselves that makes sense of all this. This kind of theorising however, is far from the text of this book - which I would, however, strongly recommend for anyone with an interest in this subject.
The very best bits are the direct encounters with the author.
There is something deeply personal about this book, it draws you in. You become complicit in the investigation in the very best of senses.
I loved it.
There really is something for everyone in this engaging and sometimes confronting treatise: philosophy; history; horror; suspense; grief; personal discovery; joy and hope. Polly Morland has tackled an intricate and intriguing subject and in doing so has graduated from The Society of Timid Souls to join the ranks of The Courageous.