This book is a modern investigation of an ancient virtue, inspired by a group for stage-frightened musicians in 1940s Manhattan. Coinciding with the terrifying height of World War Two, it was called The Society of Timid Souls. Seventy years later, as fear about everything from terrorism to economic meltdown has become part of our daily lives, Polly Morland reconvenes the society, setting out to discover what it means to be brave in an age of anxiety.
Her journey-and this book-is full of amazing people and surprising ideas. It explores how and why people are brave, from battlefield to hospital ward, circus tightrope to suburban street, disaster zone to political protest. It throws light on some of the myths and lies that surround our favourite virtue. And most of all, it asks can we learn to be brave?
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Humans - from the Bronze Age onwards, when we first start to set down ideas about ourselves - have long asked, 'What is it to be brave?' With originality, wit, and no little gumption, Polly Morland pursues this same question. Thanks to hundreds of sensitive, face to face interviews, her paean to timidity - as well as to bravery - is salutatory and moving. This work reminds us that bravery and courage can be a gift of others, and not something that we struggle for alone (Bettany Hughes)
Using her documentarian's eye, Polly Morland has written a moving and deeply personal book; an examination of courage brimming with humanity ( Amanda Foreman)
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)
With The Society of Timid Souls, Polly Morland expertly weaves scores of riveting stories, fascinating interviews, and exotic experiences into a ceaselessly engaging investigation of our most-elevated virtue. We witness ordinary humans taking extraordinary action on the battlefields, bullrings, big waves, and even lunch-counters of this life, and at each turn, would-be timid souls summon resolve in the face of unbearable challenges. For journeying into her own self-doubt, for reminding us of our glorious potential, and for assembling a cast of courageous souls to inspire us to reach it, Polly Morland herself deserves a medal (Aron Ralston, author of Between a Rock and a Hard Place)
Polly Morland's voice is warm yet very smart, and she's collected some cracking good stories (Lionel Shriver)
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)
This fascinating exploration of what it means to be brave - when your natural inclination is to cower, or flee - is a moving testament to mankind's capacity to face danger in pursuit of a greater good. Those who shudder at the wraiths and hazards on the darkening horizon will draw consolation, and courage, from Polly Morland's conclusions. (Rowan Pelling)
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 2013-04-19)
An eccentric, hugely likeable debut ...solid case studies backed up by insightful, sensitively conducted interviews (John O'Connell Times 2013-04-27)
A fascinating study ... compelling ... an appealing and original account of one of the greatest human virtues, full of powerful stories. It leaves you hopeful. (Bee Wilson Sunday Times 2013-05-05)
The Society of Timid Souls is well worth reading (William Leith Spectator 2013-05-18)
Morland approaches her subject with energy, tenacious curiosity and, however much she may protest that she is lily-livered, courage ... She skips lightly where angels fear to tread. Her book has astonishing range ... she proves the liveliest company: sane, merry and undeceived ... a bracing, moving and uncommon book ... It sounds as though the time may have come to reconvene the Society of Timid Souls. (Kate Kellaway Observer 2013-05-19)
What makes the book so interesting is that Morland is not remotely mawkish. Her tone is bracing while her book is part self-help guide, part moral philosophy ... even the most timid of us, she show, can be helped to overcome our fears (Cressida Connolly Mail on Sunday 2013-06-16)
Unexpectedly moving and delightful treatise about different forms of courage (Lucy Mangan Stylist 2013-06-26)
The Society of Timid Souls is thought-provoking, insightful and fascinating. (Anna Carey Irish Times 2013-06-29)
A series of beautifully written vignettes that function as a meditation on bravery's lovely shimmer (Kathryn Hughes Guardian 2013-07-13)
An ambitious and arresting study ... richly-drawn (Brendan Daly Sunday Business Post 2013-08-04)
Polly Morland is not afraid to talk to people and she is damn good at it. I want to put this on a billboard. (Maria Tumarkin Sydney Morning Herald 2013-07-13)
During fifteen years as a documentary-maker, Polly Morland worked as producer/director for the BBC and Channel Four, as well as for PBS and the Discovery Channel. Subjects she tackled included: the investigation of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, the reclusion of J.D. Salinger, the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, the economics of organised crime, the archaeology of ancient Britain, the rise of political terror groups in Europe and Latin America and a controversial history of the Bible. In a moment of courage, Morland left her job to write this book. She was awarded a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award to support writing The Society of Timid Souls.
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