The WORDS WE LIVE BY

The WORDS WE LIVE BY

At one time, this nation held a profound and simple faith in the power of words. Today we have become so engulfed in public cynicism that the whole notion of "words to live by" seems to us impossibly naive.

Brian Burrell's splendid collection shows that many of the phrases we once lived by can still have resonance today. A comprehensive, fascinating treasure trove of American common sense and whimsy, The Words We Live By presents a sentimental rediscovery of a lost era in American history. From fraternal loyalty oaths to marriage vows, corporate mottoes to monument inscriptions, Ben Franklin to Henry Ford, Americans for generations have committed their most cherished ideals to print, often in charming and plain-spoken language that perfectly represents our provincial, pragmatic, and romantic national character.

Burrell's work was inspired by his father, an obsessive collector of words and a chronic nostalgia buff who traveled widely with his family, introducing them to the landmarks, monuments, and other symbols of America's past. Throughout his life, he clipped or wrote down memorable phrases, quotes, mottoes, and quips, both the silly and the profound, the playful and the maudlin. Burrell has lovingly compiled his father's collection of scrapbooks, complementing them with extraordinary research into the origins of America's civic ethics, to produce a truly memorable and inspirational work of historical reference. More than just a compendium of classic American wit and wisdom, The Words We Live By brings this material to life with poignantly told stories, forgotten anecdotes, and deeply considered meditations on the meaning of the words that have shaped the American nation.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451646757 | 
  • June 2011
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

DO UNTO OTHERS

THE EVOLUTION OF THE GOLDEN RULE

Whatever happened to the Golden Rule? It seems only yesterday it was a figure of everyday speech, an idea so familiar and unassailable that it could confidently be invoked by name alone. In the booming 1920s the Western Implement Dealers Association made "Obey the Golden Rule!" the very first precept of its code of ethics. The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo (also known as the Fraternal Order of Lumbermen) endorsed it as nothing less than "the basic principle of peace and prosperity for the world." Roger Ward Babson, investment wizard and the founder of Babson College,... see more

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