A journey into the modern life of an ancient virtue – bravery – and a quest to understand who might possess it and how
With The Society of Timid Souls, or How To Be Brave, documentary filmmaker Polly Morland sets out to investigate bravery, a quality that she has always felt she lacked. The book takes inspiration from a vividly eccentric, and radical, self-help group for stage-frightened performers in 1940s Manhattan, which coincided with the terrifying height of World War II and was called The Society of Timid Souls. Seventy years later, as anxiety about everything from terrorism to economic meltdown continues, Morland argues that courage has become a virtue in crisis. We are, she says, all Timid Souls now.
Despite a career in which she has filmed in rebel-held Colombian jungles and at the edge of Balkan mass graves, interviewing convicted murderers, drug-traffickers, and terrorists, Morland herself has never felt brave. Often, the very reverse. So she sets out to discover how and why courage is achieved in an age of anxiety and whether it might even be learned. Drawing on her interviews and encounters with soldiers and civilians, bullfighters and big-wave surfers, dissidents fighting for freedom and cancer patients fighting for their lives, Morland examines bravery across the spectrum: from the first childhood act of defiance by Bernard Lafayette, a leader of the civil rights movement who later faced down the KKK in Alabama, or the reflexive will-to-survive of Vjollca Berisha, a Kosovo Albanian who endured a massacre by playing dead among the bodies of her own family, to the small acts of everyday bravery that quietly punctuate our lives, in schoolyards, labor wards, and hospices the world over.
Along the way, Morland draws attention to some of the myths of bravery that have been conjured and perpetuated over time and argues that, often, courage exists as much in the telling as in the doing. At once an exploration of what bravery means and a chronicle of the author's personal journey among those who embody it, The Society of Timid Souls is a profound, approachable meditation on this most valued and mysterious of human qualities. In setting off on the trail of the lionhearted, Polly Morland finds out a great deal about what makes some of us extraordinary, and what of the extraordinary we all share.
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About the Author
POLLY MORLAND is an award-winning British documentary maker. She has directed and produced for the BBC, Channel 4, and the Discovery Channel and lives in the Welsh borderlands with her husband and three sons.
Table of Contents
A Note on Sources viii
Chapter 1 Man (I) 13
Chapter 2 Beast 41
Chapter 3 The Enemy Within 72
Chapter 4 Elemental 103
Chapter 5 Limelight 129
Chapter 6 Man (II) 157
Chapter 7 Gravity 191
Chapter 8 Crime and Punishment 222
Chapter 9 Tyrannies 259
The Society of Timid Souls 298
Further Reading 301
What People are Saying About This
“Using her documentarian's eye, Polly Morland has written a moving and deeply personal book; an examination of courage brimming with humanity.”
– Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“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