The Greatest Gift: The Original Story That Inspired the Christmas Classic It's a Wonderful Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Greatest Gift: The Original Story That Inspired the Christmas Classic It's a Wonderful Life

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  157 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Few films have become a part of the fabric of American life as much as Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life. Every Christmas, Americans reopen their hearts to Jimmy Stewart and his journey through Bedford Falls. Yet few of us know that the movie was based on "The Greatest Gift," a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, privately printed as a Christmas card to the au...more
Hardcover, 72 pages
Published November 1st 1996 by Studio
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Greatest Gift, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Greatest Gift

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers by J.R.R. TolkienThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
IMDB 250
85th out of 120 books — 33 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 390)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Susan Jo Grassi
What can you say about a classic? "It's a Wonderful Life" is a favorite movie that I have watched at Christmas time since forever. I just read the original story and was wowed at how a 24 page Christmas card could express such a special thought and then inspire a fantastic movie. This was definitely worth a read.
Joanna Wilson
In the 2011 Christmas episode "Holidays of Future Passed" on The Simpsons you'll find one of my favorite holiday jokes. Homer finds himself contemplating what his life would be like if he'd never seen the movie It's A Wonderful Life. Not only have we all seen the classic Jimmy Stewart movie umpteen times, but many of us have seen the endless re-makes, adaptations, and re-tellings of the familiar story told each year on television episodes, specials and movies. Some of them are done creatively an...more
This little story by Philip Van Doren Stern is the one that inspired the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I picked it up on a whim off the holiday shelf at the public library. Like many families, we watch the movie perennially, and I was curious to learn its roots.

The story itself is very simple as compared to the movie. There is little character development, and some of the best known characters from the movie are missing, i.e. Potter, Uncle Billy, Violet, and the policeman/cab driver duo. Yet the...more
Book Concierge
This is a short story that no publisher wanted. So, it was privately printed in 1943 and distributed as a Christmas card to a select group of friends. Somehow a copy found its way into the hands of a Hollywood producer and the author was stunned to get a telegram saying the movie rights had been sold! It took three screenwriters and a director and lead actor who believed in the story to eventually produce It’s a Wonderful Life (directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart).

To mark the 50t...more

The Greatest Gift is best know as the inspiration for Frank Capra's beloved It's A Wonderful Life. This short story was a surprise to me not only because of how enchanting it is, putting life in perspective, but also because of the differences between this and it's adapted movie. First off, there is no Uncle Billy or Mr. Potter, George Bailey is not even George Baily, he is George Pratt. It made me realize how much Frank Capra added to It's A Wonderful Life, although how could you make a two hou...more
In this book that inspired one of my favorite movies, "It's a Wonderful Life", George Bailey is George Pratt. And if George had never been born, Mary would've been miserably married to George's rival Art Jenkins instead of being an old-maid librarian. Some of the characters that are central to the movie, like Mr. Potter and Uncle Billy, are absent from this original version. Although Frank Capra changed some of the details of this very familiar story in order to flesh out the film version, he s...more
Dec 03, 2012 Greg rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: christmas
Anyone who likes the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" will love this book. It is the original short story that inspired the movie. Sent originally as a Christmas card, the movie rights were purchased and after several tries it became the beloved Christmas classic that it is today.

The short story has obvious differences from the movie, but it stands up on its own and is a great story to read and reread every Christmas (or any other time of the year). I especially appreciated the Afterword that was...more
Short story with a moral. Touching.
The story that was the original inspiration for the film "It's a Wonderful Life." The story certainly lacks most of the details of the film, as well as the bulk of its emotional impact, but it was still fun to read and to find little similarities here and there... Also, the illustrations were beautiful.

A fun quote...

"After all, the place you grew up in was the one spot on earth where you could really feel at home." (Currently experiencing this sentiment firsthand while home for the holidays...)...more
This is the short story that the movie It's a Wonderful Life is based on. It is a charming read and I really enjoyed it. The author originally sent the story out as Christmas cards in 1944 when he was unable to find anyone to publish his "fantasy" story. Well, fortunately for us, Frank Capra managed to receive a copy of one of the original cards that Mr. Van Doren Stern had sent out, and the rest as they say, "Is history."
I read this book in an hour. The Greatest Gift is the reason why we have the Christmas Classic "It's a Wonderful Life" and I feel more complete for having read this item. Short, sweet, moving... this quick read has the power to make you sit back and evaluate how your life is. I think I enjoyed it more having seen the movie so much. I was able to read between the lines and it meant more to me. Highly recommended for the holiday season.
A beautiful story. It's really short, and full of Christmas charm. Read it to feel Christmassy.
Feb 22, 2011 Mariah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anybody.
The Greatest Gift was an enjoyable short story that took me maybe twenty minutes to read, but I'm glad that I read it. I'd picked it up a little after Christmas but had forgotten about it up until a few days ago. It was fun to try and see where some of the things from the movie had come from. The story was such an easy read that I would suggest anyone and everyone to give it a shot.
Lisa Kay
★★★★★ A lot of people rate this book down because it is so much less than the movie. However, this is the original idea that was printed as a Christmas card and sent out to the author’s friends in 1943. Really, it is a short story. Neat to read the “afterword” by the author’s daughter, discussing Capra and Stewart.
This is one of those cases where the movie is better than the story. I can see how it inspired It's A Wonderful Life, but I was not touched by this little tale. It suffers from the lack of back story, which makes the movie so rich. But I guess the "price" we pay for the length of the story. I'm glad I read it though!
Ben Wetzeler
This book is a very short story on how life is the most important gift for Christmas. George in the story claimed that he did not want to be born, and a stranger grants his wish. He then realizes all the people who are affected by his disappearance, and he begs for the stranger to change him back.
Dec 14, 2012 Kaylee added it
I thought that this short story that I read was a very good thought catcher. Once I got towards the end of the story, it seemed to get really good and made me not want to stop reading. I like books like this one that make me want to keep reading and reading.
lola Franco
this story was the basis of my favorite movie, it's a wonderful life. the story is really good on its own. but it's fascinating to see how they fleshed this story out, for the movie, while staying fairly true to the story and not changing it that much.

Short and sweet, this story gets right to the heart of what we all love about It's a Wonderful Life: the principle that every human life is meaningful when it knows love. This is a lovely, eloquently written tale.

This is the short story that was the inspiration for the movie, 'It's a Wonderful Life'. As it is so short, you hardly get to 'know' the characters, but it is definitely a worth while read for any fan of the film.
Good Christmas story. Wrote and gave out as a Christmas card (it is real short) in 1941,the author was in his 90s then. Later became the basis for my favorite Christmas movie and 15 years after that made into a book.
This book was a book about how a guy thought his life was dull. He wanted to jump off of a bridge but a little boy stopped him. He saw his life as if he was never born. He saw the people he loved by selling a brush.
I found this short story online. There is much more story in It's a Wonderful Life, but this is a sweet story that most definitely shows us that everyone lives a worthwhile life.
Diane Mueller
Short, wonderful story that the movie It's a Wonderful Life is based on. I read it in less than a hour. It will go on my book shelf to keep and reread Christmas after Christmas.
It was just like other stories where they want something to change and so then they get taken into to future or the past and see's what it is like with out them
Jennifer Will
Like a lot of Christmas stories this book was very powerful. It shows the true meaning of Christmas and that we have many things we take for granted.
Pradeep Badatiya
It is about realization of basic requirements that are being ignored in the due course of life. They are really imperative but often less realized.
A short book that reminds you how important life really is. Not just to you, but the others around you. Your life can affect more than just you.
Dec 14, 2012 Lenear added it
I thought it was pretty good. It had a good moral about how life is the best gift anyone can get. And it is the greatest gift you can get.
Lori Campbell
The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" staring Jimmy Stewart is so great! I was disipointed in the book that it is based upon.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 12 13 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Donkey's Dream
  • Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus: The Classic Edition
  • The Pirate's Coin: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure (Sixty-Eight Rooms #3)
  • The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas (Austin Family, #3)
  • The Quiet Little Woman: Tilly's Christmas, Rosa's Tale : Three Enchanting Christmas Stories
  • The Boulevard of Broken Dreams
  • A Christ-Centered Christmas
  • Santa's Favorite Story
  • Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect
  • A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again
  • Christmas Is Good!: Trixie Treats & Holiday Wisdom
  • In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story
  • Song Of The Silent Harp (Emerald Ballad #1)
  • Christmas on Jane Street: A True Story
  • Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb
  • A Texas Christmas
  • Harold's Circus
Secret Missions of the Civil War The Man Who Killed Lincoln A Pocket Book of Modern American Short Stories Strange Beasts and Unnatural Monsters The Confederate Navy: A Pictorial History

Share This Book