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The Society of Timid Souls: or, How To Be Brave

3.48  ·  Rating Details  ·  115 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
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 st
Hardcover, 309 pages
Published July 9th 2013 by Crown
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Lauren H
Jun 03, 2013 Lauren H rated it did not like it
I agree with the previous comment about the bull fighting - the author's analysis of animals in general was a bit odd and not something with which I could identify. She says animals are "not that clever." Then she examines bravery shown by animals used during wartime. With the cute mouse on the cover, I expected more empathy with the animals she examines. I understand that she may not agree that they have bravery, that they just do what they're taught to do, but instead of just saying something ...more
The title of this book caught my eye, and I was surprised to learn in the first few pages of the book that there really was a Society of Timid Souls in the early 1940s, a group to help performers overcome stage fright.

Despite that good start, this book started to turn sour for me fairly early on. One of the first examples of bravery the author was used was the bravery of bullfighters. I don't deny that these people are brave, but it seems to me that bravery does not excuse cruelty, and bullfight
Some of this book I really liked — particularly looking at the world through the lens of bravery/courage, which I don't often think about. I liked the IDEA of timid souls working together to learn courage, but then most of the stories were extravagant, big brave acts, like military heroism and BASE jumping and bullfighting and saving babies from Rottweilers. Which is all fine and good but maybe not the book I was looking for, which maybe would be bravery on an interpersonal level, which wasn't r ...more
Jul 27, 2015 Joy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Society of Timid Souls begins by telling the true story of an organisation set up in the early part of the 20th Century to combat fear through, what would now be termed, exposure therapy. It sounds terrifying, but appears to have worked for the members of the club.

Polly Morland uses this reference point to talk about bravery; about the different ways one can be brave and the different perspectives on incidents deemed to be heroic. It is interesting and some of the stories contained within t
May 09, 2014 Andy rated it did not like it
The author tells you what she's going to say, then she says it, then she expounds a bit on what she just said, and she does all that without getting to the point much of the time, spending too many pages on what courage isn't. Overall, the book does not deliver on the promise of the title. It is more of a rambling essay on things that touch on the topic.

I recently read Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, and that's about this guy Brad who is the only person on Wall St. to stand up to the systematic co
Jan 26, 2014 Ingrid rated it liked it
A thoughtful, endearing meditation on bravery that I read for a review I'm writing for a senior citizen monthly (something about living well despite being almost dead? I don't know, this is the first one I've done). Documentary filmmaker Morland travels the world interviewing people who have displayed varying degrees of bravery, from tightrope walkers who don't use nets to bomb diffusers to sopranos who perform nightly for thousands of critical fans. In the end, she doesn't quite get there -- "t ...more
Jan 20, 2014 René rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I thought I would find this interesting. But other than the fact that there really was a Society of Timid Souls, during WWII, I just couldn't get into this. I can't say why. I guess I just didn't find the author's presentation of these stories too engaging. I would like to know more about the members of the society that gave this book its title, though.
Aug 27, 2013 Harriet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best non fiction books I have ever read. Beautifully written and packed with the most incredible stories of courage and bravery. Did it make me less timid? Perhaps not, but it taught me that feeling paralysed by imagined fears does not necessarily mean that when the chips are down one won't have it in one to act with courage.
William Sutton
Apr 15, 2015 William Sutton rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary and brave book. The stories in themselves are powerful. (My wife kept asking why I was crying, or laughing, or flinching.) The tales of warfare, bomb disposal, firefighting and high-wire walking first make you ask yourself: could I do what they did? Would I ever react that way? But then we are gently brought back to a kinder question: could I, at least, be a little braver in the life I do lead?

The way the stories are woven together is engaging and intricate. What I most loved wa
Jaimella Shaikh
Oct 29, 2014 Jaimella Shaikh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing exploration what it is to be brave, this book takes its name from a group of performers with stage fright in 1940s Manhattan who got together 'to play, to criticise and be criticised, in order to conquer the old bogey of stage fright'.

Morland sets out to find out if bravery can be learnt. The book is most illuminating when Morland interviews people who deliberately expose themselves to risk: soldiers, high wire walkers, climbers and BASE jumpers. People who through self-mastery an
The Society of Timid Souls was a decent book; it was compelling enough that I read through until the end. I went into the book thinking that it was about the actual Society of Timid Souls and would be more of a historical discussion about that group; instead, it was a collection of musings on courage. The book is at its most interesting when telling stories of courage; however, when it edged into philosophical discussions, I started skipping pages. I don't quite know why, but the book felt fragm ...more
May 31, 2013 Damaskcat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author came across information about The Society of Timid Souls which started meeting in New York in 1942. It was primarily a group of musicians who had extreme forms of stage fright and wanted to overcome them. The Society was founded by Bernard Gabriel – a pianist.

The Society’s members overcame their fears by playing in front of the other members of the group and being heckled and told they were rubbish or interrupted with loud noises until they felt they could cope with anything the publ
Aug 08, 2013 Christel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: won-done
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to review this. I went from thinking of this as a 4 star to a 5 star book as it progressed. It took time to get into it, but I was glad to have given it the time. Morland does a tour de force in terms of looking at what philosophers, artists, writers, entertainers, military, first responders, medical pros, patients, educators, athletes and on and on say about courage and what is instinct and what ...more
Nov 04, 2013 Bradley rated it it was ok
This is an exploration of what it means to be brave and if the timid can plug into a source of bravery.

The assumption being to live a life less fearfully is a good thing. The evolutionary advantage fear must have given us is only lightly touched on.

In a great many of these books of this ilk it is the journey not the destination which is important. This is usually down to the fact there are usually very few useful clear cut answers but here there is a thread to be followed while some interestin
Edoardo Albert
Sep 08, 2013 Edoardo Albert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My wife, an actress, tells me that, when a first-night performance has been disastrous but you are faced with saying something nice in the bar afterwards to the actor in question, the worst option is to tell him how brave his performance was. This might have affected my idea of courage. However, Morland makes the opposing case for, as she quotes CS Lewis, courage is 'not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point'. In this book, through interviews and examples, ...more
Natasha Pile
Dec 04, 2013 Natasha Pile rated it liked it
When I first read the blurb for this book, I assumed a work of fiction. The stories sounded so wonderfully fantastical and exciting that I thought it had to be so. From the personal courage of a woman who gave herself a caesarean to a firefighter’s fearless act of bravery and kindness in the presence of a suicide bomber, ablaze as a result of his failed mission. One thing this book has definitely taught me is that people do far more interesting things in real life than they could ever possibly d ...more
Jul 10, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it
The Society of Timid Souls, a post WWII gathering of musicians who sought to overcome their stage fright, is Polly Morland's inspiration on her quest to discover How to Be Brave. Bravery, with its cousin courage, comes in many different forms, as we learn through a number of interviews Morland has with brave people. Is the bravery of a soldier the same as that of a dog who seeks to defend its owner? Is courage still courage if you use alcohol or medication to build it up? Can a bad person also b ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Aug 03, 2013 Katie/Doing Dewey rated it liked it
The Society of Timid Souls was inspired by a society of the same name which existed during World War II and helped members overcome stage fright. Inspired by this society and her own desire to be brave, the author interviews a variety of people who have been brave in an equal variety of ways. She also asks a lot of interesting questions about the nature of bravery and whether people can learn to be brave.

I had heard good things about this book, loved the cover, and really wanted to love the book
Biblio Files
Oct 16, 2013 Biblio Files rated it really liked it
This is an investigation into what it means to be brave. Of course everyone knows what it means to be brave. A firefighter rushing into a burning building to save someone inside, definitely brave. An actor with stage fright doing a monologue in front of an audience? That requires courage to overcome a fear, so it's a kind of bravery, but no one would put it in the same category as the firefighter risking his life to save another. What about the mountain climber who risks her life to scale a dang ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Aug 05, 2013 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it really liked it
Polly Morland makes documentaries. Even if I wasn’t told this about her, I would have been able to figure it out from this book. Rather than a documentary, this time, however, Morland decided to write a book. Her subject is courage.

Morland opens by taking us to a meeting of the Society of Timid Souls, an organization that formed after Pearl Harbor, when America, both individually and as a country, was fearful, and which was created to encourage bravery. Morland confides that she herself should b
Theresa El-Thomas
Jul 17, 2013 Theresa El-Thomas rated it it was ok
This book was extremely hard to get into, I found myself putting it down time and time again. It just was not my cup of tea. It was uninteresting and unable to hold my attention. The parts that i did get through were about the group the timid souls formed in the 1940's that helped singers get over stage fright.It goes on to talk about bravery. However, the examples that were used I personally do not think of as brave men. Please don't get me wrong, instead of using dead service men as an example ...more
Squirrel Circus
Jun 24, 2013 Squirrel Circus rated it liked it
I struggled with the opening chapter(s) of this non-fiction study of the concept of courage. Too much space spent going in circles about the similarities and differences between bravery, courage, valor, etc. Though the entire book continues to ask the question of how bravery or courage can be defined or demonstrated, the "case studies" that Morland includes are well chosen and interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. I was particularly struck by the contrasting discussions of courage in wa ...more
Jun 26, 2013 Marianne rated it really liked it
I received this through First Reads and I'm glad I did, as it's a book that would have been added to my "To Read" list and it would have taken years to get around to it.

I understand that some people are disappointed with the book, hoping for more scientific and concrete. The "How to Be Brave" part of the title is rather misleading, as the author never really tells us how.

Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed this book. I was moved to tears several times while waiting for my flights. The interviews are
Alisa Wilhelm
Sep 08, 2015 Alisa Wilhelm marked it as gave-up-on
Shelves: non-fiction
I gave it a good 25% to prove itself, but it just wasn't as compelling as I had hoped.
Aug 09, 2013 Beccadorff rated it it was ok
I thought the concept of the book was intriguing, but the execution lacking.
Morland recounts numerous stories of bravery, which bored me after awhile, interspersed with quotes and thoughts from various people, which I enjoyed. The style of the book annoyed me; Morland tried to capture her journey, and I didn't like the manner in which involved the audience. I wish that there had been less stories and more research/science/philosophy, but that might difficult given the subject. While it was well-
Aug 05, 2013 Tara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 13-14-adult
A documentary and historical exploration of what it means to be brave, as told by a filmmaker who has a lifetime of experience filming in the most dangerous locations in the world. Argues that in our modern anxiety-ridden culture, we all lack courage. Uses historical facts and interviews of people she has met to best understand how courage exists, and can thrive, in challenging times.
Alicia Forton
Dec 07, 2013 Alicia Forton rated it liked it
I was interested in the topic (can a person learn to be brave?) and the interviews were interesting. I found it slow going; the author is a documentary filmmaker not primarily an author so maybe that's it? Or it may have veered too much into philosophy for me. Still worth reading.
"Is courage the same as bravery?" "Can there be a bad brave man?"
Jul 05, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookshelf
A nice little book and a very interesting premise. I especially enjoyed the history of The Society of Timid Souls. The stories about bravery were moving and touching and important. A well-written book I recommend to everyone.
Oct 13, 2013 Bonita rated it liked it
enjoyable read. this book touched on many forms of courage.
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