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The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,335 ratings  ·  325 reviews
The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness is an altogether original true story about a storyteller who loses his voice and believes he's lost everything. An encounter with his old teacher shows him that, in fact, he's been given a great gift. Their meetings lead him on a journey into the timeless wisdom of ancient tales - a world of beggars and kings, monks and tigers, ...more
Paperback, 228 pages
Published September 2nd 2005 by Algonquin Books (first published November 1st 2003)
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 ·  1,335 ratings  ·  325 reviews

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Jan Rice
This is a book that uses tales and parables in a memoir. More than that, the author used his tales in the service of living his life and creating the raw material for the memoir.

The idea is you need stories to live, and stories need reasons. Otherwise things are just happening to you pell mell--or maybe you're unmindfully living out prefab paradigms.

There's a theological concept here. God brings order out of darkness and chaos, so imitatio dei: build your story--which appears most needed
Sep 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group
This book turned out to be fascinating. Storyteller Joel ben Izzy tells his own story much of which is understanding that blessings can be curses and curses blessings. To say much more would be to spoil the story of how Joel learned what happiness is really all about. In between chapters he places different cultural stories designed to teach us something. I certainly learned something. I really hope I get to hear him in person because as a writer he was very entertaining. (
Aaron W. Matthews
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
5* is too low a rating. I have love for this book. Listen to the audiobook as read by the author (trust me on this one). It's a veritable treasure chest of hidden gems in the form of story.
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a very quick book to read, and if you love storytelling you'll love it. Most chapters open with a fable or story from some part of the world that relates to the coming chapter. It's a memoir of sorts, telling the tale of a storyteller who lost his voice. What could be worse? (Well, lots of things actually, but it's pretty bad for him.)

He turns and returns to his storyteller mentor, who challenges him with hard-edged questions, pushing him in ways that seem too mysterious, and
Naomi Bayer
Oct 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was in the Enterprise San Francisco office on October 14th and stopped into the conference room where several of our folks were talking with two guys I did not know. Rich Gross who leads our team in SF, introduced me to Joel Ben Izzy, saying he was one of his heroes and how his son, now in college, grew up on the Beggar King and other stories. Soon, we were telling tales and making connections--totally engaged. Since I was off to Santa Cruz the next week to see my wonderful granddaughters, ...more
Oct 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy
10 out of 10

This enchanting book has some chapters that may seem outright depressing, in spite of the serene, promising title, but this is exactly how we learn what the secret is, a struggle is necessary and probably we would not be able to appreciate happiness, if we were not to go through adversity, and trauma is an intricate part of the story of Joel ben Izzy, a professional storyteller, who has inserted his own experiences, the
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this short, quick read. It caused me to ponder some of the questions Joel, the author had. What is real happiness? How do you know when you've found it? Can happiness (joy) be found even when facing life-changing circumstances? Do I have "heavy luggage" because I haven't shared things with family that really should be discussed? . . . . Our book group discussion was good and helpful. The format of the book, sharing a named story (parable) from another culture and following that ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As I walked the house turning out lights and gathering thing that needed to be put somewhere else before I went to bed; I knew I wasn’t ready to go to sleep. So I stood at the bookshelf while my tea steeped and scanned spines. Something not too hard, nor too light. Something I hadn’t read. This last is easiest, as most the books in the house are my wife’s, I stopped keeping books many moves ago.

The beggar king caught my eye; and in one sitting I’ve finished it. It was the story I needed to read,
Kim Rasband
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
LOVED this book. I'm grateful for a dear friend who reviewed it here and pointed me in the direction of this treasure. My favorite take away - don't try to "escape" your own story as you are only in the middle! So many times in recent weeks I have faced challenging moments and that bit of wisdom has helped me to find a sense of peace, balance and clarity. I will definitely be ordering a hard copy of this one as I want to read the stories and mark the book. But listening to it was a treat as ...more
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pretty good in the end. It was an interesting message—the only way to be happy is to let go of the belief that you will always have good things happen to you, and that you have to learn to find joy in the times that are hard. It reminded me a little too much of The Little Prince at times.
Sue Carre
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very lovely little book with gems packed inside. A must read!
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My original plan was to write down all the quotes and stories I love from this book. However, after filling too many pages, I decided this books is one really long amazing quote! A must read!
Sep 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-love
I really liked this book - mostly because I LOVE story telling. I am a real fan of Timpanogos StoryTelling Festival - I am wondering if Joel ben Izzy has ever been here - or will be in the future.

This is an auto-biography BUT it is really just a collection of wonderful stories. Since he is a story teller he uses stories to indicate how they affect his attitude toward the experiences of his life. Really a lot of good quotes.

I highly recommend it - especially if you love stories.
H Gibson
Mar 27, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the Beggar King; it reads like grown up Mitch Albom. There are a lot of good lessons to learn from the author's story and those he tells throughout the book. A little new age-y in a couple of places but nothing overly offensive.
Mar 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Joel ben Izzy explores the power and meaning of story. As a travelling storyteller who loses his voice, ben Izzy takes us along on his journey of discovery. A wonderful, quick read - interspersed with classic tales that have a direct relationship to his path.
Aug 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ramy by: Nadine (wife)
Very interesting story written by a Jewish storyteller (I didn't know this job existed) who lives in Berkley. A story by a storyteller about his own story but also full of folk stories. A painful part of his life....
Jul 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-group-2012
I loved the author's story and I loved his use of stories to tell his own. I kind of want to memorize the folktales at the beginning of each chapter to use as parlor entertainment or to teach my kids life lessons. Professional storytellers have always been very fascinating to me.
Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group, inspiring
This was a great story about finding happiness in the places you least expect it. He is a great storyteller. I love books that really make me contemplate life and the things that are the most important.

8/15/12 - Just read it again. Yep, still liked it. 4 1/2 if I could.
Jan 25, 2013 rated it liked it
The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness is the true story of Joel Ben Izzy, a storyteller who lost his voice. His stories are better than his writing, but I did enjoy the fables/tales peppered throughout the book and his thoughts on what storytelling means.
Barbara Lovejoy
Feb 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A friend recommended this book. Loved it!--need to read again.
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A beautiful story of courage and passion. I loved the use of Jewish humor to talk about his life. It has moments of despair without not cynicism. I found it touching.
The Dusty Jacket
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“There are some stories that make you feel warm and good inside, leaving you with the sense that all is right with the world. There are others that simply make you laugh. And then there are those you just don’t know what to do with, the kind that pass through your psyche like a mouse moving through a snake.” This is a story about a man who lost so much only to gain even more.

Joel ben Izzy is a storyteller and a very successful one at that. He has traveled the world delighting audiences with his
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish
The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness was an impulse read; I picked it up from the shelf when I was looking for something else. I feel very blessed to have stumbled upon it.

At first, the little book seems like a relatively simple, if delightful, volume of storytelling. But the deeper you get into it, you learn more about how to make meaning of challenging life circumstances, family relationships, and the nature of story.

It'll be enjoyed by people who like Mitch Albom's work, but also by
Brandon Redfern
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-top-10
This book mesmerized me. It touched me. It spoke to me. There was nothing "spectacular" about the story, however its message, its beat, its truth was profound to me. It's no surprise Mr. Izzy is a professional storyteller (never knew that was a real job!), he is a true master of his craft. I've been more quiet, more pensive in the last few days than maybe any 3 day stretch of my life. You will laugh, you will cry, your mind will be pushed hard to do its best to connect with your heart. I had to ...more
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book was so rich like whipped cream.

Things my ear picked up on:

What is a story but a golden lie that speaks the truth
Spin straw into gold
I felt filthy with guilt
Nothing weighs more then a lie
The harder the question the simpler the answer
His face broke into a broad grin
They do a good business those demons
Nothing screws up life like our expectations
We slept like spoons now we slept like knives
In time the muddy waters will settle
She's perfect in every regard
We drink mango nectar under
David Gamble
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a great book! I was telling my niece last month that I wish I got swept up in books and unable to put them down like I did as a teen, but that it hadn't happened in so long I didn't know if I was still able to do that or was too jaded for it. This book gave me that experience again. I couldn't wait to get it back in my hands.
It's basically a story about the author's life with his kids, through throat cancer, and his mother's death, told in pieces with stories he knows from around the
Scott Wozniak
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Joel Ben Izzy (the author) is a master storyteller. You can see it in the many short tales that are embedded throughout the book. But you can also see it in the larger story that all those little stories are woven into. This was a beautiful reading experience.

I wish I could give it five stars. But in the end he is not a masterful philosopher or thinker. In the end, all he can come up for the point behind the plot: I don't know the meaning of life but I'm sure there must be one.

So I recommend
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book flows with stories and tales gathered from around the world. These little “fables” teach us life lessons too numerous to mention. We also follow the author, a story-teller, and see how he faces his problem. He loses his voice and that is a big problem for a professional storyteller. How can he make a living? When he finally accepts that he isn’t going to talk again- he does find some peace. Then of course, a miracle happens, and he finds his voice again. It is an inspiring and fun to ...more
Niket Sheth
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Superb book... This is perfect for someone looking for how to deal with the losses this life puts us through... The author has given his honest reaction and advice on how to deal with the tragedies faced and how to overcome some of it through certain extent. The book would be loved by those who like to read folktales, the kind of stories that teach many things about life in an interesting way. Although the premise is based around a storyteller, the themes in the book are mature in nature. It is ...more
Blaine Strickland
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Blaine by: Gift from a student
The book started a little slowly for me (I couldn’t envision a professional storytelling career), but gained momentum and impact. By the end, I laughed and cried (if you’ve lost a parent, you’ll cry, too). Upon reflection, the book works on two levels: the compelling autobiography of the owner, and the reminder of how powerful stories can be. I would recommend this book to mid-lifers who are sifting their past experiences and pondering a direction for the future.
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Jewish Book Club: The Beggar King 7 15 May 14, 2015 11:02PM  

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