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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,071 Ratings  ·  309 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, 80 pages
Published November 1st 1996 by Avery Publishing Group (first published December 1943)
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A priceless importance due the film that inspired


It’s not rare if you haven’t read this short story or even know about it. But certainly it could be quite rare if you haven’t watched, at least once, the film that inspired.

The Greatest Gift, by Phillip Van Doren Stern, is the inspiration for the masterpiece directed by Frank Capra and performed by James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and Henry Travers. I am talking about...

...It’s a W
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: holidays
“I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again."

Heartwarming and inspirational.

As a collector of Christmas books, I am so glad that I found this one as it was the inspiration for the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."

I didn't realize until reading the "Afterword" that he had thought of this story while shaving one morning and then spent a couple of years polishing it up before presenting it to magazines that would not published it. Since he couldn'
The basis of the Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life. The story was published in a magazine and is too short for the character development and world-building that the movie is so good at, and the supernatural element is much more pronounced and better-explained in the movie. The story is still well worth your time, and barely takes any to read.
classic reverie
I love Frank Capra's It a Wonderful Life and was happy to read the very short story that started it all. The short story and the movie have differences but the basic story line and the meaning ring true. It was interesting to read the story and see the difference, which any fan of the movie would truly enjoy. The Afterword by Philip Can Doren Stern's daughter is interesting regarding the conception of the story and how it came to Capra. The book is really good but the movie takes it up another l ...more
Jeannette Nikolova
I'm delighted beyond words right now! It's a Wonderful Life is one of my favourite old movies and I had no idea it was based on a short story.
This is a truly magical tale, which I'm so glad to relieve. There is something so lovely and endearing in it. It may not be Christmas yet, but I don't see how having the Christmas spirit in you all year long is a bad thing. In fact, I hope to stumble upon such precious jewels more often.

...well, I really want to re-watch the movie now.
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was so cute! I read 4 different Christmas books this December and somehow this super short story was the best of them! It had everything I wanted from a Christmas story and it left me with a smile on my face. It was lovely :)
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cortos
This is a wonderful, uplifting and beautiful christmas story.

The classic movie It's a wonderful life is based on it. The movie expands on George's backstory and his disappointment in life, his depression and despair. The movie makes the strange man an angel, Clarence, who is trying to get his wings. In the story we don't know who he is or even what his name is.

To me the movie is pretty boring, long and slow paced, and the best part, when George gets to see a world where he wasn’t born, takes p
Alina Maria Ciobanu
A beautiful story with a beautiful message, the inspiration for the beautiful Christmas movie "It's a wonderful life"
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: christmas, own
This is a reprint of the Christmas story that inspired the movie, 'It's a Wonderful Life.' When the author's story was rejected multiple times, he chose to print up about 200 copies himself and sent them out as Christmas cards. One of those copies ended up in the hands of Frank Capra, and the rest is history. The following is taken from the afterward, included in the book.

Of the process of developing the movie that would become a beloved Christmas classic, Jimmy Stewart said, of his meeting wit

“You had the greatest gift of all conferred upon you-the gift of life, of being part of this world and taking a part in it. Yet you denied that gift.”

“I thought I’d lost you. Oh, Mary, I thought I’d lost you!”

The same idea of "It's a wonderful Life" but the events are a little bit different.

A wonderful story ..

Recommended to anyone.
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.
Susan Jo Grassi
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Michele Long
It's A Wonderful Life is my all-time favorite movie. I have watched it countless times, and not just during the holidays. I watch it to calm me when I'm not doing so well. My love for the movie led me to purchase this book, as I was intrigued by the idea that it all started with a little Christmas card. I have watched the interviews with the actors and director, all pointing toward the original story. I wanted to know exactly what the story was.

I'll admit it was a bit different than I expected,
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How can you not think about your life and your family after reading this book? This isn't a very Christmasy story, it's not about Santa and all that. But in a way, it's a very holiday season kind of story, especially if you consider how many people commit suicide during the Holiday season. I agree when they say this is a universal plot because even if you have never considered suicide, I'm positive you have stopped to wonder about your place in the world or even if you existent is of any importa ...more
Vanya Grivova
The message was nice and the story was easy to follow and interesting, but it lacked dramatic build-up. I hope the movie offers more. I can't wait to watch it.
It is a story of a man who had lost all hope for his life and wished that he’d never been born. Little did he know that his wish would be granted on a fateful Christmas Eve.
This book was first drafted in 1938 and published in 1943 and is still applicable today. Loved the story, it’s the shortest book I have read till date I think and I will hold onto this story for years to come. Hopefully, I would remember the underlying message in this book when I find myself standing at the bridge (emotional
Mary Paul
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice, short little Christmas story. I had hoped it might shed light on some weird quirks of the film ("it's a wonderful life") but no dice. Still, it's a great example of how a short, compact tale can pack a punch, particularly how it begins.
Angie Fehl
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's likely that most of us by now have seen the Christmas classic film It's A Wonderful Life at least once by now... but honestly probably multiple times thanks to that copyright loophole that had television stations running it on an almost constant loop for years during the holiday season (that's since been fixed, which is why you don't really see it on tv much anymore). Being a big fan of classic film in general, I remember watching a documentary years ago where the director of the film, Fran ...more
Ngọc Trần
It's beautifully written. The message is conveyed in a lively way. But I was affected by the impression of watching the film based on it "It's a wonderful life". And because the film is so wonderful in all aspects, I can't rate this book any higher than 3 stars. The film builds up a logic plot and the events are more dramatic, so it's more touching.

Besides, I hardly can imagine any difference if I hadn't been born to this life. This wonder may usually lead us to a question that: who have we had
Kourtney Delperdang
Strategy #1: Questioning
-In The Greatest Gift at the beginning of the story a question I've had is why is he leaning over the bridge?

Strategy #2: Predicting:
-At the bottom of page one I was predicting that George was having a rough life in whatever he does and he was about to jump off that bridge.

Strategy #3: Connection:
-If I have never been born, my friend lucy's life would be so different because we grew up together. We had each other and our older sisters grew up together. Without me she wo
Mikayla Watson
In the short story "The Greatest Gift", in the beginning I had a few questions.
Why is this christmas story gloomy and sad?
Did the man who came up to him jump off the bridge before?
At the bottom of page one I was predicting that George was thinking about suicide - by jumping off the bridge.
When George says he wishes he had never been born; it made me think about how life would be different if I had never been born. One person who would be effected by my absence would be my boyfriend Sam. We'v
Having seen the movie "It's A Wonderful Life" (which is based on this book) so many times before reading the original story, I actually like it better than the book. But oh, to have been the one who dreamed up this classic tale - a lesson in the value in a single life, and the difference it can really make in the world... Thank you, Mr. Van Doren Stern. I am glad you decided to write and re-write, and eventually send this story out in a Christmas card - and I'm equally as glad that Frank Capra a ...more
First published in 1944, this story was originally sent out as a family Christmas card. Frank Capra got wind of it when he returned from WWII, and the movie he made from it -- It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart -- was not a box office hit. Yet it's become a Christmas classic and is beloved by millions.

Totally worth a quick read to remember what's truly worthwhile.
If you've seen the movie "It's A Wonderful Life", then there's nothing new here for you. However, the afterword by Marguerite Stern Robinson (the author's daughter) and the illustrations by Scott McKowan makes the recent publication of this short story well worth a look.

It was interesting to read the story in it's original form, and learn how it came into being.
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With this book being the basis for my favorite movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," I just had to read it. It is a very good story in its own right. The afterword is too long but the story and its messages are (pun intended) wonderful.
Mary Lou
A nice little story - not great, but okay. Thank Goodness for Capra's vision. The movie took this interesting idea and developed it into a well-constructed, heart-warming piece of Americana, as well as making film history.
So quick! Basis for one of my top 5 favorite films of all time - "It's a Wonderful Life". The sentiment in this work is not lost in the film. Sweet, fast read!
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm glad I was able to read this short story that provided the idea for the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life".
An interesting little read, although I must admit - much to my shock - that I enjoyed the film more.
George Lester
It's only short, but few stories can make you feel quite as Christmassy as this one! How wonderful! :)
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Goodreads Librari...: Missing Cover - The Greatest Gift 3 16 Dec 01, 2015 04:53AM  
2015 Reading Chal...: The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern 1 11 Aug 17, 2015 03:57AM  
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Philip Van Doren Stern was an American author, editor, and Civil War historian whose story "The Greatest Gift," published in 1943, inspired the classic Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life (1946).

Philip Van Doren Stern was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania into a family of humble means. His Pennsylvania-born father was a traveling merchant of Bavarian descent, who came to Wyalusing from West Virgini

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“Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly. “What you were thinking of doing.” “How do you know what I was thinking?” “Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the stranger said easily. George wondered what the man’s business was. He was a most unremarkable little person, the sort you would pass in a crowd and never notice. Unless you saw his bright blue eyes, that is. You couldn’t forget them, for they were the kindest, sharpest eyes you ever saw. Nothing else about him was noteworthy.” 0 likes
“I understand right enough,” the stranger said slowly. “I just wanted to make sure you did. You had the greatest gift of all conferred upon you—the gift of life, of being a part of this world and taking a part in it. Yet you denied that gift.” As the stranger spoke, the church bell high up on the hill sounded, calling the townspeople to Christmas vespers. Then the downtown church bell started ringing.” 0 likes
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