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Brian Burrell has 1 media appearance.

Sep
7
Brian Burrell
Booknotes, Sunday, September 7, 1997
Brian Burrell discusses The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America.

In The Words We Live By, Brian Burrell, a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, turns his father's passion for words into a spirited study of the ideals and principles recorded in America's key texts. While Brian Burrell was growing up, his father began collecting mottoes, oaths, and creeds from around the country in a notebook titled "The Words People Live By." On family vacations or everyday travel, Burrell's father would pull the car over—as he did in the pouring rain at the Taft Memorial—to jot down the inscription on a statue or the saying from a diner placemat. By the time he took over the project, Burrell and his father had amassed a wide and varied volume of words that serve as public expressions of good citizenship, as tests of solidarity, and as the tenets of conventional wisdom. They include everything from The Pledge of Allegiance, The Golden Rule and Murphy's Law to the Mafia Initiation Oath, Wedding Vows, and the creed of the Elvis Presley Imitators International Association. Yet Burrell takes THE WORDS WE LIVE BY one step further than his father's project. Burrell divides his study into two parts. Part I organizes a discussion of the collection into categories, such as "Words of Belief and Conviction," "Words of Obedience," and "Fighting Words." Here Burrell historicizes each text, citing its origin and both its intended meaning and use. He also offers insights on how these have changed over time. We learn, for example, that our National Motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, took its place in 1955 through an act of Congress. It was first the battle-cry of a group known as the Huntington Bible Company—a nickname for the Fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, who distinguished themselves at the Battle of Antietam. Burrell also explains that the motto has long been the target of criticism for its defiance of the Constitutional church/state separation. Part II is an anthology of that prints in full the texts discussed in Part I. THE WORDS WE LIVE BY takes its reader on a tour of America through the phrases of belief, duty, and community that offer ready-made opinions and profess values for everyday life in the United States. Learning from his father, Burrell animates how we defined what is American. —from the publisher's website (timspalding)… (more)
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