CALLINGS by Dave Isay


The Purpose and Passion of Work
Email this review


A distinguished public radio producer’s collection of conversations with Americans who “found…their way to doing exactly what they were meant to do with their lives.”

StoryCorps founder Isay (Ties that Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, 2013, etc.) discovered his calling as a radio broadcaster at age 22, just as he was about to begin medical school. In this book, he presents his conversations with people—ages 10 to 90 from different backgrounds and geographical locations in the United States—who discuss what makes work meaningful for them. The author culled these stories from thousands of interviews recorded over more than a decade, but many have neither been published nor broadcast until now. The first section, titled “Dreamers,” features discussions with people engaged in unusual occupations, such as street corner astronomer or bridge-tender, or in more conventional ones like doctor or astronaut that have required great personal sacrifice and commitment. In the second section, “Generations,” people talk about their work in a historical context. A father and son, for example, discuss their work as firefighters and the pride they take in being part of a family tradition of saving lives, while a New York–based sculptor tells her ex-husband about the artist mother who became her “greatest muse.” In the third section, “Healers,” Isay interviews people like an oncology nurse and a public defender, who help restore everything from broken bodies to damaged social systems. The fourth section, “Philosophers,” features stories from individuals—such as the accountant-turned–lox-slicer whose work brought him unexpected Zen-like peace—who have developed especially unique perspectives on life through the work they do. In the final section, “Groundbreakers,” the author provides stories about unsung professional pioneers. Two children of video game inventor Jerry Lawson, for example, discuss their father’s passion for experimenting even as diabetes came to rule, then claim, his life. Thoughtfully organized and edited, each story is a reminder of the essential role work plays in the pursuit of human happiness.

Inspiring, insightful, and thoroughly readable.

Pub Date: April 19th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-59420-518-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2016


NonfictionWORKING by Studs Terkel
by Studs Terkel
Children100 THINGS TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP by Lisa M. Gerry
by Lisa M. Gerry
NonfictionHIDDEN AMERICA by Jeanne Marie Laskas
by Jeanne Marie Laskas