Soul of a Citizen Living with Conviction in Challenging Times

Paul Rogat Loeb

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

400 Pages



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How do we challenge our culture's pervasive cynicism? Paul Loeb presents an alternative vision of hope and courage in Soul of a Citizen. Based on thirty years of studying the psychology of social involvement, Loeb describes how ordinary citizens can make their voices heard and their actions count in a time when we're often told neither matter.

Soul of a Citizen has become the handbook for budding social activists, veteran organizers, and anybody who wants to make a change—big or small—in the world around them. This completely revised edition—and inspiring message—is more urgently important than ever.

Soul of a Citizen explores what leads some people to get involved in larger community issues while others feel overwhelmed or uncertain; what it takes to maintain commitment for the long haul; and how involvement can give back a sense of connection and purpose rare in purely personal life. Writing in an engaging and evocative style, Loeb offers profound lessons: "Our efforts can do more—for ourselves and for the world—than we may ever imagine. We don't have to become saints—or wait for the perfect situation—to take action. Change happens little by little, step by step. We can savor the journey of engagement, even though our ultimate destination is unclear. The impact of our efforts will often ripple outward in ways we cannot predict."

At the heart of Soul of a Citizen are profiles of a broad range of people who have learned these lessons. They include:

A Maine housewife helps lead a path-breaking campaign finance reform initiative "so my kids won't grow up in a cynical world."

A Seattle environmental activist celebrates her hundredth birthday, still passionately involved. "You do what you can," she says. "Then you do some more."

A fisherman forges new links between environmentalists, fishermen and Native American tribes to restore Pacific salmon habitat. "It's draining to convince yourself you're powerless and swallow whatever's handed to you," he says. "You get a lot back when you work with a good group of people to take a stand."

An African American man serves seventeen years in the California prison system, then initiates a pioneering drug rehabilitation effort to give people "the support they need, in a language they can understand."

An eighth-grade dropout joins a community group in her San Antonio barrio, helps design an innovative job program and eventually testifies before the U.S. Senate. "The group found some spark in me," she recalls. "I never knew I had it."

Soul of a Citizen is a highly personable story of integrity and commitment, a testament to our often-unrealized ability to lead lives worthy of our convictions.

A teacher's guide to Soul of a Citizen is available at


Praise for Soul of a Citizen

"Barry University selected Soul of a Citizen as our 2010-2011 first-year common reader. Soul's focus on how ordinary people decide to 'make their voices heard and action count' through social activism, community organizing, and advocacy strongly reflects Barry's commitment to teach students to foster social justice through community-based service. We assigned the book to all first year students, and worked with our local community of Miami Shores as they worked through institutions like the library to use Soul of a Citizen as a community common reading. We also worked with four local middle and high schools whose students were assigned to read at least a couple of chapters of the book, and they responded wonderfully . . . Paul Loeb provided the keynote address for our mini-conference Soulful Citizenship: Pursuing Social Justice Through Collaborative Partnerships. In addition to hundreds of Barry faculty, staff, and students, students from The Cushman School, Miami Country Day, Doctors Charter and Miami Edison High School were in attendance. Edison is a public high school that serves one of Miami's poorest communities, the Liberty City neighborhood. The students found Soul of a Citizen and Mr. Loeb's keynote talk and smaller discussion sessions on campus to be truly inspiring. He challenged them to move forward, become socially engaged, and to recognize that everyday actions can result in meaningful change."—Karen Callaghan, Dean of Arts & Sciences, Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida

"Soul has been a powerful inspiration to citizens acting for environmental sanity, showing how they can take committed stands, even if they don't know every last answer. The new edition is even more inspirational."—Bill McKibben

"I stayed up half the night reading Soul of a Citizen, finding it a beautiful and morally transcendent work. Paul Loeb is a personal hero of mine who gives decency and generosity a political character, in the humblest of ways. The new edition is magnificent"—Jonathan Kozol

"When my daughter asked from college how to be an effective grassroots citizen, I gave her Paul's book. The new edition is even more powerful."—Josette Sheeran, Executive Director, United Nations World Food Program

"Soul has inspired thousands of young people, of widely differing perspectives, to take a stand. It teaches them how to get past the barriers to act, and why their actions matter. The new edition is a powerful personal guide to get involved."—Hans Riemer, Youth Vote Director, Barack Obama campaign, former political director, Rock the Vote

"Soul of a Citizen has been a powerful resource to get thousands of students involved in their communities, giving them the opportunity to apply their learning in meaningful ways. This updated edition is both timely and exceptionally useful to campuses that want to reclaim higher education's central role in educating responsible, democratic citizens."—Carol Geary Schneider, President, American Association of Colleges and Universities

"Soul of a Citizen has inspired countless students, faculty, and other readers since its publication a decade ago. Amazing as that book was, this new version is even wiser, deeper, and more inspiring. Loeb has given even more soul to his wonderful work."—Thomas Ehrlich, former president Indiana University

"Without engaged citizens, politics is dead. Citizen activism was the source of this country's birth, and today ensures its future. To really, truly understand why it's important for us all to stand up and act, and how to do it, read the new updated edition of Soul of a Citizen, an activist classic that belongs on the shelf right next to Saul Alinsky."—Thom Hartmann

"Soul of a Citizen was the common reader for over 2,500 students enrolled in [Kennesaw State University's] first-year seminar. It introduced them to active community engagement, inspired countless service learning and advocacy projects (from literacy programs to a gay rights effort and an NRA-backed concealed weapons initiative), and strengthened their campus and community connections."—Jim Davis, Chair, First-year Book Committee, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw Georgia

"We taught Soul of a Citizen in our Leadership and Identity class in our residential college. The book really stimulated students' self-motivation to become social-change agents. Most haven't learned to see themselves in this role. Soul of a Citizen sparked wonderful discussions and helped the students look at themselves in a different light. It gave them a sense of who they could become and what they could achieve."—Peter Clecak, Professor of Sociology, and Arnecia Bryant, Campus Village Housing Office, University of California, Irvine

"I have used Soul of a Citizen for the last two years with students taking our new required course on citizenship and social change. They've really been enthusiastic about the book. Loeb's stories of citizen engagement, coupled with his insightful commentary, help them get beyond a personal, individualistic searching for meaning and happiness. It's really inspired students who've done service with groups like Habitat for Humanity and Sierra club, and one who even did her Mission trip (she's Mormon) in the Ukraine last year. Soul of a Citizen challenges students to see that they can find meaningful living by working for the common good and living a life of community."—Melinda Dukes, Professor of Psychology, Tusculum College, Greenville, Tennessee

"Too often, academic study leads students to doubt that their ideas and actions matter. Soul of a Citizen taught my students that ordinary people can and do change the world. They said it was the first book in their four years at school that gave them hope."—Jane Rinehart, Sociology & Women's Studies, Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington

"I teach Soul of a Citizen in a freshman composition class: Writing and Research, a service-learning course for students admitted through our Academic Opportunity program for students not regularly admissible. Loeb's book works as a great rhetorical model, and inspires my students in what is, for many, their first step into the social arena. As they conduct primary and secondary research into the problems of homelessness, illiteracy, and hunger, Loeb's book reminds them that solutions to such huge systemic problems start with small actions by people like themselves."—Kathleen Dale, Senior Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

"I've been teaching Soul of a Citizen with great results in a general education course geared to first year students. Economists are rediscovering society and the importance of social norms. Loeb's book provides students with a tangible sense of how they can participate in the construction of society, along with inspiring examples and models to guide them."—Professor Ken Jameson, Dept. of Economics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

"I've gotten wonderful responses using Soul of a Citizen in my introductory social work practice classes. Students love it. It's convinced them that change really is possible and that they as individuals can make a difference. This is even more remarkable since most came in interested primarily in direct practice—services to individuals, families, and small groups. Loeb's stories have a real impact."—Jean Kantambu Latting, Social Work Graduate school, University of Houston

"I'm using this well-written, engaging investigation of ordinary citizens becoming involved in their communities and working for social change in a second semester freshman composition course. [It's encouraged] reflection and connections as students think about their roles as citizens and writers within different communities. As one of my students said, 'Sometimes I feel very overwhelmed by the number and magnitude of issues I'm moved by, but Loeb has encouraged me to just start and take it one step at a time.'"—Glenn Hutchinson, English Department, UNC-Charlotte, in the service-learning journal Reflections

"I've been using Soul of a Citizen of in my Sociology of Empowerment class ever since it came out. Students get it, respect it, and are even inspired by it."—Gordon Fellman, Professor of Sociology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts

"I've made Soul of a Citizen the core of my community service-based seminar: Lives, Livelihood, and Community. Loeb's work serves as an inspiration for students, helping them to connect individual and community, soul and mind, action and results. It energizes their souls and stimulates their thinking towards ensuring tomorrow's communities will be better than those of today."—Robert Hogner, Honors College Director of Community Service Learning, Florida International University

"I used Loeb's book for a readings class in adult education. It helped me to make sense of the world for my students in a hopeful, useful way, and to connect complex ideas to related areas of concern, with a direction for action. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in helping their students develop a better understanding of the world we are living in today."—Marcia Leister, instructor, ABE/GED, Bellingham Technical College, Bellingham, Washington

"I assigned Soul of a Citizen to my class on race and ethnic identity. When faced with perplexing social issues, students, like many of us, often express a ‘damned if you do and damned if you don't' attitude, which leads to cynicism and feelings of powerlessness. Loeb uses stories of ordinary citizens such as Rosa Parks to show that one doesn't have to be a ‘great' man or woman to have a social impact. He also clearly demonstrates that no one we call ‘great' ever works in a vacuum, and that sometimes great results are achieved by someone who just takes action. Action connects us to our community and to those in it who hope for a better society, inspiring even greater action from many others. Soul of a Citizen is an inspirational book."—Larry Zimmerman, Chair, American Indian & Native Studies, University of Iowa [From Zimmerman's Phi Beta Kappa Key review]

"I assigned Soul of a Citizen in a course entitled 'Social Responsibility & Personal Well-Being.' My students felt the book offered very concrete and useful suggestions about how to become more involved within their own communities. By addressing common obstacles that they face in becoming involved and looking at the societal obstacles for activism, it gave them a much more realistic view of the process. It motivated them to realize that one person can, indeed, make a difference."—Stephen Kramer, Psychology Professor, Mount Union College, Mount Union, Ohio

"Our leadership seminar studied methods, style, and the biographies of well known American leaders. Soul of a Citizen provided insight into leadership with a moral purpose, teaching that anyone can become a leader for social change. It took the examples of ordinary folks who did not appear to have extraordinary abilities, but who became leaders in causes that benefited hundreds if not thousands of people. Students learned that they could make a difference."—John Bolen, Associate Dean, Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa

"Soul of a Citizen is a compelling text that we use in our first-year seminar course, Engaging the World. Loeb raises issues that ask students to think about how they will make a difference with their lives. During one class discussion, students [echoed the author's] idea that 'we become human only in the company of other human beings' and challenged themselves to embrace life-journeys that carry an impact greater than personal reward."—Tracy Tyree, Director, First Year Experience, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia

"Soul of a Citizen is a wonderful resource for teaching about social movements. The book puts real people and their stories center stage and it brings an activist's passion to a subject matter that is often taught in overly theoretical ways. My students really turn on to the course when they begin reading Loeb's book."—Steve Buechler, Dept. of Sociology, Mankato State University, Mankato, Minnesota

"I hesitated, since I'm profiled in the book, then assigned Soul of a Citizen to my cultural anthropology class, most of whom are first generation college students from immigrant families. They loved it. The book inspired great discussions, and they wrote essays calling it, 'the best book I've ever read,' and 'the most inspiring book I've ever read,' and comparing characters like Virginia Ramirez to their grandparents. They also said it was 'much easier to read than lots of the other books you've assigned.' I combined it with some strong social critiques and some novels and memoirs that helped students reflect on their lives. It made a huge difference in helping them get past their cynicism to realize they could act."—Peter Knutson, Dept. of Anthropology, Seattle Central Community College

"My students loved Soul of a Citizen. The personal stories inspired them and proved a terrific antidote to the political cynicism of our time. The book did more than just give abstract information about what's wrong in America. It connected them with broader issues. It showed how committed individual choices can have powerful results. It left them hopeful and eager to act."—Joe Szwaja, American government & economics teacher, Nova Public High School, Seattle, Washington

"We have been using your book, along with other readings, in a course called Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service. Soul of a Citizen provides a psychological and emotional roadmap, helping students develop themselves and become transformational leaders pursuing ethical ends in their career and life. Feedback has been excellent. I have not heard a single negative, or even neutral for that matter, comment."—Tony Middlebrook, Leadership Programs, Cardinal Stritch College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

"I found the book absolutely inspirational and definitely plan on using it again. The students in my service learning course found Loeb's stories and perspectives motivating and reassuring, giving them a sense they could do their part to make our world a better place. They said it helped them conquer obstacles to involvement, so they could actually stand up for what they believed. Whether they were involved as Big Buddys or in more political kinds of advocacy, they found Soul of a Citizen a real tool for engagement."—Ellen Hastay, service-learning coordinator, Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon

"Soul of a Citizen helps us find the faith we need to act on our deepest beliefs—and keep on."—Marian Wright Edelman, Children's Defense Fund

"Brims with stirring stories of everyday heroes who saw something wrong, heeded the voice of their conscience, gathered support and, acting in concert with others, changed things and made a difference."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"A passionate but reasoned call for Americans to become involved in issues that matter."—Chicago Sun-Times

"Paul Loeb has been doing wonderfully patient work for some years now, exploring the American conscience from the inside. I regard Loeb as something of a national treasure."—Susan Sontag

"This wonderful book teaches us the value of taking chances and not being afraid to fail."—Bob Chase, president, National Education Association

"A much-needed call for community involvement."—Art Levine, president, Teachers College, Columbia University

"Should be mandatory reading for anyone over the age of 12—especially every woman or man who has traded 'I give a damn' for 'I give up.'"—Stephanie Salter, San Francisco Chronicle

"A book that should be placed in the hands of every cynic who sees societal problems and then retreats to his private sanctuary, shrugs, and says, 'There's nothing we can do.' . . . A powerful prescription for the cure of the insidious disease of cynicism."—Ralph Nader

"Like few other chroniclers today, Paul Loeb uncannily captures the thoughts and hopes, inchoate though they be, of America. Loeb is a natural."—Studs Terkel

"Tells wonderful stories and offers powerful lessons about how citizens of all ages have engaged themselves in their communities and worked for a more just world in a variety of ways . . . Schools throughout the country are already beginning to use this wonderful book in their courses and as a core resource for study and discussion."—Youth Service America

"Soul of a Citizen helps teach us what to do."—David Brower, founder, Friends of the Earth

"A transformative book of courage and authenticity, Soul of a Citizen challenges the apathy and ennui of modern life. It sweeps away the disdain and cynicism that prevents us from changing ourselves and the world. If you have children, give it to them. If not, give it to your parents."—Paul Hawken, co-founder, Smith & Hawken, and author of The Ecology of Commerce

"An inspiring and helpful guide to working for societal change in these cynical times."—Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"A call to get involved in ways that are both realistic and idealistic, that balance private and public needs, that encourage small steps [leading] to great impacts . . . Here is a book than can help older and younger generations come together around the common themes embodied in the hard work of making positive social change."—Thought & Action

"Loeb can pierce a cynic's armor with his practical examination of social change and how it comes about."—San Jose Mercury News

"[Teaches] what it means to be a caring, compassionate citizen"—Parents magazine

"With thought and conviction, Soul of a Citizen skillfully erases the seams between the political and the personal."—John Sweeney, president, AFL-CIO

"Rich, engaging, and clearly written. An essential book for anyone who wants to work for change. Loeb tells a variety of personal stories, and of unknown people, which are encouraging to all those who are accustomed to being given famous heroes and heroines to emulate. The book will inspire people new to activism, and deals with cynicism and burnout in a good way for movement veterans. Altogether, Loeb has done a wonderful job, producing a work that is rich with specific experience, not abstract theorizing."—Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States

"Convincingly affirms the human ability to create positive change."—Booklist

"Compassion, intelligence, and thought-provoking wisdom . . . A new vision for personal engagement with societal issues."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Soul of a Citizen, Revised and Updated

Making Our Lives Count
Souls are like athletes that need opponents worthy of them if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers.

Read the full excerpt


  • Paul Rogat Loeb

  • Paul Rogat Loeb, an associated scholar at Seattle's Center for Ethical Leadership, has written on social involvement for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Psychology Today, Utne Reader, Redbook, Parents, The Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones,, The Village Voice, National Catholic Reporter, and the International Herald Tribune. He has been interviewed on CNN, NPR, PBS, C-SPAN, NBC, the BBC, and national German, Canadian, and Australian radio, and has lectured on over 200 college campuses. Loeb is also the author of Generation at the Crossroads: Apathy and Action on the American Campus, Nuclear Culture, and Hope in Hard Times.

  • Paul Rogat Loeb Peter Lindstrom
    Paul Rogat Loeb




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