Brian Burrell
Brian Burrell
The Words We Live By:  The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America
ISBN: 0684830019
The Words We Live By
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

The Words We Live By
Program Air Date: September 7, 1997

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Brian Burrell, author of "The Words We Live By," where did you get the idea for this book?
Mr. BRIAN BURRELL, AUTHOR, "THE WORDS WE LIVE BY" I got it from my father, the idea and the title. This is something that he'd started collecting in the early 1960s. He's a collector of words, a guy who went around and, when he came to monuments, he'd copy down the inscriptions. When we went to diners, he would copy down the little sayings he found on the place mat menus. And this was a collection he put together which I can vaguely remember from my youth--say, --when I was in elementary school. But as I got older, I would see this collection on his shelf in this three-ring binder and I would page through it. And I would come upon these outlandish initiation notes and codes of ethics of organizations and inscriptions and mottoes, and I always thought it would make a great book.
LAMB: Where do you and your father live--or where did you live together?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. I was born there in 1955, went through Lexington public school systems and, in fact, we live--still the same house we were in when I was in high school, across the street from the Lexington Battle Green. And, in fact, when I say to people, `I'm from Lexington,' I always add, `the birthplace of American liberty,' just to put it in context. Well, now you're referring there to our rival. That's the Concord Minuteman. I didn't put a picture of the Lexington Minuteman in because the inscription's not quite so dramatic. Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Concord Hymn" accompanies that particular monument, and that's much more famous.
LAMB: Now how far is Lexington and Concord away from each other?
Mr. BURRELL: Oh, just a couple of miles; an easy bicycle ride for me when I was a kid. I could easily go over to the Old North Bridge and--to see that statue. But I really grew up in the shadow of the Lexington Minuteman and like to maintain that distinction. There was always this rivalry between the two towns.
LAMB: And the--it begs the question: Why didn't you have the Lexington Minuteman in this--picture in this book?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, I have the Concord Minuteman in there because in the last chapter I discuss architectural inscriptions, and that happens to be one of the seminal works in American public sculpture, and particularly because it's associated with these words: `By the rude bridge that arched the flood, there flagged April's breeze unfurled. Here once the embattled farmer stood that fired the shot heard 'round the world.' That's Emerson's poem.

And while the inscription, if you look closely at it, it's not that dramatically inscribed. It happens to be an image which is associated with a set of words, and I also draw the comparison to the Statue of Liberty, another image that is associated with words--in that case, not inscribed on the pedestal.

As much as I would have liked to have included the Lexington Minuteman, there just the words, which, actually, I don't even know--there's probably just a descriptive inscription on there, but they're just not that dramatic.
LAMB: What kind of work was your dad in when you were growing up?
Mr. BURRELL: When I was growing up, he worked for Raytheon, actually. He was a marketing manager, so he was in that whole Route 128 technology highway business, the military industrial business. Obviously, I really had no idea what he was doing. I just knew that he periodically had to take trips to New York, to Washington, even down to Florida. And I occasionally had the privilege of accompanying him on some of these trips. And I vaguely remember some of these details. He's filled me in on this. But I was aware of the fact that we would go to historic sites and that he would be copying down inscriptions from the various places we would go.

But he made a point of taking us, whether myself or one of my brothers or sisters, to important sites to make sure that we saw--you know, if we were in Washington, that we saw all the monuments that--in New York, we would see not only monuments but places like Rockefeller Center, great sort of displays of civic architecture, this sort of thing.
LAMB: Are you married?
LAMB: So you don't have kids to do the same thing with.
Mr. BURRELL: No, not yet.
LAMB: How many are there in your family? How many other brothers and sisters?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, I have two brothers and two sisters.
LAMB: Did they have the same interest? Did they pick it up just like you did from your father?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, no. No. This seems to have fallen to me. I think their memories of it are much more vague. They were aware of the collection, but I don't think it fascinated them to the extent that it fascinated me. And yeah, --so they just didn't quite pick up on it the same way.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
Mr. BURRELL: I live in Northampton, Massachusetts.
LAMB: Home of Smith College, among other things.
Mr. BURRELL: Home of Smith College. In fact, Smith College is really where I wrote the book. The Smith College library is somewhat of a haven to me.
LAMB: Home of Calvin Coolidge?
Mr. BURRELL: Home of Calvin Coolidge. In fact, I live next door to Calvin Coolidge's former paperboy. Calvin Coolidge lived a block away from where I live now and my next-door neighbor would tell me stories about how, let's say, parsimonious Calvin Coolidge was, but how gracious his wife was.
LAMB: Calvin Coolidge's paperboy is still alive and living in Northampton?
Mr. BURRELL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: How old is he?
Mr. BURRELL: He is in--I think he's about 86, 87, something like that.
LAMB: What kinds of things would he tell you about Calvin Coolidge?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, he just tells me this one story about--it was Christmastime and he was owed something like 95 cents for the week's deliveries or however long, and it was perhaps Christmas Eve and he goes to the Coolidge house and Mr. Coolidge comes to the door. And he hands him a $10 bill and he says, `And that will be $9.05 change, please.' So that's the type of story he tells.
LAMB: So when did you start this book?
Mr. BURRELL: I picked it up in 1980. At that time--I'd finished college in '77, went to the University of Pennsylvania. It had always--not always; I should say since high school, it had been in the back of my mind that this notebook that my father had amassed would really make a great book. And I picked it up in 1980 at a time when I had been laid off as a construction worker, which was what I went into after college. Did that for a few years, was laid off, had a little bit of time, about six months, and I thought, `Well, in six months, I can finish up this book or get it into some sort of order and send it off to a publisher and--and see what they think.'

And at that time the idea was just a collection, but I quickly found that in that amount of time I was not going to be able to put together something that would satisfy me or that would answer the kinds of questions that I had, such as: Where do these things come from? Who first said them? Who first wrote them? How did they get to be part of the culture and what I was finding is these are not easy questions to answer. If you want to find out, you know, who wrote the inscription on the Boston Public Library or the story behind the inscription on the New York Post Office or how the Pledge of Allegiance came to be in its present form, you have to do quite a bit of digging.
LAMB: Now I've got a dollar bill I just pulled out of my pocket. I remembered this when I was reading it. Now there's just so much we could talk about on this dollar bill, this'd probably take you through the whole program.
Mr. BURRELL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What is it about this dollar bill that you want people to know about slogans and mottoes and all that?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, it--on the dollar bill, it's primarily on the back. There are two things really. There's The Great Seal, which appears to the left and the right of the word `one.' And then above the word `one' you have the words `In God We Trust.' So the things that I was focusing on here in the design of the dollar bill are the mottoes, `Annuit Coeptis,' `Novus Ordo Seclorum,' over in the right `E Pluribus Unum,' and then in the middle, what is our official national motto, `In God We Trust.' So the fact is that someone had to choose these mottoes and put them on there, and this took a bit of doing.

An interesting story behind the mottoes on The Great Seal--we can really attribute this to Charles Thomson, who was the secretary of Congress. He was more or less the factotum. He's the guy who got things done. And, in fact, he was the second signer of the Declaration, although we don't give him credit for that because he was merely attesting John Hancock's signature. So he was the second of two signers on July 4th, when the Declaration went out.

But later in the day, on July 4th, 1776, Congress assembled a committee to design a great seal--in other words, to design something that was going to represent the country. And Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams made it onto that committee, and they had some ideas for what would make a good seal and some good mottoes. But they were all shot down, basically. They could not come to a consensus and it--this then went to another committee a few years later and they couldn't come up with the ideas.

Now a few things came out of that process. `E Pluribus Unum' is one of the ideas that came out of that process. This was chosen by one of the consultants to the committee. A man named Pierre Eugene du Simitare chose `E Pluribus Unum' and that...
LAMB: What's it mean?
Mr. BURRELL: It means `one from many,' and it you can find it in Virgil, you can find it in a few other classical writers, but they--there is a consensus that it seems to have been inspired by Virgil.
LAMB: You say in the book that it means--that Americans think it means one thing, but it really means another.
Mr. BURRELL: Well, Simitare--his idea was that this was a country formed out of about six different European nationalities, so out of six nationalities, one country is formed. This idea has evolved over time so that we now think of it in a more multicultural sense: many peoples brought together as one people, as Americans. But originally it had a much more, say, Eurocentric motivation behind it. And, of course, others at that time thought it had something to do with 13 colonies joined as one. That was the other interpretation.
LAMB: Wait a minute. What do you do now for a living?
Mr. BURRELL: I teach at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and I teach mathematics. I'm a lecturer, and I teach large lectures: introductory calculus, precalculus, that sort of thing. So I stand in front of about 200 students at a time and I try to make some of the intricacies of mathematics interesting, somehow come to life for them.
LAMB: When was it that you actually proposed this book to The Free Press and when did they buy it?
Mr. BURRELL: I proposed that to them--it would have been in--I'm trying to remember what year. It was about two years ago, I believe. It had been rejected all over the place. In the process of writing proposals--I was learning how to write a proposal, and I originally conceived of this purely as a reference book, that there would be some introduction, a little bit of explanation, but it would be largely a collection. And that would be more faithful to my father's original idea.

So I pitched this to The Free Press, becoming aware of them, actually, only because there was a profile of Adam Bellow, who was their editor, in The New Yorker and I thought, `Well, I might be able to pitch it in their direction.' They were--they're somewhat conservative in some of their publications.

But I thought, `Well, I can pitch it in that direction.' So I wrote off a proposal--sent off a proposal and it was rejected. However, there was enough encouragement in the rejection letter that I called and talked to an editor there who said, `Well, you know, I really like the idea for the book. It--but we--it's more of a reference book and that would be another division. We would be more interested in something that was more descriptive, that talked about the words, as opposed to just presented them.'

So I said, `OK, let me rewrite the proposal and I'll get back to you.' And we went back and forth for months before he--this editor actually prevailed upon their editorial staff and their marketing people that this would be a good idea.
LAMB: What was the first edition on this and how's it going? I mean, how many copies did they print?
Mr. BURRELL: As I understand it, about 11,000 copies. I guess that's fairly standard for a first-time author, at least first-time in this particular genre, and I--I believe it's going well. I think it will go into another printing. It has been a little bit agonizing going around, looking to see if I can find it in bookstores, how prominently is it displayed? But it's early yet and I think things will pick up.

I get a very good response from people on the book. They like the design, which I had a lot to do with. I wanted to make sure that this was a book that would look the way I wanted it to look, so I had suggested an architectural motif for the cover.
LAMB: So how did--what do we see here on this cover?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, what you're seeing is actually something from an old architectural pattern book. When architects trained in, say, the beaux-arts style, you know, they study these pattern books of classical motifs, the different orders. You see an ionic column there. I actually thought it would have been more appropriate to have a Corinthian column, because when you look at many of our civic buildings, federal buildings, you probably see more Corinthian capitals than ionic, except I had to concede that that's a much better design as a detail for the cover of the book. The designer, I think, did a really good job.
LAMB: Creeds, mottoes and pledges. Go back to the dollar bill. You've got `In God We Trust.' What is that? What do you call that, motto?
Mr. BURRELL: It's a motto.
LAMB: And how did that get to be our motto? And is that our motto as a country?
Mr. BURRELL: That's our official motto as of 1955. That was declared our official motto. I think probably a lot of people, myself included, up until I researched this, thought that `E Pluribus Unum' was the motto because it has appeared on The Great Seal and on our currency practically since the inception. `In God We Trust' first appeared on US currency in 1863 or '4, on the two-cent piece. Salmon P. Chase put it there. A suggestion was made to him that during the time of Civil War should...
LAMB: He was secretary of the Treasury then?
Mr. BURRELL: He was secretary of the Treasury, yeah. During the time of Civil War, should the union not survive, that posterity might look back and think of it as--possibly as a heathen nation. The suggestion was made then that some acknowledgement of God be made on the currency.

There were several people making this type of suggestion and Chase picked up on it, and he went to the man in charge of the mint and he said, `Do this,' with a couple of coins that were coming up for redesign. And he came back with two coins, one of which was this two-cent piece. And he had a couple of suggestions for the mottoes, and I believe his suggestion was `God, Our Trust,' and Chase rewrote it to say `In God We Trust.' And--now where he got that, it's not perfectly clear. If you go back to the national anthem, Francis Scott Key, 1814, the very last verse, one we never sing--'cause there are four verses of the national anthem--says, `In this--and this be our motto: In God is our trust.'

No one seems to have picked up on that for quite awhile, but the expression `In God We Trust' became the motto of one of the--it's the Pennsylvania Volunteers, I think, in the Civil War. It was a company that distinguished itself in battle and which had this as their war cry, basically. And Chase perhaps picked it up from that, but he said, `"In God We Trust" will go on the two-cent piece.' It did. He got a little bit of flack for it, but on the whole it was accepted. And it began to appear on the coinage more and more until 1907, when Theodore Roosevelt thought it shouldn't be there and on the new designs for some $10 gold pieces he wanted it removed.

So you get a very interesting discussion in the Congressional Record, if you look back to that period, pros and cons of having God on our money, mingling--comingling God and mammon, as it were, and basically the Congress came down on the side of the motto, that it should be there, it should be restored to all coins on which it had previously appeared. But it had not appeared on paper money yet, and that really takes us to the 1950s, where the suggestion was then made, `If it's on the coins, why isn't it on the dollar bills?'

And again, a big discussion ensues, but it goes--it passes a little more easily. In the '50s, what with the Pledge of Allegiance being altered with the addition of the words `under God' and this addition to the currency, as well as our official motto going into effect, it seemed to be the decade in which God made quite an appearance in public life in this country. And a lot of people have tried to undo that but have not succeeded to this point.
LAMB: By the way, one fact jumped out in this book in that you say that the General Services Administration is going to spend $8 billion to repair or to renovate 150 courthouses in this country?
Mr. BURRELL: And build new ones, yeah.
LAMB: Over what period of time are they going to do this?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, there you've got me. I don't know the exact time period. I was writing the section on inscriptions and it, of course, when you write on inscriptions, you have to focus on these types of federal buildings, courthouses among them. And I was reading one of the architectural magazines in the Smith College art library and I came upon this article about US courthouses and about this program, that a lot of them were in disrepair. So a lot of them are either being added to, renovated or new ones are being built in a lot of the major cities. I don't know the exact time frame, I don't know how safe the money is and whether all this will go through.

But I pointed it out in there mainly because a lot of architects are seizing upon the opportunity to do a kind of a revival of the classical style--not back to the purely imitative neoclassicism of 100 years ago, but we do see this return to classicism in modern architecture in--especially in civic buildings.
LAMB: What does it mean when somebody says, `That's not cricket'? And where does that come from?
Mr. BURRELL: `That's not cricket.' Well, it means, for example, that if we go back a little ways to Mike Tyson biting the ear off of an opponent, you could say, `That's not cricket.' I don't know if many people have used that particular term, but `That's not cricket' refers to rules and specifically the rules of the game of cricket, the idea being that it is an expression that has actually risen above its context. Its immediate context is that there is a game. It's a game of gentlemen. It has rules. It has a certain decorum. And the idea of something being `cricket' or `not cricket' has actually gone up a level to where we can refer to things generally as being fair or unfair, or being ethical or unethical by using that term.

And this is one of the themes that I try to develop, that there are ideas expressed in, say, rules or mottoes or codes of ethics, and sometimes we just--we skim somewhere above the words themselves and we talk about things like the Golden Rule, referring to it by name without actually delving into the text. So I don't know the rules of cricket, but I know what it means when something is--you know--that's cricket or not cricket. I know what that means.
LAMB: You have a paragraph here--I'm just going to read it all to get it on the table, so you can...
LAMB: about this. `By a consensus of opinion, Horace Greeley is the first to have said, "Go west, young man." Jimmy Durante said, "Be nice to people on your way up because you're going to meet them again on your way back down." P.T. Barnum has said, "There's a sucker born every minute." And Vince Lombardi hammered home the creed, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." None of these attributions is entirely accurate and Barnum, for one, would not have wished to be remembered by that motto. But facts rarely get in the way of a useful myth.'
Mr. BURRELL: That's right.
LAMB: Where'd you find all those and what did--why'd you put them in the book?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, if you survey, as I have, from the--since 1980, quotations dictionaries, you come upon a lot of these things. You come upon the--let's say the less meticulous dictionaries of quotations that simply give those and attribute them to those people. And then you will find some more recent quotations dictionaries that have felt a little --bit more responsible, and they delve into some of the origins.

And so the Barnum quote or the Greeley quote--well, they'll point out that actually it was someone else, and I can't remember exactly who it was that said, `Go west,' and it somehow attached itself to Greeley, who, perhaps passed that along. The Vince Lombardi quote--again, there are some who contend he did say that, but there was a sentence in the middle. He actually said, `Winning isn't everything. The desire to win is everything. In fact, it's the only thing.' And I point out, I think, in an endnote, that that middle sentence makes all the difference in that particular--we could call it a motto.

What I was trying to point out there, though--because the book is not really about quotations as such and misquotations or misattributions. But it is about the idea of how ideas--very prevalent ideas become part of our cultural consciousness. So I think there was a larger point there that I was trying to make in that chapter--and those were just some particular instances--but that ideas circulate and it helps if they become attached to particular people or particular events. And then they sort of get caught up and take off into the realm of folklore or legend. And there's not much you can do about that.
LAMB: Do all doctors take the Hippocratic oath?
LAMB: What is it?
Mr. BURRELL: The Hippocratic oath is an oath that was written some 2,500 years ago. It can't be attributed definitively to Hippocrates, who--it's not even certain that Hippocrates existed. But this is an oath that is found in a body of Greek texts--medical texts called the "Corpus Hippocraticum." And in this corpus, there are all sorts of texts and they are not by one author. But there is this oath, and because it comes from that body of literature, it is attributed to Hippocrates. It is thought to have been an initiation oath for doctors trained in a very particular school--not the majority--I should say not the prevalent medical ethic of ancient Greece; it was a very specialized school of medicine--about handing down the tradition, about the ethics of practicing medicine and about carrying on this profession.

However, it--because the oath specifically forbids abortion and doctor-assisted suicide, it was picked up by the early Christian Church, and the names of the gods were moved out and the names of the suitable God was moved in, and this oath was perpetuated through the universities of Europe and eventually made its way to the United States. And there is this idea that this is somehow legally binding, that all doctors take the Hippocratic oath. It certainly is the case that I think most doctors of, say, older generations did take the oath. And, in fact, I have found out that many took it in the original, invoking all of the Greek gods as part of this oath.

Nowadays a lot of things go by the name of the Hippocratic oath, but they are watered down versions or let's just say they're made to be a little more politically correct.
LAMB: Here's some of the language: `As to diseases, make a habit of two things, to help or at least to do no harm.'
Mr. BURRELL: Yes, `Above all else, do no harm.' That basically is the Hippocratic ethos. That's the principal idea. When you say Hippocratic oath, this is the idea that most people who are familiar with it can immediately call to mind.
LAMB: What's the Lasagna oath?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, the Lasagna oath--I should have simply labeled that a modern Hippocratic oath because this is by Dr. Louis Lasagna, who teaches at Tufts.
LAMB: Still?
Mr. BURRELL: Still teaches at Tufts. He was at Johns Hopkins when he wrote an alternative oath in the early '60s, and I knew he had gone to Tufts and I called him up because I wanted to find out how his oath was doing--and it's a rather nice oath; I reproduce it in the back of the book with his permission, of course--and to ask him how the oath was doing and how other Hippocratic oaths are faring, because there are other versions. And what he told me is it's common these days--and when I say `these days,' I think this is really the '90s--for students to want to return to this tradition, which was rejected by and large in the '70s. The original Hippocratic oath was proving to be unpopular, one of these received ideas, rather archaic, that students, I think, initially at Harvard Medical School just rejected. But now students are voting in many medical schools to go back to the idea of reciting an oath.

And some of them go back to the original--I think not many--and some of them--let's say most of them--try to write their own oath or adapt the ancient oath. So the Lasagna oath is one of these adapted oaths, and I think it's probably the best example.
LAMB: I just flipped to the back and I'd underlined some of the mottoes and the other things you have back there. This one I wanted to mention, very short. It's the motto of Davy Crockett, US congressman from Tennessee: `Be sure you're right, then go ahead.'
Mr. BURRELL: Right.
LAMB: Where'd you find that?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, that--again, that is--that actually was in my father's collection. Some of these came from dictionaries of quotations, some of those mottoes. That particular section you're looking at was difficult not to assemble but to decide what to include in the book because I had limited space. And I thought, well, it was important to include the mottoes of the states. And I wanted to include some personal mottoes, mottoes of historical figures, that sort of thing, or organizations that people are familiar with.

And I also wanted to try to try communicate some of the eclecticism of my father's original collection. I used to go through there and see this wide range of things, some of them quite humorous, others serious, others just--just interesting because of the juxtapositions they created. So in that particular section, I tried to do that, these juxtapositions of personal mottoes, corporate mottoes...
LAMB: Like Edward Everett Hale, `Look up and not down, look forward and not back, look out and not in, lend a hand.'
Mr. BURRELL: Lend-a-Hand--the Lend-a-Hand Society. Yeah.
LAMB: `Do right,' motto of the Sunbeams? What's that?
Mr. BURRELL: Sunbeams--it's like the Girl Guards or the Girl Scouts, one of these youth organizations that--I'm not sure they still exist, but certainly in the '60s, you know, these were --one of the organizations that I was familiar with mainly through my father's collection.
LAMB: Thomas Jefferson, “Decalogue of Canons for Observation and Practice in Practical Life”, the number three--you had 10 of them on the list--`Never spend your money before you have it.' Number 10 I underlined for some reason: `When angry, count 10 before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.'
Mr. BURRELL: Well, you may have underlined it because there's another what we could call a commandment. Mark Twain had, `When angry, count to 10; when very angry, swear,' which I think--and I'm trying to remember if I put it in the book. I know I've had it in earlier versions.
LAMB: I don't remember that saying in here.
Mr. BURRELL: Anyway, I think that is from Pudd’nhead Wilson's calendar. Twain tried to tweak some of this sort of Yankee wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, this frontier wisdom of the earlier writers, not that Franklin was not--he had a pretty good sense of humor himself and not all of his maxims are entirely serious. But there's this evolution of wisdom in this country and you see it in Twain trying to turn these things around.

One of my favorites, which is not in the back there, but it's in the--in one of the chapters, is also Twain's from Pudd’nhead Wilson's calendar. And I used to think of this a lot as I was writing this book because you have this idea--or I had this idea that I was putting an awful lot of time and an awful lot into something that might not pan out. And he had this saying that I used to refer back to a lot: `Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket.'
LAMB: How about Ben Franklin's, `Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half-shut afterwards'?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, there's a good example of his sense of humor and also his way with the ladies, I guess we could say.
LAMB: Another one from him: `Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or habitation.'
Mr. BURRELL: Yeah. You--I'm wondering if he came up with that one after living in France for awhile.
LAMB: What about--go back to the start of all this again with your father. And as a matter of fact, I want the audience to see this--this huge document here. This is it, huh?
Mr. BURRELL: That's it. That was on my father's shelf in his office when I was growing up, you know, and I used to go in there. And I mention in the preface to the book that, you know, his office had various things. It had some military memorabilia, he had some medals from serving in the Marines and in the second World War. But this is what always attracted my attention. I was not so fascinated with the military stuff, I was always fascinated with this collection. And you can almost open to any page and find something interesting, something curious.
LAMB: What happened right here? It says on the outside, `Oaths and creeds and words men live by...
Mr. BURRELL: `And other words...'
LAMB: ...people live by, and Americans live by.' Who changed that?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, that's his writing. He was changing that as he went along. And as he has told me recently, he began with the words `men live by,' but then he thought that was too limiting. So then he changed it to the words `people live by.' And actually, that's the title I knew it by when I was growing up, `The words people live by.' That's how I always referred to it and that's the title that was in my proposal to The Free Press. He eventually changed it to `words Americans live by.'

But I stuck with this earlier title, `the people,' as in `we, the people,' for example. But it was decided the most inclusive thing we could do was to change the title to "We Live By," which I grudgingly--grudgingly acceded to.

But he actually--he would always tell me that he thought the title of the book should be "The Words We Propose To Live By." And in fact, I think--he always would quote--this is Thomas à Kempis, "Man proposes, but God disposes." And I think when he originally tried to write an introduction to this book, he began with that quotation, but man does, indeed, propose and here it is. These are our proposals, basically.
LAMB: What is your dad doing today?
Mr. BURRELL: He still works. He's 75, he works full time. Still--and he hasn't worked continuously in this high-technology area, but he likes to work and he was recently hired a few years ago by a high-tech company that makes something having to do with the Internet, switching devices. And I feel embarrassed sometimes that when he comes to technical things, computer-related things, that he's more up on this than I am. You know, I teach mathematics, and yet, he's telling me about the Internet and about switching devices and about telecommunications.
LAMB: What's he like?
Mr. BURRELL: He's a very gregarious guy. I thought--he reminds me, in some ways, personalitywise, of these guys who do "Car Talk" on National Public Radio. He's very opinionated. He loves to get going on a subject and just argue about it. He'll immediately tell you what he thinks and he will welcome discussions. But what he's in on are words, are the kinds of things people say, the habits they have, the things that they pick up on, perhaps without thinking about them. He's constantly thinking about, whether it's words, mottoes, just expressions people use every day. So I of course, I find him a fascinating guy to talk to. I think he exasperates some of the people he works with.
LAMB: You dedicate the book for your mother and father.
Mr. BURRELL: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Where's you mom?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, living in Lexington, right across from the battle green. They both live at this house that I recall from my days in high school where this binder sat right up on his office shelf. So they've really maintained sort of a very steady life and I try to visit them when I can.
LAMB: What's her profession?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, she's--housewife. Some...
LAMB: What's she think of you two working together on this book?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, I think she's amused by the whole thing. I think initially he was somewhat reluctant. He used to say to me, `Now look, this is your project. You've really done all the work here.' And this really--the book is not really the transcription of this notebook of his. And he said, you know, `I don't want to be mentioned in this thing. Don't talk about me.' But I had to put in the story about how he initiated this.

And as for my mother--well, I know, of course, she's very proud of me and, I think, excited that this thing has--well, it's beginning to take of a little bit. People are beginning to notice it and people are responding to the both off them in ways that I think they find very gratifying. My father's become somewhat of a celebrity at work and my mother has become, well, somewhat of a celebrity in town. So it's nice to be a success in your hometown and to get that kind of notice in the place that you grew up.
LAMB: You open the book by talking about a stop right over here at the Taft Memorial...
Mr. BURRELL: Yeah.
LAMB: ...which is an unusual memorial in itself that it's even there.
Mr. BURRELL: Right. Yeah. The Taft Memorial--it's probably not one of the more visited sites in Washington, DC. It's over, more or less, between Union Station and if you're walking over towards the Capitol. The reason that story is there is because I was talking with my father about the origin of all this. And I--'course, I was very young at the time, but I know that when I was in the first grade and in second grade, I went on trips to Washington with him, business trips, and he mentioned the story about us pulling up in a rented car and he dashes over--I have a vague recollection of it because it occurred several times in different places.

So I had to rely on his memory there, actually, about the Taft Memorial, but--and he's told somewhat similar stories about some other inscriptions that he copied down. You know, at the age of--whenever that was, in first grade--I can't say that I have this very specific memory of the Taft Memorial and I have to take his word for it. But I was aware that that's what he was doing at the time.
LAMB: Do you remember other stops over the years? And when did you two stop traveling together and you had do it on your own?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, the trips that I would take with him individually probably stopped by the time I was out of elementary school, then we would be on family vacations where he'd be dragging the whole family in a car for hours on end to--well, whatever was reasonable to reach from the Boston area. But they--it could go as far as Washington, for example. But, yeah, the same thing would happened here, is...
LAMB: Can you remember when he had all five of you in the car and stopped somewhere and said, `You're all going up and see this inscription'?
Mr. BURRELL: All five of us. That would have had to have been fairly early on, but, yeah, I'm sure that that happened probably visiting, say, some Revolutionary War battlefields, that sort of thing.
LAMB: What do you mean--did he stop all of the time? Was this...
Mr. BURRELL: Well, he didn't stop at everything, but he's the kind of guy that if you're driving down a country road--say, a country highway, not an interstate, but if you're driving down and you see one of these cast-iron historical markers, well, you know, he'd pull over in the breakdown lane and back up the car--and he would get out and we would have to read this historical marker. And I can't say that I have picked up on that habit. I do, when it's safe to stop, try to look at as many historical markers as I can.
LAMB: Let me ask you about some other people in here that you write about. Dale Carnegie--who was he?
Mr. BURRELL: Dale Carnegie. Well, initially, he was a salesman, but he became a--sort of the master of public speaking. He started a school of public speaking after being a salesman, and he rented some space in Carnegie Hall and actually changed the spelling of his name to match that of Andrew Carnegie, who's no relation. He was Carnegay, with an A-Y on the end. But he wanted to be not only a great orator himself, but he wanted to teach people how to come across in public. And so he started a school and it was a modest success--successful enough. He actually...
LAMB: Where?
Mr. BURRELL: He started it in New York City at a YMCA. He talked the director of the New York YMCA into giving him a slot, giving him a space so that he could start a class. Eventually, he built this into quite an empire of schools of public speaking and he brought out a book about--sort of the definitive book at the time about public speaking.
LAMB: Name--what was the title of it?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, that was-- now this isn't the one he's famous for. This is something like "Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business" or something like that. But his breakthrough book, which he wrote about when he was about 50 years of age, was "How to Win Friends and Influence People," which is somewhat different. Now this is not a bible of public speaking, but it's a--I suppose you could call it a bible of how to ingratiate yourself with others. It really is about selling yourself, selling your personality.

And what he did was to codify things, to break things down into numbered rules. So his six rules of how to be an effective speaker, this sort of thing. Of course, the book was a smash success and made him a household--his name a household word. Some people were not too happy with the results of this because basically it meant it seemed to be a transition from a cult of the work ethic, hard work being the key to success, to personality being the key to success, where, you know, you can smile and shake someone's hand, and more or less screw them out of something at the same time.
LAMB: Parkinson's Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. General recognition of this fact is shown in the proverbial phrase, "It is the busiest man who has time to spare."' Who was Parkinson?
Mr. BURRELL: Parkinson, C. Northcote Parkinson, a British historian and a novelist, actually. He wrote a lot of seafaring novels. But he also wrote an article for the magazine The Economist in 1955, where he--and this was all tongue in cheek--he proposed what was called Parkinson's Law, which, actually, as we now understand it, is what you just read, that work expands so as to fit the time allotted to it. And this is one of these nice things that I came upon doing in the research. I wanted to put it in there. It was in my father's original collection, not only Parkinson's Law, but all these offshoots of it, such as, `Appetite rises to meet food supply,' or that, `Spending rises to meet income.' These have to do with natural human tendencies to basically avail yourself of everything that's there.

However, what I discovered is that that is actually not Parkinson's Law as he originally stated it. In fact, I refer to it as `Parkinson's Premise' because he opens his article with that statement and merely establishes the framework of his later discussion. His later discussion leads to--this was the original Parkinson's Law--that in any administration or any, let's say, government administration, not during wartime, that the size of the administrative staff will increase at a rate of somewhere between 5 percent and 6 percent per year regardless of the amount of work to be done. He labeled that Parkinson's Law.

And I was rather gratified to find that when I looked in my Merriam Webster's 10th Collegiate Dictionary, that's what they list as their first definition of Parkinson's Law, the original Parkinson's Law. However, Parkinson's seems to have discovered, or maybe his editor did, that there was a lot of money to be made in running with that other law, `work expands to fit the time allotted for its completion,' and he expanded his article into a book. That led to many other books, a whole series of Parkinson's Laws, and that is what he became famous for. But again, he was wise enough to see that his original Parkinson's Law was not the one that was going to establish his fame.
LAMB: Horatio Alger--who was he?
Mr. BURRELL: Horatio Alger, another novelist. In this instance, he was writing novels for youth--the youth of America and he was, I think, a self-appointed crusader. His idea was to try to help young men make their way in the city. So he's writing in the post-Civil War era.
LAMB: Where'd he live?
Mr. BURRELL: He actually--he originally, I believe, was from Massachusetts, but he settled in New York City. And he wrote most of his novels there. But, you know, he had titles like, you know, "Winning Out By Pluck," this sort of thing.
LAMB: But you say in the book that people think that there was a--and when they say it's a Horatio Alger story...
Mr. BURRELL: They think there's a character named Horatio Alger, that the books are about some young boy named Horatio Alger that brings himself up by his bootstraps and through hard work and perseverance, comes to be successful. A great man, a rich man. And, of course, Horatio Alger--actually, Horatio Alger Jr.--is the author of these books. And someone said of him that he wrote one novel and he rewrote it 118 times because he wrote something like 120 novels and they all follow the same pattern.

But the pattern is not--it's not, I think, understood quite correctly. The stereotype of the Horatio Alger character is someone who basically is, say, a young boy, poor, living in the gutter, but who decides to persevere and adheres to a code of behavior that emphasizes hard work, fair play and that through that and that alone comes to become successful, becomes, say, a businessman and eventually a rich man.

So we have this idea of a Horatio Alger story being, say, the actual life story of someone like Charles Schwab, who started at a $1 a day working in the Carnegie Steelworks and eventually was the head of those steelworks and the head of Bethlehem Steel. But that's not quite the Horatio Alger story. If you read these books, what you find out is that luck has as much, if not more, to do with success than pluck and determination, that all of these involve some incredibly lucky break and the hero being taken under the wing of some very strong or rich paternal figure who sets that young boy up in business, but on a modest level. They get to work as a clerk in a shop.
LAMB: You said something right around that discussion about Horatio Alger and Charles Schwab and all that, that Colin Powell--you named these three people--Rosa Parks and Cal Ripken Jr.--that those three people are the type of people that Americans admire because they continue to represent bedrock principles.
Mr. BURRELL: Yeah. What I refer to is the character ethic. What I try to trace in that chapter is the idea that there's an evolution that various writers have traced--sociologists, mainly, have traced in American culture; that you begin with the ethic of, say, George Washington. And they call this the character ethic, the idea that there are principles that you train yourself to follow throughout life and that you are not subject to the--let's say the whims or the disapproval of others, that you adhere to a set of principles and you live your life that way. They are ingrained in you in youth and you continue to reflect upon them.

As you begin to get into the 20th century, there is the perception that success is now suddenly turning more upon personality than on character, that you can get ahead by affecting a certain pose, as opposed to having certain bedrock principles, so that by the time you get to the 1950s, you have this book, the "Lonely Crowd," by David Riesman, that I talk about, which refers to these in other terms. Inner directedness is the idea personified by George Washington. He is driven by a set of principles that he has internalized vs. other directedness in which your entire mind-set is driven by others, the reactions of others, how people are responding. And so what I try to point out is that there are still people who personify inner directedness or the character ethic, and I named those as examples.
LAMB: You have a code in here written by Dennis Lee Curtis, and this is not that old, in 1992, the “Stick-up Man's Code”. And there are a bunch of points here--let's see--eight of them: `I will not kill anyone unless I have to,' `I will take cash and food stamps, no checks,' `I will rob only at night,' `I will not wear a mask,' `I will not rob minimarts or 7-Elven stores,' `If chased by cops on foot, I will get away,' `If chased by a vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line,' seven, `I will rob only seven months out of the year,' and eight, `I will enjoy robbing from the poor to give to the poor.' Why'd you put that in here?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, this is the kind of thing--I found it, not my father, but this is the kind of thing I know that if he had come upon it, he would have clipped this out of this magazine, he would have mailed it to me and it would have said at the top `For the book.' I put it in there not only because it's--in its way, it's kind of charming, if you can set aside the actual context of it. But the idea--here is this stick-up man who is apprehended and the police find on his person a code of ethics. He has his own code of ethics.

And I think it's perhaps an extreme example, but it--but this idea of the pervasiveness of codes in our culture--that--I was trying to show that a code of ethics is a rather American idea, that--it's not an American invention. You can go back to the first medical code of ethics which was English in origin, but we seem to have taken to codes of ethics, written statements of principle.

So on the high end, you can point to the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, but you can also go through this whole spectrum in which you wind up with Dennis Lee Curtis and his Stick-up Man's Code or the code...
LAMB: And Elvis Presley Imperson...
Mr. BURRELL: Yeah. The creed of the Elvis Presley Imitators Association International. The idea that they think it's important enough to have a statement of basic principles that defines their organization and defines their mission--I love that idea.
LAMB: Now the book came out what was the pub date?
Mr. BURRELL: July 1st.
LAMB: What's the most interesting thing that's happened to you since it came out or something that you didn't expect to happen?
Mr. BURRELL: Something I didn't expect to happen.
LAMB: Or maybe I ought to ask it better. Have you gotten publicity you didn't expect? Have you been on a book tour? Do people care when you go around? I mean, what sense do you get that after all this work it matters?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, there are actually two things that have come out it. First, setting aside the publicity part of it, the first thing that came out of it, I think, is--and probably the most important is that it has had the effect of drawing me and my father closer together because, you know, even though he did take us on--on trips, sometimes individually, sometimes together, it's not--it wasn't really like an "Andy of Mayberry" childhood that we would go fishing together--I mean, we did now and then, but, you know, he worked, he was on the road a lot and I did not discuss this with him very much, but now I've had occasion to. And the first it happened when we were doing an interview with the Boston Globe, where in the course of the interview I'm finding out things about him that I hadn't known. And...
LAMB: Like?
Mr. BURRELL: Well, like, for example, some of his military experience. This is something that was never really discussed when I was growing up, that he was in the South Pacific in World War II, he was a Marine pilot and he was in Korea. I didn't know that he had anything to do with liberating the Philippines. But he went into some of these stories and, of course, I was fascinated. I wanted him to keep going. So that's been a very good byproduct of all this.

On the publicity front, well, really not too long ago, when I was really finishing up some of the post-production aspects of the book, I was talking to my editor and just saying, `So am I ever going to see any money from this or, you know, do I have to get another job?' But then a piece came out in USA Today, a great piece that seemed to draw a lot of attention, and I've actually been quite surprised. I didn't allow myself to hope for this or anticipate, but that I would be appearing on the "Today" show, that I would be appearing on BOOKNOTES, but these things have come to pass and I have to admit I'm enjoying them very much.
LAMB: And we're out of time, and I should say that that USA Today piece got our attention. So here's the book, Brian Burrell, "The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes and Pledges That Have Shaped America." And we thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. BURRELL: Well, thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.