In this book, Coles explores the concept of idealism and why it necessary to the individual and society.
In a searching, inspirational probe, eminent Harvard psychiatrist Coles ( The Moral Life of Children ) examines the idealistic motives of people who engage in volunteer work, community service or civil rights activism. Mixing autobiographical reminiscence, analysis and oral testimony, he interviews Peace Corps members as well as volunteers in hospitals, schools, prisons and nursing homes. Coles finds that volunteer work can have a transformative influence on those who heed the ``call of service,'' even though they frequently experience doubts, misgivings, depression and even a sense of futility and despair. Rich in empathy and insight, his informed study interweaves his own experiences as a child psychiatrist helping Southern children caught up in the school desegregation struggle, an account of his current work as a volunteer inner-city elementary school teacher near Boston, recollections of his 1950s service in a Manhattan soup kitchen with Catholic Worker activist Dorothy Day and portraits of his mentors Anna Freud and poet/physician William Carlos Williams, who set him on his altruistic path. Author tour. (Sept.)