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A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2012
How do you live a life of heroic virtue in the midst of an age of ever-shifting and occasionally-questionable values? Rev. Robert Sirico (a Roman Catholic priest) and Jeff Sandefer (an entrepreneur) offer a helpful primer on the heroic life in their edited collection entitled A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey. The authors provide a three-step program to move willing readers from a merely existing to a heroic life of meaning. First, an aspiring hero should contemplate the heroic journey by reading about the journeys of others. Second, the reader should think through his own journey by working through the questions at the end of each chapter. These questions are designed to help you apply the lessons learned in the previous section. Third, the reader should use the "Try This" sections to move from thinking to acting.
Chapter conveys a lesson about the heroic life and begins with autobiographical stories or other insights from Fr. Sirico and Sandefer designed to illustrate the intended lesson. My favorite of these stories include Sandefer's story of the summer when he earned $100,000 as a teenage and Sirico's discovery that he was not a socialist after he had explained to comrades that he hoped the coming social revolution would enable the oppressed of the earth to be able to shop at Gucci's. The second part of the chapters consists of a selection of (often excerpted and/or abridged) essays, fables, poems, and stories from well-known individuals, including Teddy Roosevelt, Aesop, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Biblical authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Leo Tolstoy, Homer, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Bunyan, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Beowulf, Patrick Henry, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Each of these selections is usually introduced with a sentence or two designed to help readers draw the lesson out of the text in question. The chapters then end with practical "Ask This" questions and "Try This" suggestions to coax the reader into action. "Try This" advice includes keeping a journal, interviewing an elderly person to help the reader determine his priorities in life, keeping a list of ethical "guard rails" in a prominent location, joining a faith community devoted to a higher power, prepare for despair by memorizing an inspirational poem or quotation ahead of time, and spending the weekend with all electronic equipment turned off.
In terms of content, chapter 1 argues that to be a hero, the reader has to become a person who acts. As Nike tells us, "Just Do It" (1). Chapter 2 teaches the reader to know himself in order to discern his heroic calling or vocation. As the authors put it, only by knowing who you are can you become the person you want to become (11). Chapter 3 encourages reader to establish ethnical "guard rails" and including Sirico and Amanda Witt's retelling of the story of St. Thomas More (35). Chapter 4 argues that, not unlike Tolkien's Frodo, any aspiring hero needs to seek out friendships and create a supporting community (53-4). Chapter 5 argues that a hero must learn to work hard and embrace failure as the great teacher of persistence (65). Chapter 6 tells to the reader that he must find a way to maintain hope amidst despair. Not surprisingly, the authors argue that believe in God or a higher power can help (77). Chapter 7 tells the reader to embrace leisure, but to balance it with work (94). Fr. Sirico helpfully distinguishes between indolence and rest (94). Chapter 8 teaches the reader to prepare himself for the challenges of life (103-4). In his chapter, Fr. Sirico includes the story of Diet Eman, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust at great personal risk (105-6). Finally, chapter 9 encourages the reader to be grateful for his accomplishments and to use his success to help others.
In short, this is a great book for anyone looking to make a difference in the world, but unsure how to begin.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2012
In this short guide for those seeking a purpose in their life beyond merely living, Jeff Sandefer and the Rev. Robert Sirico have taken the unusual step of connecting practical questions and tasks to the wisdom found in the literary and cultural heritage of Western Civilization (with two or three Asian tales thrown in for good measure). The result of this innovative approach is an inspiring collection of poems and classic tales organized to lead one to deep reflection on what it means to live heroically or, as the authors put it, to make "small choices that add up to a big life." Aesop's Fables and the Bible have pride of place, but Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Eliot are here, too, as are several personal stories by Mr. Sandefer and Fr. Sirico.

This wonderful little book would be the perfect gift for any young person seeking to find their way in a world that all too often tells them to focus only on themselves. It takes both a priest and a businessman, it seems, to provide us with a guide to perennial wisdom that is also suited to life in the twenty-first century.

John C. Pinheiro, Ph.D.
Author of Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2012
How do I know this book makes a great (pre) Christmas gift? Because that's how I got it.

At first glance this book, a collection of inspiring selections from history and literature interspersed with commentary, seems to be just another effort to raise people's spirits in a world in which the State, viewed by many as the only recourse in times of trouble or need, has been revealed as a false hope and an idol with feet of clay. That assessment, however (while accurate), would be incomplete, and therefore unjust. Rather than being simply a random collection of "feel good" quotes, there is a definite structure to the selections and commentary. It is, as the title tells us, a "field guide for the hero's journey."

Which hero? You. The message I got from this book is that the potential to be a hero lies in each one of us. The book details a list of nine steps on how to be a hero. I say "steps," not the authors, and it's probably a bad term, or at least a misleading one. It implies a sequence of actions to be taken in order, a sort of "PERT chart for life." This is not, however, that kind of book, nor that kind of program. If you're looking for specifics on how to be a success as a person -- which seems to be the authors' definition of hero -- you won't find it here . . . and should be extremely suspicious of it when something of the sort is recommended.

Instead, what I found was a list of general principles to keep in mind on life's journey. None of these are original with the authors, nor do they make any such claim. The principles are (or should be) obvious, once we think about them. This book is extremely valuable as a reminder of what we should already know, and as an inspiration for developing and maintaining our own program. It does not give you a program, though, respecting your human dignity enough to leave that critical process to you.

In that respect, I do not think that "field guide" is the best description for this book. It may put off some potential readers, probably the ones most likely to take inspiration from it, the incipient entrepreneurial types who, while valuing advice, reject dictation. Others, searching for program specifics, may start to read it under the impression that they will be presented with a sure-fire list of no-fail actions to take to become a hero. These, while also in need of a little (or a lot of) inspiration, will tend not to read past the first couple of pages when they realize that's not what this book is about.

That would be a pity for either group. There is a great deal of good to be gained from reading "The Hero's Journey," as one would expect from a distillation of a few thousand years of human thought -- Father Time is a much better editor than any mere human, after all.

Aside from the title, I found only one substantive flaw in the book, and even that is something that I didn't see, a "sin of omission," if that's not putting it too strong. I do not believe there is enough warning about the dangers of those invisible barriers that can inhibit or prevent us from attaining our fullest human potential.

Our institutions can be just as much "stones in the road" as anything else, but are less susceptible to correction by individuals, sometimes even impossible to correct through individual action. As Pius XI noted in § 53 of "Divini Redemptoris," individuals are frequently helpless to ensure justice . . . unless they organize with like-minded others and work directly on the institution that is causing the problem.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2013
Though both are good neither freedom nor wealth are morally sufficient ends in themselves for the human family. Like freedom, wealth is for something. Actually strictly speaking wealth and freedom are both in the service of human flourishing. In the Christian tradition this means that both human freedom and all the myriad forms that wealth takes are only fully realized in love and love is always necessarily sacrificial. We strive to be free and wealth so that we are able to love fully and without reservation or compromise.

Too often freedom and love are seen as sui generis, as almost Platonic ideals that are simply "there." My own ministry as a priest has taught me to be wary whenever conversations about practical matters turn theoretical. Freedom and wealth, their morally legitimate uses, the conditions that foster or obstruct their realization and growth, are all matters of prudence. When we try and discuss prudential matters as if they were simply a matter of principle, our conversation quickly becomes a source of conflict and degenerate into mere posturing. While there is no guarantee that of practical agreement, understanding that freedom and wealth are at the service of love offers both critics and apologists of democracy and the free market a potential more fruitful foundation for their discussions and even their disagreements.

But this brings us to a challenge that is both pedagogical and cultural.

Prudence along with justice, temperance and courage, is a cardinal virtue. Unfortunately as contemporary Western culture has become more secularized it has formed generations of men and women who are deaf to the music of human virtue. Many of us embrace a vision of human life that counsel spontaneity not habit as the mark of a life well and fully lived. And since any discussion of virtue necessarily brings with it a discussion of tradition such a conversation is an affront to the atomistic individualism that is at the center of contemporary culture.

None of this is to say that we don't form our life by habit or the shared meaning embodied in tradition. We do but we are unconscious to this fact and so we live in bad faith relative to both our convictions and our own humanity. The great irony is that the more we seek to live according to the modern dictates of authenticity, individuality and spontaneous self-expression in word and deed, the more we live lives of mere habit in conformity to the opinions of others that we have uncritically made our own.

No, for all that we seem to live in a world of options, we are really and truly anything but free, anything but wealth. Why? Because we lack the very virtues that make freedom and wealth possible and humanly meaningful.
This brings me to Jeff Sandefer and Fr Robert Sirico's new book, A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey. The book's subtitle describes the authors respectively as "a serial and an entrepreneurial priest." Both men are affiliated (as am I) with the Acton Institute "a non-profit research organization dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes."

At first, I have to say, I didn't particularly like the book and I only kept reading out of a personal respect for Fr Robert and a sense of obligation since I said I would write a review. So more out of guilt than gladness I read.

And as I read something unexpected and wonderful happened--I began to see myself in a new light.
The book reminded me that once the language and the idea of virtue were as foreign to me as it is to most contemporary men and women. If I am no longer the book's intended reader I once was because, like the authors I felt "like something big [was] missing from [my]life." Like so many of the people I meet on a regular basis, I felt "trapped, bored, stuck in a meaningless routine" thinking myself "too ordinary to ever do something special" and just as afraid that, if I tried, I'd only fail.

While I certainly don't want to suggest that 27 years of marriage to a woman who loves me and who I don't deserve (much less does she deserve me--though in both cases this reflects my shortcomings and failings not hers!) and 15 or so years as a priest haven't been a source of joy, strength and personal satisfaction--because whatever my failings they are this. But as with the other areas that give my life meaning, that meaning is only accessible to me because somewhere along the line others took the time to foster in me not only the cardinal virtues but also the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.

This is all a long winded way of saying that thanks to dedicated teachers, priests, friends, loved ones and more people than I could hope to know much less name, I came to see that I too could lead a meaningful life and that, like the authors and the many people they've counseled over the years I could decide "to journey heroically" through my own life instead of "merely marking time."

Well, what has all of this to do with freedom and wealth, with democracy and the free market?

Recent events in the cultural, economic and political spheres have demonstrated that the pursuit of freedom and wealth as ends in themselves is corrosive to democracy and the free market. Cut off from their moorings in a sound anthropology and a clear moral vision the pursuit of freedom and wealth is nothing more or less than the pursuit of power and control. In such a corrupt and corrupting moral universe democracy and the free market are increasingly impossible and the political, material and spiritual benefits that they foster just melt away.

But as I said this a raises a challenge that is both pedagogical and cultural --how are we teach the young (and in many cases, the not so young) how to live a life of sacrificial love when many of them don't even know such a life is possible much less desirable? The first Christians preached the Gospel in cultures formed according to the Law of Moses and the Greek love of Wisdom. And while revelation dominated in the former and philosophy in the latter both gave a central role in human affairs to what Sandefer and Sirico call the "heroic journey." Granted we shouldn't minimize or ignore the real and substantive differences between the heroism of Moses and that of Achilles and but neither should these differences excuse us from seeing that both men lived meaningful lives that made a difference not only during their own times but continue to do so today in ours.

But just as few of us will "ever be called to save a child from a burning building" all of us "can choose a life that's meaningful." Each of us "can make a difference and succeed, and do so heroically." While reading A Field Guide my personal epiphany about this came in Fr Sirico and Amanda Witt's recounting of the life of Sir Thomas More. In a conversation with the ambitious and morally unstable Richard Rich, More urges him to become a teacher "a career path that would not place him in the way of frequent temptation as a post in the king's court" most definitely would.

"Why not be a teacher?" More suggested. "You'd be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one."
Rich shrugged this off. "If I was," he said, "Who would know it?"
"Your pupils; your friends; God," More replied. "Not a bad public, that."

The hero's quest and so my own life is not the modern pursuit of fame but a matter of earning the respect of honorable people, of those we love, of those who love us and above all God. This is, as I know from my own life, something easily forgotten. It is also the path to both personal satisfaction and the cultural foundation that makes the pursuit of freedom and wealth, of democracy and the free market, practically possible and morally good. And it is fidelity to just this sort of life that makes heroes of seemingly ordinary men and women.

Our world desperately needs heroic people--people who shape events, who act rather than watch, who are creative and brave. Such people are needed in every field, in every realm of life--not only law enforcement and disaster response but also science, education, business and finance, health care, the arts, journalism, agriculture, and--not least--in the home.

To this I would add the Church as well as government and civil services. But for there to be heroes there must first be people who desire to live heroically. In the personal reflections and selections from Scripture, literature and history, the authors seek to inspire in the reader a desire for personal heroism rightly understood
It is easy, especially with an advance degree or two, to look down on Sandefer and Sirico's book as just another self-help book. While this is understandable, and even to a small degree a legitimate criticism, it is also to miss the authors' humbler, and so larger, practical aim. How are we to inspire a love of heroism in men and women who live in such unheroic times?

Take for example, the now largely forgotten Occupy Wall Street protests. It is interesting to me that for all the criticism of corporate greed one heard during the protests, one heard nothing critical about those athletes, actors and musicians who annual salaries and personal wealth outstripped the most avarice dreams of most CEOs. And whatever the legitimacy of their criticisms of greed in business, the protesters were noticeably silent in criticizing the myriad instances of sensuality, that is of a greed for experience, sensation and pleasure, that was present among them and which is the fountainhead of the avarice they rejected.

We need heroes but to get them, and much more to be ourselves heroic, we must first see heroism in all its forms as desirable--as a life worthy of our time, talent and treasure. Jeff Sandefer and Fr Robert Sirico have done an admirably, dare I say heroic, job in making heroism a bit more desirable, and so a bit more possible, for us.
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on November 27, 2012
As I read this smallish volume I pondered how best to convey its content and value. In so doing, I was met with mental images of readers, absorbed in its pages: a schoolgirl faced with the daunting challenges of entering a new school and her teenage years simultaneously; a college freshman wrestling with the classroom deconstruction of values of his familial culture, a young couple, not long married, with a small child on the knee and a fledgling business plan on the kitchen table, the middle-aged executive troubled by his incommunicative wife and children and the emptiness of his material gain; the widow (always widowed far too young) pondering the paperwork piled high on the abandoned desk down the hall; or, the octogenarian putting pen to paper writing legacy letters for great-grandchildren still far too young to read.

The point is, A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey, by Jeff Sandefer and Rev. Robert Sirico, intelligently captures the core lessons of many lifetimes, the secrets not only to success but the true meaning of success, then offers them up in compelling, manageable, and memorable short bits, easy to read and inviting to be read time and time again. I do not know Mr. Sandefer but find an immediate common ground in our entrepreneurial careers. I have met Rev. Sirico on several occasions and see in this new book the man I met in person . . . intelligent, concerned, gentle, and joyful.

After insisting that no one who buys A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey is likely to be disappointed, then I would encourage them to plan on buying several more copies as gifts for anyone whom they truly love. Putting my money where my mouth is, I have purchased three copies today, having just finished my first reading, for my wife and my two grown children. They are too important to me not to share the principles and themes of this book . . . but I have no intention of one of them wandering off with my copy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2014
In every way, this book was excellent. The authors chose great selections from world literature. Better than these, though, were the sections written by the authors themselves about their trials and successes. I highly recommend this book.
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on August 26, 2015
Very condescending. I was looking for something to use with my children to facilitate create a conscious process around coming of age and to help them analyze mythology, science fiction and fantasy in terms of archetypes. This book reads more like a 'here's why I am qualified to advise you needy people' than an informative sharing of experience and perspective from one person to another. Even my children felt condescended to, and they're twelve. But they've had a good life. I had a pretty rough childhood, and I can see how a person who is just coming out of the fog of survival might love this book. I might have liked it a lot when I had not learned to respect myself yet. Learning self-respect is a part of the process when one is recovering from abuse or abandonment as a child. I think the authors mean well and are helping a lot of people. But it is useless for the purpose I purchased it for.
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on July 15, 2015
This was a short book of seemingly simple advice and stories. It's probably best meant for young people just starting in their careers, but it really speaks to all of us on any part of our life journeys. If given proper reflection there is a lot of wisdom and practical advice here for everyone. Stories and myths like the heroes' journeys appear to lose their relevance in the modern world, but that's only because the lessons were so descriptive and exemplary that they literally hide in plain sight. This book brings them back into focus and gives us much more to come away with.
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on December 2, 2012
This is a "self help" book of sorts but more than that. It is an easy to read book and a text filled with encouragement for persons making a spiritual journey. Well written. It is a book for anyone and teenagers making their confirmation or graduating from high school or college could use this as a gift text. But anyone could benefit from the wisdom of this work.
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on January 3, 2014
I enjoyed all of the stories used to illustrate each of the principles in the book. Stories are much easier to understand.
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