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Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself Paperback – September 9, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977523
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After actor Alda (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed) recovered from a nearly fatal intestinal obstruction, he decided to live as if he'd been given a second life. To make his new life as meaningful as possible, he wanted to remember those rare moments when a special stillness had come over him, the kind that hits you when you hear something that goes to the core of who you think you are. These were moments when he'd had some understanding about the meaning of his life, his reason for living—the central questions that Alda grapples with, as he looks back over his life. While poking good-natured fun at some of his earlier rhetoric (the ravings of a naïve Hollywood liberal) he shares highlights of the various commencement speeches and keynote addresses he's given to future doctors and physicists, or even to the odd group of Jefferson scholars. He phrases it differently for each audience, but the message is consistent: It's not what you do in life, but how you do it. Notice everything. Always be open to new ideas, new experiences. Alda is chatty, easygoing and humble, rather like a Mr. Rogers for grownups. His words of inspiration would be a perfect gift for a college grad or for anyone facing major life changes. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Alan Alda is the author of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. He is the winner of numerous awards, including six Emmys and six Golden Globes, and has been nominated for an Academy Award. He played Hawkeye Pierce for eleven years on the television series M*A*S*H, has acted in, written, and directed many feature films, and has appeared often on Broadway. His avid interest in science has led to his hosting PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years. He is married to the children’s book author and photographer Arlene Alda. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Alan gives us a very personal insight into the meaning of life, or more accurately what it is to be human.
M. Phillips
Insofar as they interrupt the flow of the narrative, Alda's excerpted speeches--if arguably the raison d'être of the book--are actually its weakest part.
Debra Hamel
You can lead a horse to water....but...(you know the saying) I enjoyed his book and will buy his next one too.
Embracing Life

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on September 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Nearly dying from an intestinal blockage in 2003 had a profound effect on Alan Alda. It brought him a second life and, with it, a first book, his bestselling memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (see my review), published in 2005. Happily, Alda's appetite for introspection, intensified by his near-death experience, was not satisfied by the one foray into autobiography. He was moved to write Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself as a means of answering a question that had begun pricking at him. After leaving death behind in a Chilean hospital, along with three feet of intestine, Alda began to wonder whether he had lived a meaningful life and to ask himself, more generally, what constitutes a meaningful life.

The title of Alda's book alludes to the approach he adopted in trying to come up with an answer to that question. Alda dug up speeches he had delivered on various occasions over the years, talks which he'd attempted to infuse with some wisdom pertinent to the occasion. Many of these speeches were delivered at commencement ceremonies, but Alda also talked to historians at Monticello and to psychiatrists at Cornell. He spoke at a ceremony honoring Simon Wiesenthal. He delivered eulogies for Ozzie Davis and Peter Jennings and Anne Bancroft. He spoke over the grave of his grandchildren's dead rabbit.

Alda structures the book around excerpted passages from these speeches, but Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself is by no means wholly or even primarily a collection of excerpts. Rather, Alda uses the excerpts as writing prompts, wrapping stories from his life around them. In one chapter, for example, Alda excerpts passages from a talk he delivered at Emerson College in 1977 on the subject of living up to one's values.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Frank and Nicole Seidel on September 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself" is really an invitation to see how Alda's mind works; his philosophical outlook, what excites him, what he values, etc. His advice to his daughter, Eve, about the importance of making distinctions because "A peach is not its fuzz, a toad is not its warts, a person is not his or her crankiness" is advice from which we could all learn and grow. As to the one reviewer here who gave a negative review, from reading said review, it is obvious that this person got caught up in the minutia of the fuzz and failed to see this book for what it is: an exquisitely ripened peach.

In an excerpt from Alan Alda's commencement address at Eve's graduation, he talked about the need for people to question their "assumptions" because our assumptions are our windows through which we view the world...he also talked about the happiness found in existentialism because life is what you make of it. For those of you who have read the books of Barry Neil Kaufman, you will likely find a delightful synergy of outlook.

Most of one chapter is about Alda's fascination with Richard Feynman....the chapter is so intriguing that the next book I plan to read is about Richard Feynman. In the this book, you learn about Alan, but also about things that you didn't expect, like when Alan went in search of a greater understanding of Thomas Jefferson by talking to scientists in China. He reaches into the dark and pulls out something magnificent that nobody else would have found.

"Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself" starts you thinking about what you value and what excites you. As much as I loved "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed", I LOVE this new book even more! This book is clearly from Alan Alda's heart and it goes straight to the reader's heart...
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By C. S. Clarke on October 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself" is a philosophy book. Yes, really. It is about meanings and values and thinking and learning from experience. True "meaning of life" stuff. Literally. But, be undaunted -- it is done with fun, humor, warmth and sensitivity. In plain English. It's full of fascinating stories drawn from the author's own life; a richly interesting life.

Alan Alda looks at his own writings from the past -- his speeches -- in which he has publicly declared his philosophies of life. He quotes from those speeches he has selected as representative of his quest for meaning in life. And he intersperses them with relevant vignettes from his experience. In that way, he examines his own values and the sources of those values.

He reveals himself as a lifelong learner, a man of insatiable curiosity engaged in an incessant search for knowledge and understanding -- especially self-knowledge -- and insight. He shows his penchant for rigorous research in his gathering facts and statistical support for his ideas and conclusions. It is easy to see how he might have wished to be a scientist at times, since he proceeds so much like one in preparing speeches. (And I'm sure his 11 years of interviewing scientists for Scientific American Frontiers contributed to his methodological and empirical approach.) He does what he has suggested scientists do. He takes complex information, ideas and analyses and converts them into stories, analogies and mental images that make them understandable and relevant to the average guy or gal.

So, he models for you how to approach the search for meaning and values in life and how to think about what you find in that search.
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