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My Many Selves: The Quest for a Plausible Harmony

by Wayne C. Booth

Utah State University Press, 2006


Paper: 978-0-87421-631-8

eISBN: 978-0-87421-535-9

Cloth: 978-0-87421-633-2

About the Book

In his autobiography, My Many Selves, Wayne C. Booth is less concerned with his professional achievements---though the book by no means ignores his distinguished career---than with the personal vision that emerges from a long life lived thoughtfully. For Booth, even the autobiographical process becomes part of a quest to harmonize the diverse, often conflicting aspects of who he was. To see himself clearly and whole, he broke the self down, personified the fragments, uncovered their roots in his experience and background, and engaged those selves and experiences in dialogue. Basic to his story and to its lifelong concern with ethics and rhetoric was his Mormon youth in rural Utah. In adulthood he struggled with that background, abandoning most Mormon doctrines, but he retained the identity, ethical questions, and concern with communication that this upbringing gave him.

The uncommon wisdom and careful attention that empower Wayne Booth's many other books cause My Many Selves to transcend its genre, as the best memoirs always do. The book becomes a window through which we who read it will see our own conflicts, our own ongoing struggle to live honestly and ethically in the world.

Wayne Booth died in October 2005, soon after completing work on this autobiography.

About the Author

Wayne C. Booth was born February 22, 1921, and died October 10, 2005. Descended from Mormon pioneers, he began as a young man to wrestle with church teachings, a struggle that informed both his decision to root himself in the secular world and his particular interest in the field of rhetoric. He earned a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University in 1944, a master's in 1947, and a PhD in 1950, both from the University of Chicago.

He was the author of several books, including the highly influential The Rhetoric of Fiction. He argued that as a technique rhetoric can enhance communication between author and reader, not merely manipulate the reader's response. To Professor Booth, literature was not so much words on paper as it was a complex ethical act. The author's task, then, is to draw readers into the web of narrative and hold them there. The critic's task is to tease out the specific rhetorical devices. He later considered rhetoric in a number of forms beyond the narrative, from political discourse to television commercials.

Booth was until 1992 professor of English at the University of Chicago, where he was associated with the Chicago school of literary criticism and became especially well known for his works on rhetoric. A former president of the Modern Language Association and founder and editor of the journal Critical Inquiry, his widely influential books have included The Rhetoric of Fiction, Now Don't Try to Reason with Me: Essays and Ironies for a Credulous Age, A Rhetoric of Irony, Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, and For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals (based largely on his devotion to cello playing).


Here the life and the form of its telling are integral—the book enacts the very divisions Wayne Booth is talking about, and what he is talking about has shaped the work he has done that has resonated with so many over the years. The honesty here is valuable in itself as people, Mormon or not, recognize their own conflicts that constitute the process of trying to live a better life, an effort we all tend to bungle. So as an autobiography, this is important. As a study in ethics and rhetoric it is important. As an experience of reading it is important—it comes together for the reader at the end in ways that tell the story of any honest life.

Gregory Clark, editor, Rhetoric Society Quarterly

Quest for, Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Higher, Levels, Schools, Education, Biography, Biography & Autobiography, Philosophy, United States
Open Access Information

Label: This book is freely available in digital formats through the Utah State University Library Digital Commons.

License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0