Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service

Reviewed by: Linda Taylor, assistant professor of Professional Writing at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.



Title: Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service

Author: Gary Sinise

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: 2019

Format: Print book

Length: 280 pages


Most readers know Gary Sinise as the actor in CSI: New York or, more probably, as Lieutenant Dan, the paraplegic character in the blockbuster Forrest Gump. Indeed, it was that supporting role that laid the groundwork for a passion that has now become the Gary Sinise Foundation, an organization dedicated to “serve our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.” Through various initiatives, the foundation supports programs that “entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities.”

Sinise writes this book to highlight that work, but also gives a satisfying autobiography that focuses on the events in his life that brought him to his passionate appreciation for our servicemen and -women. Readers will enjoy hearing about his young years in Chicago and his high school years as a troubled student who found acting and turned his life around. After high school, he and several fellow actors founded the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, a still-prominent theatre venue. Many names appear throughout—names readers will know from their later acting accomplishments, and it’s a joy to hear about their early trials and errors. It’s also interesting to learn about that world of theatre and acting.

Sinise also provides the story behind the story of various plays, movies, and TV shows in which he’s acted, giving just enough detail to be interesting while keeping the narrative moving. All of that provides a backdrop for the focus on this book, which is how he began working with the USO tours, and how he desired to use his fame to serve those who serve our country. His turn as Lt. Dan made him both recognizable and honored as a man who portrayed a Vietnam veteran in a positive light (he makes mention several times of his sorrow at how so many in our nation treated the returning Vietnam vets with disdain). He takes the time to share stories of many of the veterans and wounded veterans he has met, bringing their memory to life on the pages.

The book is an easy read, written in a very conversational tone as if the reader is listening to Sinise simply talk. He jumps around in time once in a while, but always offers time markers and, really, much of the chronology is less important than the stories he provides. The book is uplifting, showing a slice of America at its best.



Rating (1 to 5)

5 out of 5 stars

Suggested Audience

Anyone who has a heart for the military and those who serve and protect will enjoy reading of Sinise’s passion for honoring them. This is a patriotic book written by one who treasures the opportunities he’s been given by the freedom in America. He was profoundly impacted by family members who served in various wars and by 9/11. He wishes to give back by honoring those who protect America’s freedoms.

Christian Impact

There is little mention of God except for a brief description of Sinise and his wife committing themselves to the Catholic faith. However, that commitment changed him. His faith guides the philanthropic initiatives, for Sinise notes his understanding that God has a plan for his life: “We each have a purpose in life, and if we’re serving God, following him, living out God’s calling and purposes for our life, then we can have faith that God is leading us, and even difficult times can turn out all right. God can cause all things to work together for good” (265). Beyond that, he does not talk about faith in this book.

Other Notes (Optional):

Because this is a story of his life and the theater in Chicago in the 1960s through 1980s, he describes alcohol and drug use (mainly marijuana), living with the woman who is now his wife, along with some of the types of plays performed by Steppenwolf (one in which actors were nude—it got terrible reviews). He also has a chapter about the difficulties in their marriage and family due to his wife’s alcoholism. However, their marriage and family survived (and they are still married at 37 years), and his wife remains sober. Throughout, there is truthfulness and transparency without offering too many details.


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Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service

About Ceil Carey

The Evangelical Church Library Association, founded in 1970, is a fellowship of Christian churches, schools, and individuals.

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