Welcome to the rejection-letter hall of fame, where the hopes and dreams of celebrities (Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, among others) are crushed alongside the aspirations of the rest of us. You’ll find handwritten notes from former lovers, nasty e-mails from would-be bosses, heated texts, crayon scrawlings, and surprising dismissals from Playboy, Disney, even the pope. To unearth this collection, Bill Shapiro searched America’s desk drawers, hard drives, and government files. But what at first seems to be a voyeuristic jaunt through other people’s flops is ultimately a testimony to everyone who has at least tried. And while rejection’s sting is painful, it is not lethal; here, you’ll see that one of the great universals is not only people’s desire for acceptance but also their ability to persevere. BILL SHAPIRO is the editor in chief of LIFE.com and the former editor of LIFE magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.