To go beyond the call of duty—that depends on how you define “duty.” Consider this thought experiment: you see people drowning and can save either a relative or two strangers. What do you do? For most, the first impulse is to save the relative, but the utilitarian view would dictate helping the strangers; why save only one person when you can do twice as much good by saving two? Most of the issues of Strangers Drowning (Penguin Press, $27.95) spiral out from this scenario. Is altruism a matter of emotion or of logic? Is rescue the same as saving? Are humanitarian NGOs just colonialism in another guise? And when have you done enough, if suffering continues? In detailed and compelling narratives that make the moral questions immediate, Larissa MacFarquhar profiles people variously called saints, heroes, or obsessive-compulsives. A couple feels their calling is to save unwanted children—and end up with a family of twenty-two. Driven to eliminate as much sheer suffering as possible, a man advocates on behalf of the millions of agri-business chickens. Another couple, realizing that a few dollars buys a mosquito net, gradually donates every expendable dime to charities, equating buying a soda for themselves to committing a murder. The size of donations, of course, depends on the donor’s income—a woman deliberates whether it’s moral to stay in a low-paying position she loves, if a more lucrative career allows her to give away more money. And if these “do-gooders” never really change the world, does that negate the improvements they make, or render “selfish” the satisfaction—even the exhilaration—they feel in trying?

Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9781594204333
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Published: Penguin Press - September 29th, 2015

Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143109785
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Published: Penguin Books - September 27th, 2016

With the sharp eye of a scholar and the passion of an activist, Rebecca Solnit explores the tiny, evanescent utopias that arise in the aftermath of disasters. Solnit argues that our natural response to catastrophes like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, and 9/11 is a fleeting joy and heightened sense of purpose (rather than the looting and mayhem the media portrays). Most intriguingly, she suggests that post-disaster behavior lets us glimpse alternative ways of living. Solnit seeks to challenge and unsettle the reader, and this timely, powerful work succeeds on every page.

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780670021079
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Published: Viking Adult - August 20th, 2009

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143118077
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Published: Penguin Books - August 31st, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell, the master of the quirky mashup and incomparable author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, serves up a feast of his favorite New Yorker pieces in What The Dog Saw (Little Brown, $27.99). The eponymous essay is a profile of the charismatic dog trainer, Cesar Millan; in his signature counterintuitive approach, Gladwell is less interested in Millan than he is in what’s going on inside Millan’s dog’s head, and by the end of the piece, even cat people will be eager to know. Gladwell’s insatiable curiosity about other people’s motivations and desires leads to such diverse ruminations as who’s most likely to be hired, who’s most likely to make a killing in investments, and why there are so many kinds of mustard but only one ketchup.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9780316075848
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Published: Little, Brown and Company - October 20th, 2009

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780316076203
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Published: Back Bay Books - December 14th, 2010

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