What does it mean to devote yourself wholly to helping others? In Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar seeks out people living lives of extreme ethical commitment and tells their deeply intimate stories: their stubborn integrity and their compromises; their bravery and their recklessness; their joys and defeats and wrenching dilemmas.
A couple adopts two children in distress. But then they think: If they can change two lives, why not four? Or 10? They adopt 20. But how do they weigh the needs of unknown children in distress against the needs of the children they already have?
Another couple founds a leprosy colony in the wilderness in India, living in huts with no walls, knowing that their two small children may contract leprosy or be eaten by panthers. The children survive. But what if they hadn't? How would their parents' risk have been judged?
A woman believes that if she spends money on herself rather than donate it to buy lifesaving medicine, then she's responsible for the deaths that result. She lives on a fraction of her income but wonders: When is compromise self-indulgence, and when is it essential?
We honor such generosity and high ideals, but when we call people do-gooders there is skepticism in it, even hostility. Why do moral people make us uneasy? Between her stories, MacFarquhar threads a lively history of the literature, philosophy, social science, and self-help that have contributed to a deep suspicion of do-gooders in Western culture.
Through its sympathetic and beautifully vivid storytelling, Strangers Drowning confronts us with fundamental questions about what it means to be human. In a world of strangers drowning in need, how much should we help, and how much can we help? Is it right to care for strangers even at the expense of those we are closest to? Moving and provocative, Strangers Drowning challenges us to think about what we value most and why.
©2015 Larissa MacFarquhar (P)2015 Penguin Audio
This book was recommended to me, as a piece of advice on "do-gooder" ideas I had. While full of excellent, fascinating stories, the book nonetheless excludes the stories of those helped by these "do-gooders". For me, this left the work squarely in the territory of criticism, rather than open minded critical inquiry, and was hard to take deeply to heart.
That said, the stories were rich, engaging, and well chosen and researched, and commentary was thought provoking.
The author's voice brings authenticity and intimacy both to the book's stories about individual lives and to its probing analysis larger themes. It becomes clear, in part because of her own reading, that the author cares deeply and personally about the subject. Her reading seems to bring the reader along in her own discovery of these people and answers to questions about what distinguishes radical altruists from others, why such altruists are regarded so skeptically, and ultimately how to lead a moral life. It would be difficult to read (or listen) to the book and continue to live unchanged by it.
This book is thought provoking, relevant to life now, and incredibly interesting. This book makes you examine your life, your choices, and the lives of those around you.
It is an excellent choice for anyone who is curious about the kindness of strangers, and why certain individuals dedicate their lives in service to strangers.
great book. a few times I was aware of the reader becoming tired and then suddenly energetic as though the day of the recording changed. other than that it was fanastic and I listened to it in a short two days.
This was a how to boost your ego when you are a looser book. it was nothing but a bunch of made up crap to bolster a liberal's claim to fictitious moral high ground. For instance, you are no longer homeless and begging to crash on people's couches...now you just say you have speaking engagements and people were so impressed by you, that they put you up for a while. this book is trash...nothing more.
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