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Publisher's Summary

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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great listen!

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Wonderful.

This is a wonderful book. LM's profiles are as always vivid and moving, beautiful and funny, and as a philosopher myself I'm in awe of ability to synthesize the work of philosophers, both contemporary and historical, rendering it accurately, compellingly, deploying it sparingly and to just the right effect. She brings what are to my mind the central questions of moral theory vividly to life, never letting that tension loosen into easy answers. I could keep going. I'm such a fan.

As a side note, LM also turns out to be a great reader of her own essays. She brings the careful, unsentimental, and occasionally wry but not unloving humor that characterizes her prose to the reading task. A pleasure to listen to.

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Intellectually Indulgent, Irritating

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The narrative of this book is so detached from the people and the causes, and the stories so extreme. It's like a case study in bleeding hearts, by people who detest the kind and sensitive.

Any additional comments?

I felt this book was wordy, anti-religious, cerebral and exhausting. I quit about halfway through because I needed a nap.

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So Good.

An amazing look and not just extraordinary people but the nature of humanity and our mind. I can't recommend it enough.

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  • Catherine
  • State College, Pennsylvania, United States
  • 08-03-16

Beautifully Written, Artfully Reasoned

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

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.

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great book

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.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael J.
  • Shorewood, WI, United States
  • 09-20-16

Pretty darn good, if a but critical

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.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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horrible whining of liberal garbage

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.

0 of 18 people found this review helpful