Book Corner 2019.07


Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help

by Larissa MacFarquhar

This book was put together in a creative way; it wasn’t just philosophy and it wasn’t just case studies, it was both, but interspersed chapter-by-chapter, sometimes multiple chapters of one followed by one chapter of the other, or vice versa.

MacFarquhar is fascinated by extreme altruists, or as she likes to call them, “do-gooders.”  She interviews a wide variety of them and lets them tell their stories, sometimes directly with their own words, sometimes through her.  In between, she ponders what we owe to others vs. ourselves, and how we each answer that question differently, and what we lose – as well as gain – when we put others’ needs above our own.  “Others” in all these contexts means those who are neither ourselves NOR our family members, nor even our friends, acquaintances, or neighbors – the do-gooders chronicled here are all dedicated to helping strangers.

Personal interest: One case study involved a family that adopted 22 children, hailing from none other than my home state, in Barre, Vermont.

Enjoy her interview here with Tyler Cowen:
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