In a world that often seems permeated with cruelty and indifference, why are there always a few people actively engaged in rescuing others, even at enormous personal risk? Examining this phenomenon of radical altruism comprised much of the life work of the late Hallie. This beautiful book, written with what might be called disciplined moral passion, consists of a distillation of his thoughts and own life experiences on the subject, filtered through some fascinating case studies. Hallie, a philosopher, was the author of the justly praised Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (1979), concerning the French village of Chambon, whose inhabitants sheltered over 5,000 Jews and other refugees during the Nazi occupation. His protagonists in that book were the Protestant pastor and his wife who rallied the villagers to the cause. Here Hallie broadens his focus, looking at the third actor in the story, Major Julius Schamling, who led the forces that occupied the town and repeatedly turned a ``blind eye'' to the rescue activities he knew were occurring there. Hallie devotes a long chapter to Joshua James, who for over 50 years in the late 19th century was a lifesaver of men in wrecked ships off the storm- swept coast of Massachusetts, and one to Katchen Coley, a contemporary of Hallie's who placed herself in great danger to help ex-convicts, drug addicts, and other troubled men. Hallie has thought deeply about why the overwhelming majority of us are morally passive, and he has some provocative things to say about the origins of such inclinations. He also notes instances where ``kindness can be cruelty to the recipient . . . you must look closely into the eyes of the recipient if you would know whether help has really happened.'' Such crisp, plain-spoken, and forceful prose exemplifies this fine summary of one of those very rare lives spent immersed, intellectually and personally, in issues of active moral engagement.
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