A satisfying investigation of the mechanics of heroism.

WHAT MAKES A HERO?

THE SURPRISING SCIENCE OF SELFLESSNESS

A personal quest to become more mindful takes science writer Svoboda on a search for outstanding examples of heroism and how they relate to altruism.

The author chronicles her interview with psychologist Philip Zimbardo, architect of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which showed how ordinary students could be induced to become sadistic under certain circumstances. Now emeritus, he is investigating how ordinary people become heroes—and not only soldiers and firefighters. Svoboda notes former sky-diving instructor Dave Hartsock. During a sky dive with a passenger, her parachute malfunctioned, and he made a split-second decision to risk almost certain death by using his body to shield her. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Hartsock (now a lifestyle coach) says that he gets great satisfaction from his choice. He believes that such sacrifices may correlate to a lifestyle commitment to service. Svoboda also examines a five-year longevity study of older volunteers who showed a 60 percent reduction in the death rate of individuals regularly involved in charitable activities. She cites behavioral economist Paul Zak, whose research establishes an association between the pleasurable release of oxytocin and empathic moral behavior in general. The author visited laboratories where neuroscientists are using brain scans in an attempt to pinpoint what happens in the brain when people contemplate making sacrifices to help others. She participated in an experiment that showed a reward center in her brain lighting up when she imagined making charitable decisions. A visit to a charter high school introduced her to a pilot program developed by Zimbardo to train students to become “every-day heroes” by examining their values. Ordinary acts of goodwill are pleasurable and “enhance our ability to step up” should the need arise for “the kind of heroic choice that involves a high level of personal sacrifice.”

A satisfying investigation of the mechanics of heroism.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59184-528-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Current

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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