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ETHICS 101

WHY NOT BE THE BEST WE COULD BE?

An intriguing invitation to question and resist, rather than simply obey and serve.

Freedom-loving author argues that human progress lies in the individual, not government cure-alls.

America is a “sinking ship” and relying on the government to fix it will not work, says Zaugg (The Sounds of Silence: An Introduction to Ethics, 2005, etc.). Instead, the country’s future depends on its citizens rediscovering personal liberty and responsibility. With the zeal of a revolutionary and the discernment of a philosopher, Zaugg champions individualism over blind obedience to legislative bodies, religion and other forms of “collectivism.” He insists people are capable of making healthy choices and managing their own lives. Despite its academic-sounding title, the book is not the typical text on ethics. It is a call to action for Americans to become people of character armed with a moral compass. Belief in human potential, rationality and the existence of universal truths are held up as the cornerstones of civilization. Ethics, Zaugg argues, should be taught in schools alongside other core subjects. “Freedom recognizes the need for values, principles and ideals as the foundation for our success, not an escape from personal responsibility,” he writes. The book is more effective at exposing flaws in current thinking than proposing practical solutions. Zaugg blasts politicians who push for more government mandates and skewers intellectuals who deny the existence of absolute ethical standards. Government, in his view, exists to protect citizens, not to provide for them. Social security, national health care and income taxes are just a few of the sacred cows that come into his crosshairs. Yet this is not a political treatise that falls neatly under conservative or liberal, and readers of all stripes should prepare to have their worldviews challenged. Some the book’s recommendations seem unlikely, such as slashing military spending by 50 percent. The “homework” for each chapter may strike some as a series of loaded questions. Though heavy-handed at times, the author transmits his message in a quizzical style that reflects a deep mistrust for today’s prevailing wisdom.  

An intriguing invitation to question and resist, rather than simply obey and serve.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-1608603732

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Eloquent Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2011

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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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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