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"You Can Recognize the People Who Live for Others by the Haunted Look on the Faces of the Others"



(p. C21) In her first book, "Strangers Drowning," Larissa MacFarquhar, a staff writer for The New Yorker, reports . . . about extreme do-gooders, people whose self-sacrifice and ethical commitment are far outside what we think of as the normal range.


. . .


A line from Clive James's memoir "North Face of Soho" comes to mind. He quotes the journalist Katherine Whitehorn: "You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others."


. . .


(p. C26) It was Kant who observed that, as the author writes, "it was fortunate that so few men acted according to moral principle, because it was so easy to get principles wrong, and a determined person acting on mistaken principles could really do some damage."


. . .


Charity begins at home, most of us would agree. Not for many of the people in "Strangers Drowning." In their moral calculus, the goal is to help the most people, even if that means neglecting those close by, even spouses or children.

One of the interesting threads Ms. MacFarquhar picks up is the notion that, for extreme altruists, the best way to help relieve suffering may not be to travel to Africa, let's say, to open a clinic or help build a dam. It is far more noble and effective -- though less morally swashbuckling -- simply to find the highest-paying job you can and give away most of your salary. She finds people who live this way.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; Samaritans and Other Troublemakers." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 25, 2015): C21 & C26.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 24, 2015, and has the title "Review: 'Strangers Drowning' Examines Extreme Do-Gooders.")


The book under review, is:

MacFarquhar, Larissa. Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.






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