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Publisher's Summary

What does it mean to devote yourself wholly to helping others? In Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar seeks out people living lives of extreme ethical commitment and tells their deeply intimate stories: their stubborn integrity and their compromises; their bravery and their recklessness; their joys and defeats and wrenching dilemmas.
A couple adopts two children in distress. But then they think: If they can change two lives, why not four? Or 10? They adopt 20. But how do they weigh the needs of unknown children in distress against the needs of the children they already have?
Another couple founds a leprosy colony in the wilderness in India, living in huts with no walls, knowing that their two small children may contract leprosy or be eaten by panthers. The children survive. But what if they hadn't? How would their parents' risk have been judged?
A woman believes that if she spends money on herself rather than donate it to buy lifesaving medicine, then she's responsible for the deaths that result. She lives on a fraction of her income but wonders: When is compromise self-indulgence, and when is it essential?
We honor such generosity and high ideals, but when we call people do-gooders there is skepticism in it, even hostility. Why do moral people make us uneasy? Between her stories, MacFarquhar threads a lively history of the literature, philosophy, social science, and self-help that have contributed to a deep suspicion of do-gooders in Western culture.
Through its sympathetic and beautifully vivid storytelling, Strangers Drowning confronts us with fundamental questions about what it means to be human. In a world of strangers drowning in need, how much should we help, and how much can we help? Is it right to care for strangers even at the expense of those we are closest to? Moving and provocative, Strangers Drowning challenges us to think about what we value most and why.
©2015 Larissa MacFarquhar (P)2015 Penguin Audio
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Melissa House on 03-17-16

Great listen!

This book is thought provoking, relevant to life now, and incredibly interesting. This book makes you examine your life, your choices, and the lives of those around you.
It is an excellent choice for anyone who is curious about the kindness of strangers, and why certain individuals dedicate their lives in service to strangers.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Laura Gillespie on 10-18-17


This is a wonderful book. LM's profiles are as always vivid and moving, beautiful and funny, and as a philosopher myself I'm in awe of ability to synthesize the work of philosophers, both contemporary and historical, rendering it accurately, compellingly, deploying it sparingly and to just the right effect. She brings what are to my mind the central questions of moral theory vividly to life, never letting that tension loosen into easy answers. I could keep going. I'm such a fan.

As a side note, LM also turns out to be a great reader of her own essays. She brings the careful, unsentimental, and occasionally wry but not unloving humor that characterizes her prose to the reading task. A pleasure to listen to.

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