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Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life Reprint Edition

21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0767930680
ISBN-10: 0767930681
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Matousek (Sex Death Enlightenment) makes a case for why human beings are inherently ethical creatures in a provocative book that suffers from uneven execution. Wired from birth with "mirror neurons" that function involuntarily, and cause us, for instance, to tear up when others cry: "Emotions, not reason," Matousek asserts, "are the bedrock of ethical life." Drawing on philosophy, neurological and psychiatric research, anthropology, pop psychology, and mysticism, he debunks the belief that organized religion is a necessary framework for an ethical sense, and demonstrates that moral behavior evolves out of a complex interaction between our built-in empathy for those we identify as like ourselves, and the way we respond (or don't respond) to the supposedly abstract suffering of those we deem as "other." In the hands of an Oliver Sacks, this braiding of the scientific, moral, and anecdotal could be revelatory; Matousek, however, repeatedly substitutes opinions and inferences for fact, sapping his argument's credibility and his reader's patience. (May)
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Review

“Mark Matousek guides us through a revolution in ethical science with deft, thought-provoking style. Ethical Wisdom is a riveting, fun, and insightful tour of life’s meaning and purpose, essential reading for anyone drawn to the query, ‘How ought we to live?’”
—Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence
 
“Mark Matousek has done some magic: he has written an informed, intelligent, humorous, insightful, and juicy book on ethics. You’ll enjoy this book and maybe become a better person because of it.”
—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul

“I don’t know how he has done it, but Mark Matousek has written a book about being good without being moralistic or judgmental. Ethical Wisdom is a call to our higher selves. Read it!”
—Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues 
 
“This broad-ranging book is remarkable for its emotional intensity, and for its message of redemption; it is a delineation of hope itself.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
 
“Bringing together the best of today’s scientific research with a plainspoken forthrightness, Ethical Wisdom does what few books of this type can do: it inspires.”
—Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Thoughts without a Thinker
 
Ethical Wisdom is a unique delight—a fascinating, enlightening, and adventurous romp through the territories of philosophy, psychology, science, and spirituality. Mark Matousek has pulled off a most difficult task: he has written an intellectually rigorous and expansive book that is also beautiful and funny and inspiring.”
—Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute and author of Broken Open
 
“This book springs from the latest research on biology [and] some of the oldest human wisdom. Both are interesting, and together they are potent.”
—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth
 
Ethical Wisdom provides tremendous insight into our collective and individual psyches. Like GPS for the soul, it is a necessary guide for human evolution, and survival, in the 21st century.”
—Peter Buffett, founder of the NoVo Foundation and author of Life is What You Make It
 
“Engaging, thought provoking, and enlightening . . . this book acts as an insider’s guide to what makes us tick, and gently prompts us to look in the mirror and at our place in the great pond of life. A must read for anyone interested in making the world a better place.”
—John P. Forsyth, Ph.D., coauthor of Your Life on Purpose

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767930681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767930680
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Los Angeles on February 5, 1957, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1979, and received a fellowship to Worcester College, Oxford, the following year, with an M.A. in English Literature from the UCLA in 1981.

After graduation, I moved to New York, where I worked as a stringer for Reuters, International, then in Newsweek Magazine's letter department, before being hired as a proofreader at Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine. I was the magazine's first staff writer, and became senior editor the following year, conducting hundreds of interviews with figures well known in film, television, books, fine art, politics, design and science. In 1985, I quit my job and spent most of following decade as an itinerant dharma bum and freelance journalist, traveling between Europe, India, and the United States. Shifting professional gears from pop culture to psychology, philosophy and religion, I was a contributing editor to Common Boundary Magazine, where my back page column, The Naked Eye, appeared from 1994-1999. I received a National Magazine Award nomination for "America's Darkest Secret" (about the epidemic of incest in the U.S.) and published essays in numerous magazines, including The New Yorker, Details, O: The Oprah Magazine, Tricycle, The Utne Reader, AARP Magazine, Out, Good Housekeeping, and Harper's Bazaar.

After working with Sogyal Rimpoche on The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, I collaborated with religious writer Andrew Harvey on Dialogues With A Modern Mystic (interviewing Harvey for Britain's Channel One documentary of the same name). My first book, Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story (1996) became an international bestseller published in ten countries and nominated for two Books for a Better Life Awards. Having served as co-editor on Ram Dass's book, Still Here, I published my second memoir in 2000, The Boy He Left Behind: A Man's Search for His Lost Father (Los Angeles Times Discovery Book, Randy Shilts Award, excerpted in the Sunday supplement of the London Guardian). I've taught creative non-fiction writing at Manhattanville College and published essays in numerous anthologies, including Wrestling With the Angel, Voices of the Millenium, A Memory, A Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer, Oprah's Best Life. I am also a contributing editor to O: The Oprah Magazine, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and a frequent blogger for The Huffington Post. My most recent book is When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living (2008). Also, I'm collaborating with Eve Ensler as the Creative Director of V-Men (the male arm of VDay, Ensler's organization for ending violence against women and girls) and curate their online essay series (www.vday.com). Currently, I am at work on a performance piece called "Ten Ways To Be a Man," which will serve as V-Men's artistic vehicle and will premier in September, 2011.
Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good is available now.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gwenyth Jackaway, Ph.D. on June 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ethical Wisdom is a remarkable book. In this deeply engaging exploration of some of life's most challenging issues, Mark Matousek achieves a rare synthesis: the successful intermingling of timeless philosophical inquiry, cutting edge academic research and the age old art of the teaching story. Interweaving a breathtaking synthesis of a vast range of scholarship with captivating vignettes and riveting interviews, Ethical Wisdom weaves together an impressive range of disciplines and perspectives, managing to avoid common political, religious and moral pitfalls that often cloud discussions of such issues. Bringing his considerable talents to the challenge of presenting complex concepts in an accessible manner, Matousek achieves that elusive goal: entertaining while educating. As a college professor, I can only dream of reaching, in my classroom what Matousek achieves in these pages.

Gwenyth Jackaway, Ph.D
Associate Professor
Communication and Media Studies
Fordham University
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By English Setter on July 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This seems to be intended to be uplifting and inspirational -- "positive" -- rather than particularly thoughtful or searching. It draws on many sources, but doesn't seek out the disagreements and tensions between those sources. It assumes that morality has five common supports or pillars, and therefore, that ethics/morality is more or less universal and stable over time. This seems highly dubious, so I would have appreciated a deeper look at the differences between moralities and mores in different cultures. But it seems that this subject is raised and then abandoned.

The mix here is Buddhism + Judaism + feminism + liberalism + contemporary American cultural influences + environmentalism + evolutionary biology + brain research. (But none of the inevitable disagreements between these perspectives are really explored.) There's nothing wrong with that -- it's rather congenial to me, but not challenging.

It seems that Matousek doesn't bother to get a lot of little things right, and simply makes stuff up when he wants to. For instance, is it meaningful or correct to say we only use twenty percent of our brains? Another example: A reference to a funny scene in "Being John Malkovich" which misunderstands the reason why everything becomes "Malkovich": The reason is that it's a feedback loop caused by the bizarre situation, *not* that the *director* ventures inside the movie star's head.

In sum: In large and in small, this raises a lot of interesting points and theories but doesn't synthesize them well, or discuss them perceptively, so I don't think it's worth a highly careful read or a thorough critique. It's really more of a feel-good, try-a-little-harder sort of book. Not as deep as your average New Yorker article, and more scattered.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Francheska on January 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My husband and I are both enjoying this book. We have had many good discussions stemming from it.
Fantastic book!
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Format: Hardcover
I was intrigued by the title, Ethical Wisdom, but didn't know what to expect before reading it. What I found was a wonderful and enlightening book. The information spans scientific research, the workings of the brain, evolution information, and philosophical and spiritual issues centering around moral issues and what causes us to behave and react the way we do in this realm. I've previously tried to read books which tried to explain human behavior using scientific research and was not able to get through them because they were too dry or too complex. Matousek has the talent to explain difficult scientific constructs in an interesting, meaningful and easily readable way. The concepts in this book also raise important social, technological, and child-rearing issues and I believe it would be especially beneficial for anyone interacting with children to read. The material in this book has caused me to think twice about my ethical decisions and actions, but I would not think twice about highly recommending this book.
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By rita freedman on November 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ethical Wisdom is wise, engaging and especially timely because it examines the fundamental political challenge we face in America today - our barren moral landscape. Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street Movement is also trying to shine a bright light on this dark ethical void. They could certainly use the insights of this book to clarify and articulate their goals. Matousek mixes just the right blend of scholarship, interviews and anecdotes, then anchors them in a solid theoretical framework. The section on disgust and it's connection to food and morality was especially fascinating. I'd never realized how disgust is used to create social stigma and thereby to justify exclusion and persecution. The tests and games at the end really bring the chapters to life on a personal level.
Rita Freedman, Ph.D. - psychologist
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By Karin Goldberg on September 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is the third book I've read by Mark Matousek. In "Ethical Wisdom" he makes the case for a thoughtful and important look into our own lives. We are biologically programmed for so many mundane functions and so many potentially mean-spirited reactions, yet we are also the vessels of profound kindness and compassion.

I delighted in this overview of neuroscience and sociology written with the non-scientist in mind, but provocative nonetheless. It was a great way of learning about some of the latest theories and advances without having to wade through professional journals.

"Ethical Wisdom" like "When You're Falling Dive" and "The Boy He Left Behind" all bear the mark of a man deeply committed to finding the truth and helping others to do the same.
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