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On Apology

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ISBN-13: 978-0195189117
ISBN-10: 0195189116
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This jewel of a book reveals the many facets of the simple act of apology. Given, there are significant cultural differences in the way humans apologize. "Japanese apologies are more apt to communicate submissiveness, humility, and meekness whereas Americans are more apt to communicate sincerity," writes Lazare, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Under the surface of their differing presentations, however, in spite of their length or even sometimes their complete wordlessness, all true apologies are a kind of offering intended to restore the dignity and self-respect of the offended party, according to the author. An apology can work a miracle, inspiring spontaneous generosity and forgiveness on the part of the offended, whether it is a whole people or a single individual. Drawing on a vast array of literary and real-life examples, such as Agamemnon, George Patton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the current pope to the machinist who approached him after a lecture, Lazare lucidly dissects the process of apology: offering an explanation; communicating remorse, shame, humility or sincerity (according to our cultural values); making a gesture of reparation or reconciliation. Among the most moving examples in the book is Lincoln's second inaugural address, in which he apologizes for American slavery : "two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil" enabling some to "wring their bread from the sweat of other men's faces." Just as breathtaking was the apology made by Kevin Gover, an assistant secretary of Indian affairs, for that agency's grave crimes against the Indian people. Lazare succeeds in showing that a true apology is among the most graceful and profound of all human exchanges. When it is sincere, it is not an end but a new beginning. "It is a behavior that requires of both parties an attitude of honesty, generosity, humility, commitment, and courage," he writes. Everybody on earth could benefit from this small but essential book.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"At a time in our history when there seems to be so much to apologize for--Lazare's book is a wise reminder of how much depends on the sincerity and openheartedness with which we acknowledge that a wrong has been done and begin to work together toward forgiveness."--Francine Prose, Oprah Magazine

"Lazare, a gifted psychiatrist, distinguishes between genuine apologies and statements of sympathy ('I'm sorry for your loss') and pseudo-apologies of the kind often favored by politicians ('I'm sorry if you were offended by anything that was said').... The strength of this book rests in the stories of apologies that Lazare has collected from people, politics, literature and history."--Washington Post Book World

"This unique book is sure to set a reader thinking on many levels, but its ultimate message is the meaning and the magically transformative power of what would seem on the surface to be a simple apology. No one who becomes familiar with Dr. Lazare's perceptive interpretations will forget his sensitivity and wisdom."--Sherwin B. Nuland, MD, author of Lost in America and How We Die

"This jewel of a book reveals the many facets of the seemingly simple act of apology.... Drawing on a vast array of literary and real-life examples, from Agamemnon to George Patton to Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the current pope to the machinist who approached him after a lecture, Lazare lucidly dissects the process of apology.... Everybody on earth could benefit from this small but essential book." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Traces the history of the world's most humbling act, exploring everything from Lincoln's apology for slavery to Arnold Schwarzenegger's mea culpa after allegations of breast-groping."--Wall Street Journal

"The culmination of the prestigious career of a man who has dedicated his entire professional life to improving relations between people."--The Forward

"Moving, enlightening, and potentially profoundly healing, On Apology is a timely gift for our era. Aaron Lazare sheds light on one of the most basic of human interactions, and on why people, and even nations, can feel so bad and then so good, on both sides of a true apology. His skillful storytelling and analysis touchingly reveal our common humanity, how we might nurture it, and how it is also sometimes ignored or betrayed. You may find yourself more than once in tears of empathy and uplift."--Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses

"A splendid treatment of a fascinating set of topics that touch all of our lives."--Sissela Bok, PhD, author of Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life and Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation

"A detailed review of the psychology and process of apology...Lazare's contribution touches on basic human emotion and interaction and will be of interest to a wide general audience as well as to those in the healing professions."--Douglas G. Langsley, M.D., former president of the American Psychiatric Association

"Intimacy is healing, and apology is a powerful doorway to intimacy and healing. This is the most important book ever written on the value of apology. Highly recommended." --Dean Ornish, MD, author of Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease and Love and Survival

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195189116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195189117
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.9 x 4.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By tim can VINE VOICE on July 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Others have reviewed some of the specific details of the book so rather than repeat the same information, let me focus on what I found most useful.

While the parts of apology were interesting what I found most profound was the section on why apologies sometimes fail. It was enlightening to understand that an apology is not always a one time request for forgiveness, but often the opening of a negotiation between the parties. For example: When someone had hurt or betrayed us we need to understand that we really do share the same values otherwise we can't trust them and restore the friendship. Also the examples of failed apologies and how they can make thing worse than saying nothing and who amoung us has not recieved an insulting apology that hurt rather than healed.

I found myself mentally placing people I know into different situations portrayed in the book and could easly see why certain friends reacted the way they did to each other. I think you will do the same.

On apology is an invaluable tool in improving your own apologies and in understanding others. Be forewarned, you will never look at apologies the same again, never offer another flipant "I'm sorry" and never again accept one.

A honest and thoughtful book for those who really want to understand this most profound an potentially healing human interaction.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J. Stepaniak on November 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So much has been written in recent years about the need for forgiveness. In Dr. Lazare's groundbreaking book, he points out how so little has been written about apology (his is only the second book devoted to this subject to be published in the past decade!), and yet a sincere and honest apology is essential for complete forgiveness. It is one of the main reasons so many of us hold on to grudges for years. We cannot fully forgive without this missing piece of the puzzle.

Dr. Lazare beautifully explains the differences between a "false apology" and a true apology, why people (and groups and nations) have difficulty apologizing, what constitutes a satisfying apology, and what rewards both parties (the offended party and the offender) can get from an honest apology. Dr. Lazare has done his research -- there are extensive references throughout, and the book leans toward the scholarly side. Yet it is well-written, thoughtful, and personable, and the author often interjects a few engaging stories about his own direct experiences with the subject, making the writing warm and personalized.

This is a book everyone should read -- parents, spouses, children, siblings, employers, employees, managers, leaders, politicians, teachers, physicians, healthcare workers, and attorneys. The art of apology should be an integral component of conflict resolution, mediation, and restorative justice. For those who have been injured or offended by the deliberate or unintentional actions of other people (and that pretty much includes all of us), real healing cannot begin until we receive the sincere apology we need and crave.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Azra Raza on October 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This erudite, informative and exceedingly engaging book On Apology almost seemed like a suspense novel, so much was my interest and involvement in the subject aroused. I am sure to refer to it repeatedly and expect to use it as a guide in many future personal and professional negotiations in my life. The universal application of the analysis to our daily lives as humans is striking. It also seems highly relevant for the times because of the many recent apologies being offered by well-known individuals, and even more so for the ones that need to be offered. The deconstruction process that the author takes the reader through is incredibly enlightening. Thanks to what I learned from this book, I can now see so clearly what is missing or self-serving in the statements made by for example, Dan Rather and Jimm Swaggert in the last few weeks alone. The outright lack of remorse and humility in these apologies is appaling and would have been missed by me previously. The book is also amazing in its scope and thorough research. I have particularly enjoyed the personal anecdotes and examples the author provided, which bring such a human touch to everything and is profoundly moving. It takes great courage to speak out about such things, and this author seems to do it so effortlessly. Bravo!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Antimony3 on April 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Quite recently, I've encountered several situations in which I felt I was owed an apology. When it became quite certain that these apologies were not forthcoming I grew resentful and angry. This book helped me to understand the different types of apologies (false versus real) and why some people are incapable of apologizing. The book was very interesting. It explored the concept of apologies in historical and cultural settings. I cannot say that this was an incredibly exciting read because it wasn't - it was very matter of fact and rather dry. What impressed me was the manner in which the author laid the foundations for his theories and then provided realistic dialogue that one might encounter. I think I may have learned to apologize better and if for nothing else I now know why "Sorry seems to be the hardest word"(according to Elton John at least). I would actually consider purchasing this book. It has a nice cover and would look good on a nightstand or side table (very Pottery Barn-esque) -- plus the content is pretty decent.
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