Humbly perched atop his "accidental" vantage point (he never intended
to be an ethicist), New York Times Magazine
columnist Randy Cohen eagerly analyzes the circuitous moral landscape below and offers smart advice in The Good, the Bad & the Difference
. Nearly 200 reader letters, Cohen's thoughtful responses, and occasional counterpoints from guest ethicists make up the bulk of this engaging collection. Divided into seven topics, questions seek guidance on appropriate behavior at work, school, and home; with friends; in public; in the medical field; and in situations where money counts. They range from the clear-cut (seeking justification for acts of revenge), to the no-win situation (think "whistle-blower"). The ethicist in Cohen provides a quick, logically gleaned response; the novelist in him "skillfully limns the complex and subtle relationships and the unspoken obligations that bind people together"; and the humorist in him makes it all irresistible. Each chapter's "Pop Ethics Quiz" invites readers to exercise their own moral muscles on serious and whimsical dilemmas. While Cohen claims no formal background in ethics, perhaps his stint as a writer for Late Night with David Letterman
was school enough, for he shows a remarkable ability to smoke out the wrong and carefully preserve the right, even in the kookiest situations. --Liane Thomas
From Publishers Weekly
Cohen, author of the popular New York Times Magazine column "The Ethicist," has collected some of his favorite columns, along with guest commentaries, quizzes for readers and revisions of some of his own advice. Not unlike Miss Manners, Cohen tries to focus on problems that everyday people actually face: e-mail privacy at work, "telling" on a philandering spouse, cheating at school, filching motel soaps, ticket scalping and the like. After outlining the basic ethical issues involved, he offers clear if sometimes painful recommendations for what to do, often leavened with a little Dave Barry-ish humor. Unlike Dear Abby or Judge Judy, Cohen allows for more than one right answer; he includes dissenting opinions from Dan Savage, Katha Pollitt and even his own mom. The concluding section, "I Demand a Recant," rounds up columns that Cohen himself has changed his mind about. Still, rethinking positions hasn't made Cohen a relativist; his basic ethical principles remain clear. "The small civilities of ordinary life" are important. Incompetence should not be confused with unethical behavior. And beware "perilous" associations; working as "Attila the Hun's Gardener" may land you in unintended trouble. Agent, David McCormick. (On sale Mar. Forecast: Cohen's weekly fans will want this for their reference shelves; word of mouth should take it much further. It's the perfect gift for anyone who doesn't read a lot, but feels strongly about "how things ought to be done."
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.