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The Needs of Strangers Paperback – June 2, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; First Edition edition (June 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312281803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312281809
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Ignatieff has invoked the understanding, the wisdom, and the eloquence of some of the seminal thinkers in the Western tradition to help revive a sense of what we are or should be talking about when we talk about the needs of strangers."—Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor

"A very eloquent meditation . . . on what we need to be human and how in our society those 'with resources and those in need remain strangers to each other.'"—Des Christy, The Guardian (London)

"Unusual, beautifully written and profoundly thoughtful."—Bernard Crick, New Statesman

"Ignatieff writes in urgent prose that even, at times, sounds a little evangelistic; and he will convince many people, in highly readable fashion, that the ideas being discussed really matter, that they are important to argue over; and that passion is admirable, because they do, and they are."—Salman Rushdie, Manchester Guardian Weekly

About the Author

Michael Ignatieff is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, among other publications, and the author of many acclaimed books, including Blood and Belonging, Isaiah Berlin, Virtual War, The Warrior's Honor, and The Russian Album. He lives in London and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Boris Bangemann on June 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Being human is an accomplishment like playing an instrument. It takes practice. The keys must be mastered. The old score must be committed to memory. It is a skill we can forget. A little noise can make us forget the notes. The best of us is historical; the best of us is fragile. Being human is a second nature which history taught us, and which terror and deprivation can batter us into forgetting."
In this slender volume, Michael Ignatieff argues beautifully and eloquently for a modern humanism based on the awareness of what makes us human: our ability to express our needs and our ability to remember and reflect our history. It is also a short history of ideas in the field of political philosophy, ranging from the Stoics to Rousseau.
The "needs of strangers" refer to "fraternity," the most difficult of the ideals on the banner of the French Revolution of 1789. "Liberty, equality, fraternity" still determine to a large extent our modern political discussion. Michael Ignatieff asks to what extent have we achieved "fraternity" (solidarity, that is), to what extent can we achieve it, at what cost do we achieve it? On his stroll through the history of ideas he discusses the key issues of our social existence against the backdrop of political philosophy: what is our social identity? Is there a natural human identity? What happened to our metaphysical needs in the modern secular society?
Ignatieff is not a mystic or a dreamer, however. His views are firmly grounded in the Western philosophical tradition. For him, "political utopias are a form of nostalgia for an imagined past projected onto the future as a wish." He is for the most part a realist who thinks we need justice (i.e.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
This interesting essay is modeled on the provocative essays of Ignatieff's mentor, the great Isaiah Berlin. In this work, Ignatieff explores the idea of need and its consequences for how we think about the political and social organization of our societies. Ignatieff's point of departure is the fact that the modern welfare states provide, as a matter of right, support for a few narrowly defined physical needs but that this leaves a large range of important needs untouched. Satisfaction of these needs has left not only other important needs unsatisfied but has resulted in an erosion of social solidarity essential to certain aspects of needs. Ignatieff sets out to explore historic conceptions of need and how they relate to influential political and economic theories. Having defined the problem, Ignatieff proceeds to a series of interesting essays examining conceptions of need and various analyses of society. These include a sensitive reading of King Lear as a study of natural versus social man, a relevant analysis of Augustine, and particularly good study of the implications of Hume's philosophy using Hume's death as it fulcrum, and a nice comparison of Adam Smith and Rousseau. Ignatieff demonstrates that conceptions of need are variable, often contradictory, and that different conceptions have markedly different consdequences for how we think society should be organized. These sections are insightful and Ignatieff is a very good and often eloquent writer. The deficiency of this book is that having exposed these difficulties, Ignatieff makes no effort to show a way forward except to say that we need to develop a "language of needs." Presumably, this means some kind of common vocabulary that would allow us to address the problems of defining and addressing many human needs.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ronald F. on February 15, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ignatieff has written a challenging, spiritual book that invites the reader to actually think above the norm. I want to know more about how he thinks.
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