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A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain Paperback – November 17, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McSweeney's; annotated edition edition (November 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193478138X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934781388
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #594,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"An intellectual feast, completely engrossing."
— Ian McEwan

“A thought-provoking and entertaining tour of one of the frontiers of human knowledge — the roots of our moral sense.”
— Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought

“Tamler Sommers has become something of a legend in the world of philosophy, not only for his profound insights into human morality, but also for the almost supernaturally funny and engaging way he presents philosophical ideas.… These interviews give the reader a real sense for some of the most important new research in the cognitive science of morality, but they also do an amazing job of capturing some of the verve and excitement of this emerging new field.”
— Joshua Knobe, Assistant Professor, Program in Cognitive Science and
Department of Philosophy, Yale University

From the Inside Flap


?Do we have free will? What counts as justice in the Peruvian Amazon? Does evolutionary theory make ethics a sham? Is Catherine Zeta-Jones objectively hotter than Drew Barrymore?

These are just a few of the questions that philosopher Tamler Sommers attempts to answer in his interviews with ten acclaimed researchers in the burgeoning field of moral psychology.

Philip Zimbardo discusses his famous Stanford Prison Experiment, why he had to stop the study after only six days, and how what happened sheds light on the abuses of Abu Ghraib. Harvard neuroscientist Joshua Greene and Liane Young use MRI machines to investigate the neuroscience behind moral judgment. Jonathan Haidt tells us why we think sleeping with our siblings is wrong and how this relates to the clash between liberals and conservatives. Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal explains what his research on chimpanzees and bonobos can tell us about love and war. And much more.

A Very Bad Wizard is essential reading for anyone curious about the origins and inner workings of our moral lives.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David on August 31, 2012
Format: Paperback
Disclaimer: I know the author personally, and do work on similar topics (although, for the record, I am not a philosopher).

That said, the reason I came to know the author in the first place was that I admired his work. This book is a great example of why. He has a real talent for bringing out clarity in concepts and arguments that are often so very unclear to non-philosophers. He also has a great knack for zeroing in on the central issues of a topic, and does not shy away from asking the hard, controversial questions. While asking these questions (or discussing such controversial topics) might be very uncomfortable, he adds humor and lighthearted fun so that what was previously uncomfortable to discuss somehow becomes enjoyable. I think these are all reasons why he is able to get such a great list of scholars to agree to do this kind of interview in the first place (and have it published).

Finally, although I am his friend and probably could have pressured him into giving me a free copy, I personally bought two copies (after giving my first one away). If you're even bothering to read the reviews on a book like this, I'm sure you'll love it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. McCullough on March 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
*A Very Bad Wizard* was a McSweeney's Book Release Club selection, and it took me a while to even pick this book up and start it because, frankly, it just didn't seem like it would be that interesting. But I was wrong - this relatively informal philosophy book is absolutely amazing. Here are nine casual, thought-provoking conversations covering the role of evolution in morality, the existence (or non-existence) of free will, moral relativism, etc.

This is a wonderfully edited, enjoyable, often humorous, fascinating read. This is the kind of book I am going to lend to a friend and then make sure I get it back so I can lend it again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Magicsparrow7 on January 4, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book, without doubt. It will be found challenging by the very religious and by Rational Mind uber alles types alike (a good gift for both types of friends/family members). The interdisciplinary interview serial was a refreshing approach at illuminating a challenging topic. Rather than try for a comprehensive thesis which would inevitably be dry and incomplete (for some) Sommers has created an armature of thoughtful conversations about cutting edge research. From there, readers are invited to contemplate morality and free will and pursue their own musings from the conversation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Eric Titus on January 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Common-appeal books usually fall into one of two traps: (1) They dilute content for a serious reader, or (2) they leave people behind with dry, technical language. Tamler Sommers avoids both. The interviews in this book are engaging, but the ideas are rich enough that they reward serious consideration and discussion.

Sommers interviews some of the most influential people working on morality-related topics today, and the interviewees come from various disciplines (philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and more). Each interview itself gives a unique perspective on morality, but when combined across the chapters, the interviews give a comprehensive idea of the interesting developments in contemporary scholarship on morality.

This is a book that reads quickly but is best savored. Anyone remotely interested in thinking about "doing what's right" would not only be benefited by reading this, but they'd also be entertained.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Adam Webb on November 24, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tamler Sommers collection of interviews with philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, primatologists and more is a compelling book of ideas. Each interview explores the question of morality from a different angle, each conversation seems to build on the last, and the result is a page-turner that you want to read again as soon as you finish. Tamler Sommers asks complex philosophical questions ("Does free will exist?") with historical or real-world examples or thought experiments. The chapter with psychologist Philip Zimbardo takes the reader behind the scenes of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment -- and into the mind of Zimbardo, the experimenter, as he loses control of the experiment and himself.

I found only chapter eight (out of the nine chapters) to be slightly dry -- and I suspect I would appreciate it again on a second reading.

You can find a few of these conversations available in full on the website for The Believer.

The book also has the potential to lead people to think you're reading a Harry Potter knock-off. (Added bonus?)
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By Heathery on February 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Talmar Sommers has a great interview style. The book is fantastic and covers some great areas of Philosophy with some of the greatest superstars of our era. I had the privilege to take a class from Prof Sommers, the book is better than his class, which was already amazing!
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