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on August 31, 2012
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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on March 24, 2010
*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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on January 5, 2016
I loved reading about some of the questionable experiments discussed in this book and the authors interpretations of the human condition in general. Very insightful look into the human psyche and the field of psychology in general. I was particularly interested in the section regarding the experiment making students into "prison guards" and "inmates". It is rather appalling to see how quickly we go from civilized to barbaric when constraints are removed. I thought the author wrote very well and clearly articulated his meaning. Also, the layout of the book was well done and lent itself to a good flow for an easy but thought provoking read.
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on January 28, 2016
I have never written an Amazon review for a book, but I feel compelled to do so for this thought provoking and perception altering look at morality by Tamler Sommers.

Although not relevant to the book, I feel it serves to note that I have always been a big Sam Harris fan, and have valued his work on many different subjects. The reason I mention this is because the book The Moral Landscape by Harris was the only ideology I had encountered or read about seriously before picking up this book. I have always had a strong interest in philosophy, and I have dabbled here and there with shorter works by philosophers, but it is easy for the layman to be bogged down by the numerous options and opinions, along with the complex language, used to describe philosophical concepts by various philosophers throughout time.

It was immediately apparent after beginning this book that I was opening Pandora's box in regards to ethics and morality, and that Harris' viewpoint of the subject was grossly insufficient in approaching this topic.

I love the fact that Sommers interviews prolific minds from many different backgrounds. To hear about morality as described by an anthropologist, versus a primatologist, versus a philosopher, versus a sociologist, one begins to see just how complex the matter of morality really is, and why it is a subject that science is ill equipped to deal with in its entirety, if at all. Sommers treats all of his interview subjects with fairness and asks excellent questions, but also pokes and prods to find the flaws or inadequacies in their own fields of study, revealing the the boundaries each of these fields of studies bumps into when trying to broach the subject of morality.

Not only has the book served as a catalyst for me to seriously delve into the philosophers who have taken the time to give this subject the deep thinking it deserves, but it has positively influenced my view of the moral systems of others and shaken my foundation of moral realism, even within the confines of moral relativism as it pertains to human affairs. Thank you, Mr. Sommers, for providing a work that provokes the curiousity of those who may be intimidated by the subject due to the sheer depth of the subject.
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on February 26, 2012
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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on January 4, 2010
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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on January 17, 2011
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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on November 24, 2009
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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on March 7, 2015
This is a wonderful primer for anyone interested in morality, free will and their cultural underpinnings. Entertaining and very funny at times, Sommers never leaves the reader behind, explaining concepts and terms as they appear. You will come away with a long list of other books and articles to further your study.
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on September 17, 2011
A book of interviews with philosophers, (mostly) on the topics of free will and morality, that ends with the line 'Let's have another beer.' The all-too-rare sort of book that is clear, accessible, and likeable but also makes the reader feel a lot smarter while reading it. Highly recommended.
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