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What Makes a Hero?: The Surprising Science of Selflessness Hardcover – August 29, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Current Hardcover (August 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591845289
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591845287
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Can you—can any ordinary person—learn to build on your natural biological endowments to turn yourself into a model of selflessness and service to others? Svoboda's question is straightforward, but the path to an answer winds from evolutionary biology and neuroscience to educational philosophy and psychology via anecdote and personal reflection. But while the journo makes some interesting points, there is nothing particularly new here. She summarizes the basic evolutionary explanation for altruism and describes some of the classic relevant neuroscience work; her two main points are that a selfless attitude can be cultivated through practice, and that learning about evil and kindness can prepare people to act heroically when opportunities present themselves. However, Svoboda presents little hard data to support her position, relying instead on anecdotes, interpretations of past studies, and personal experiences, such as having an MRI scan, attending a Real Life Superheroes gathering in New York City, and handing out small care packages to homeless people in San Francisco. (Purple prose doesn't help, either: Offered a meager gift and a little kindness, people the world had written off as hopeless opened up the way parched blooms do after a few drops of rain.) Agent: Joe Veltre, Gersh Agency. (Aug. 29)

Review

What Makes a Hero? is really about how to become a better person—a subject science has more to say about than you might expect. The world would be a better place if everyone read Elizabeth Svoboda's fun, fascinating, and deeply researched book.
 
—Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
 
In this readable and engaging volume, Elizabeth Svoboda weaves research, public narratives and personal stories together to demonstrate the counter-intuitive truth of her title: that heroic action can be learned; that heroic inclinations can be nurtured; and that “heroes” can, in fact, be made. We all have it in us, and through rehearsal, practice, self-insight and peer support, we can bring our inner heroes to light.
 
—Mary C. Gentile, Ph.D., author of Giving Voice To Values: How To Speak Your Mind When You Know What's Right

It's a joy to join the journey of Elizabeth Svoboda, a young writer and researcher, as she brings together personal stories and exciting studies to explain what pushes us to aid others—from daily helping to headlined heroic acts.
 
—Allan Luks, co-author of The Healing Power of Doing Good
 
In these trying times involving global political conflict and economic hardship, Elizabeth Svoboda gives us all hope that science can show humanity the right path. Her book artfully describes the psychological and physiological explanations behind altruism and heroism—which just might crack the toughest cynic. But must importantly, she gives us a glimpse into how we all hold it within ourselves to make our immediate communities a little bit better.
 
—Cyrus Farivar, author of The Internet of Elsewhere and senior business editor of Ars Technica
 
Kudos to Elizabeth Svoboda for answering the question What Makes a Hero? She examines every facet that contributes to heroic behavior: genes, neurobiology, thoughts and feelings, social forces. She even does her own “experiments” in heroism and shares her results. A must-read for anyone curious about real-life heroism.
 
—Robin Rosenberg, Ph.D., psychologist and author, Superhero Origins: What Makes Superheroes Tick and Why We Care; editor, What Is a Superhero?
 
Elizabeth Svoboda's engaging new book explores what makes a hero—and reveals science behind the greatness and generosity possible to any human being.
 
—Jill Neimark, co-author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People

More About the Author

I love to learn and write about the science behind what motivates people in a variety of situations. I have contributed to publications like Discover, Popular Science, Psychology Today, and the New York Times, and my first book, What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness, comes out in 2013. The subjects I've covered, limited only by my editors' skepticism, include creationist biology classes in Galapagos schools, suffering-inspired selflessness, and the relationship between helping and life satisfaction.

I grew up in the suburbs of Western New York and live in San Jose, CA with my husband, Eric, and our baby boy, Nate.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Viet-tam Luu on August 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Elizabeth Svoboda's _What Makes a Hero?_ is a pleasant, quick read on a matter that science has only recently begun to explore. She begins by discussing the evolutionary roots of altruism and heroism--the two concepts being points on a sliding scale of selfless behaviour. Although self-sacrifice would seem to be a trait that would be "selected out", genetically speaking, Svoboda makes the case for the development of social animals favouring what would otherwise be counter to "survival of the fittest".

The author goes on to relate many examples of selfless behaviour; the case studies make for touching and compelling stories even as they help us understand the psychological and sociological aspects of selflessness.

Finally, Svoboda concludes with some practical content on how we call can further cultivate selfless behaviour within ourselves--how to find the "hero" in each of us.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bass Man on October 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I never thought much about the science behind heroic acts. Before reading this, I felt the word "hero" had been so overused that it was almost meaningless. Svoboda's book puts the strength back into the word and helps explain, in very clear terms, what causes people to act like heros....real heros. Great read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Hernandez on October 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't read that much non fiction, but was compelled to buy this when I heard an interview with the author. Really interesting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kate Stowell on September 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Elizabeth Svoboda's book takes an in depth look on the subjects of altruism and heroism. It explores topics such as why these traits developed at all, and most importantly how daily practice can prepare a person to cultivate a moral code of selflessness.

I especially enjoyed the science and stories behind the bystander effect and how most people need some level of training to learn how and when to intervene, even when it seems intuitive. I finished this book during the same week as the Washington Navy Yard killings and I couldn't help drawing connections to Elizabeth's findings. What made the news was the armed confrontation and show down that ended the killing, but what if someone had stepped up and acted decisively before the shooter came to work that day? Aaron Alexis was clearly troubled and mentally ill for years yet no one stepped up and intervened to prevent what ultimately became a tragic situation, even though there were plenty of opportunities to do so.

How to train ordinary people to make small but crucial interventions puts heroism in reach of all of us.

Kate
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