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What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life amidst Uncertainty and Danger [Paperback]

Arthur Kleinman
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 29, 2007 019533132X 978-0195331325 1
In this moving and thought-provoking volume, Arthur Kleinman tells the unsettling stories of a handful of men and women, some of whom have lived through some of the most fundamental transitions of the turbulent twentieth century.

Here we meet an American veteran of World War II, tortured by the memory of the atrocities he committed while a soldier in the Pacific. A French-American woman aiding refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, facing the utter chaos of a society where life has become meaningless. A Chinese doctor trying to stay alive during Mao's cultural revolution, discovering that the only values that matter are those that get you beyond the next threat. These individuals found themselves caught in circumstances where those things that matter most to them--their desires, status, relationships, resources, political and religious commitments, life itself--have been challenged by the society around them. Each is caught up in existential moral experiences that define what it means to be human, with an intensity that makes their life narratives arresting.

These stories reveal just how malleable moral life is, and just how central danger is to our worlds and our livelihood. Indeed, Kleinman offers in this book a groundbreaking approach to ethics, examining "who we are" through some of the most disturbing issues of our time--war, globalization, poverty, social injustice--all in the context of actual lived moral life.

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What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life amidst Uncertainty and Danger + The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, And The Human Condition
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a fascinating and deeply entertaining book by an eminent anthropologist, psychiatrist, and teacher. It offers the kind of insight that makes you think and think again. But it isn't only analytical. For me at least, the richness of the book comes mainly from the stories Dr. Kleinman tells, about patients and friends and one remarkable historical figure--complicated stories that confront life's miseries and renew the cheapened word 'inspiring.'"--Tracy Kidder

"In this searingly written book, Arthur Kleinman takes us deep into the contrasting worlds of genuine reality and cultural pretense which he has spent so much of his life exploring. I have rarely read such a powerful portrayal of what Kleinman wonderfully calls 'the quality of anti-heroic everydayness.'"--Jonathan D. Spence

"In this luminous new book, master scholar Arthur Kleinman offers a handful of stories that open a channel between personal experience and the broader contexts--such as war or illness--in which we live our short lives. What Really Matters is a stern yet humble antidote to the shallow self-help books now crowding bestseller lists. It is also an instructive, deeply affecting and, in the end, transcendent and spiritual book."--Dr. Paul Farmer, Founding Director of Partners in Health, and author of Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor

"Arthur Kleinman is one of the most broadly informed and wisest people in the life sciences, bridging medicine and the social sciences in a way that is extremely rare and valuable. Moreover, he is an exceptionally keen observer and writes beautifully about matters of great significance. His new book, What Really Matters, is certainly timely when violence is so much in focus and yet it is a contribution of long-term significance." --David A. Hamburg, President Emeritus, Carnegie Corporation of New York

About the Author

Arthur Kleinman is Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, and Professor of Medical Anthropology in Social Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. A renowned psychiatrist and anthropologist, he has been awarded the Boas Prize (the highest award of the American Anthropological Association) and is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019533132X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195331325
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's your definition of "morality"? December 9, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
From his own full life experience, Dr. Kleinman (distiguished Psychiatrist and Anthropologist) has leant us invaluable insight into a potential structure in the approach to difficult areas in our lives where there are seemingly no real answers, in which many struggle for meaning. The stories in this book will certainly expand your understanding of the breadth of human experience, and thus the potential meanings of life. Just as the title states, he sets out to explore how various experiences in times of "uncertainty and danger" help elucidate the shared frailties of the human condition, and the fine line that separate moral collapse from moral transformation. Dr. Kleinman utilizes narrative life stories to explore his thesis. He spends a significant amount of time both relating and distinguishing two levels of "morality": local/situational/internal morality, from more theoretical/intellectual/external morality. This work is not merely another subjective/postmodern attempt to dismantle previously conceived notions of morality. Dr. Kleinman's work is constructive (in lay terms, as opposed to destructive, not necessarily meant in the philosophical sense), and takes the next step in synthesis.

Its arrangement...

Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapters 2-8. Seven diverse illustrative life experiences, including his own. Each enjoyable and fascinating in its own right. The majority of each chapter is the life story of the subject, with Dr. Kleinman's commentary and interpratation in the closing pages.

Chapter 9.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Was My Christmas Gift Book last Year April 5, 2009
A wonderful book on what matters in life. Kleinman is a mental health professional who uses those whom he has seen over the years as a vehicle to discuss life, materialism, ethics and morals. More philosophical than his Illness Narratives, but maybe more weighty. The section devoted to the UN aid worker who dies and his remembrance of how she approached life is worth the price of the book. One of those books that I will read again and again. The people whom I gave the book to as a gift all really enjoyed it.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Raised my level of consciousness about moral choices August 29, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved this book, though the intellectual level of the prose was sometimes difficult to grasp with just one reading. Hence I read some sections a number of times, and it was well worth it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What Really Matters January 7, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Kleinman's book and its title is not a question. The author explores both philosophically, and specifically through case studies (really-- human narratives) of people, the many ways to approach understanding what really matters in life. Our lives in this world are filled with joys and tragedies and it is dangerous, fraught with moral dilemmas, and we as people are each on a journey to navigate these treacherous waters. In the end, the navigation itself and the way we respond and learn from all of our experiences, tells us what really matters. I recommend this book to scholars and to everyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read March 13, 2012
By Dr.M
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A book which touches your life, and has the potential to change the way you look at the world. Prof AK derives from real life experiences of people who had interacted with him and shared their stories. Interspersed are his opinion, about the individual and moral lessons. Readers can sometimes empathize with their own lives, may be. The last chapter is a little dense.
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