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Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything Hardcover – August 22, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"What struck me most was his claim that, despite our quickly changing world of social media and altered interpersonal communications, ethics themselves have not changed much over time. Etiquette changes; social mores shift. But whether you're a Googler or a gladiator, the basic line stays the same: When in doubt about how to act, be good. We all know (pretty much) what that means."
- Oprah.com

"While there's plenty of common-sense inside this book, there's also lots to ponder about right and wrong."
- Alaska Journal

"What [Cohen] has created is "a set of practice problems" meant to test and strengthen the reader's own ethical compass. "
- Publisher's Weekly

About the Author

Randy Cohen established himself as the author of the popular "The Ethicist" column in the New York Times Magazine, which he wrote for twelve years. He has appeared regularly on NPR, and is host of the radio series Person Place Thing. He lives in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books; 1St Edition edition (August 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1452107904
  • ISBN-13: 978-1452107905
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was a huge fan of Randy Cohen's "The Ethicist" columns that ran in the Sunday New York Times Magazine for 12 years. I'm an even bigger fan of this new book based on that column. Because here he's not confined to two questions and 680 words per week. Here he can sort, arrange and share many of his favorite letters by topic and expand on the reasoning that went into his answers. There are chapters dedicated to Family; Home; Doctors & Nurses; Civic Life; Money; Animals; Sports; 9/ll, Iraq, Afghanistan; Work; Arts; Technology; Community; School; In Transit; Love & Sex and Religion ... each of them introduced by Cohen's overview of the subject matter in general before tackling specific questions. Often we'll learn how the questioner responded, a bit about reader reaction and, sometimes, Cohen's second thoughts based on those reactions.

This collection is also a lagniappe for all his fans who treated "The Ethicist" as a family game played at the breakfast table each Sunday--one person would read the question aloud, then go around the table for each person's answer...and only then would they read Cohen's answer and discuss it. Perhaps you'd like to join the fun. Here's a sampling of questions to ponder:

After the second time the police show up in response to a neighbor's noise complaint, the reader demands to know who complained, but the police refuse. Does he have the right to know? .... During a transatlantic flight, a request comes for any doctors on board to make themselves known. Four were on board, but only one came forward. Ethical? .... During the anthrax scare, a reader who filled a prescription for Cipro that he didn't need was criticized by friends for hoarding, but claims this is similar to stockpiling food or water for an emergency. Who's right?
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I took several Ethics classes in college and again while earning my masters. Those classes were really enjoyable to me, because they taught you how to look at all sides of an issue and draw conclusions. I expected this book to be of the same mindset, and was very disappointed to find myself being preached to by the author, from only his perspective. This book is not the thought provoking analysis of issues that I expected, but rather a collection of examples of how to use logical fallacies and rhetoric to support his ideas. I was very disappointed. If you are per-disposed to agree with him on his topics, you might enjoy that it reaffirms you ideas. If you are looking for something with any academic value, look elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is the second book that Randy Cohen, the first and longest-running person to write the Ethicist column for the New York Times, has made out of his columns. Along with the columns come some general essays that group the columns into topics and that veer into other matters, some related and some not.

To cut to the chase, if you like Randy Cohen columns you'll probably like the book. Otherwise probably not.

Columns are notorious for suffering when grouped together into a book. The mannerisms and turns of thought you liked a lot in once-a-week doses are often not so good when read en masse.

Cohen, who is also a humorist, tends to run interesting questions and then devote a lot of his answers to funny bits. Fun one at a time but possibly irritating all together.

But here's the good part: Cohen picks interesting real ethical issues to write about. You may or may not agree with his answers, and you may or may not like the idea of advice given outside the context of a community. But if you treat the columns as invitations to think through the issues yourself, or discuss them with friends, the book is golden.

For: Interesting issues raised, and treated in a manner that you might like

Against: Too much of the same, and the issues are treated in a manner you might not like.

Bottom line, once again: You'll probably like this if you enjoyed Randy Cohen's columns. If you didn't like the column you'll probably not like the book, except as a stimulus to discussion or even to enjoyable irritation and disagreement.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Be Good is essentially an edited and annotated collection of columns from the Ethicist column of the NY Times. Randy Cohen addresses readers questions with insight, context, and where appropriate, a sharp wit. While not exactly a "guide to ethics" it is a collection of real problems with analysis of solutions, and sometimes follow up about what actually happened. Since ethics is more often than not, situational, one can learn more from the stories in the book than from something that would be more of a collection of rules. The structure of the book lends itself to be read in short bursts, so it is a perfect book to have with you to make good use of idle time. Be Good was surprisingly fun book to read, and provides both a framework for thinking of ethical issues and a cultural snapshot of the period in which the letters were written.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a compilation, with added commentary, of the author's "The Ethicist" columns in the New York Times Magazine. It is an exercise in the utmost banality.

An ethics treatise will tackle the tough issues, right? Like abortion, mercy killing, homosexual marriage, collateral damage to civilians. Nope. This one ducks all of those. Instead we get the following:

--Is it ethical for a vegetarian/animal rights proponent to swim with the dolphins?
--Is it ethical for a vegetarian cat lover to buy meat-based cat food?
--Should the family of a little league batter pay for a car window smashed by a foul ball?
--Is it ethical for an opponent of the Iraq War to invest in oil futures?
--It is ethical to send a college-student intern for coffee?
--Is it immoral to sing "nigger" in Stephen Foster's songs?
--Should a woman resign from her Curves fitness center membership because the
owner opposes abortion?

With religious-like certitude, the author insists on casting his mundane public policy views as matters of high morality. So we get four pages of high-dudgeon argument on why cars are immoral. A former comedy writer, he seems to have no sense of humor about this.

Give us a break. We have better things to do.
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