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The Good, the Bad & the Difference: How to Tell the Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations Hardcover – March 19, 2002

2.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Humbly perched atop his "accidental" vantage point (he never intended to be an ethicist), New York Times Magazine columnist Randy Cohen eagerly analyzes the circuitous moral landscape below and offers smart advice in The Good, the Bad & the Difference. Nearly 200 reader letters, Cohen's thoughtful responses, and occasional counterpoints from guest ethicists make up the bulk of this engaging collection. Divided into seven topics, questions seek guidance on appropriate behavior at work, school, and home; with friends; in public; in the medical field; and in situations where money counts. They range from the clear-cut (seeking justification for acts of revenge), to the no-win situation (think "whistle-blower"). The ethicist in Cohen provides a quick, logically gleaned response; the novelist in him "skillfully limns the complex and subtle relationships and the unspoken obligations that bind people together"; and the humorist in him makes it all irresistible. Each chapter's "Pop Ethics Quiz" invites readers to exercise their own moral muscles on serious and whimsical dilemmas. While Cohen claims no formal background in ethics, perhaps his stint as a writer for Late Night with David Letterman was school enough, for he shows a remarkable ability to smoke out the wrong and carefully preserve the right, even in the kookiest situations. --Liane Thomas

From Publishers Weekly

Cohen, author of the popular New York Times Magazine column "The Ethicist," has collected some of his favorite columns, along with guest commentaries, quizzes for readers and revisions of some of his own advice. Not unlike Miss Manners, Cohen tries to focus on problems that everyday people actually face: e-mail privacy at work, "telling" on a philandering spouse, cheating at school, filching motel soaps, ticket scalping and the like. After outlining the basic ethical issues involved, he offers clear if sometimes painful recommendations for what to do, often leavened with a little Dave Barry-ish humor. Unlike Dear Abby or Judge Judy, Cohen allows for more than one right answer; he includes dissenting opinions from Dan Savage, Katha Pollitt and even his own mom. The concluding section, "I Demand a Recant," rounds up columns that Cohen himself has changed his mind about. Still, rethinking positions hasn't made Cohen a relativist; his basic ethical principles remain clear. "The small civilities of ordinary life" are important. Incompetence should not be confused with unethical behavior. And beware "perilous" associations; working as "Attila the Hun's Gardener" may land you in unintended trouble. Agent, David McCormick. (On sale Mar. Forecast: Cohen's weekly fans will want this for their reference shelves; word of mouth should take it much further. It's the perfect gift for anyone who doesn't read a lot, but feels strongly about "how things ought to be done."
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (March 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385502737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385502733
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,688,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the best columns in The New York Times Magazine each week is "The Ethicist" by Randy Cohen. It's sharp, incisive, and provides food for thought. Cohen's book is an expansion on his column, and in a fun twist, he provides an opportunity for his readers to get into the act. One of the strongest points of Cohen's column, and his book, is that he doesn't render his opinion and slam the door shut; he opens the door for further discussion and argument. Cohen admits he doesn't have all the answers, and he includes some comments from writers who have diverged from his opinions. Basically, Cohen's take on ethics is situational; he doesn't hand down ironclad edicts. Most of the questions he receives from readers fall into the "Do I tell or not" category; e.g., do I tell my neighbor I saw her husband with the sexy blonde in the bar. Cohen's advice is to consider your role in the situation; if you are merely a snoopy neighbor then MYOB; but if you are a cop who has busted hubby in a house of ill repute where he stands a high risk of catching HIV and passing it on to his wife, then the wife has a right to know what risks she has been inadvertently exposed to (and let hubby duck before the boom lowers on him). Cohen isn't out to preach or moralize; his goal is to make his readers think, and in this he succeeds admirably. The book is both fun and a learning experience for anyone who reads it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
(First, the full disclosure: I am in the acknowledgments for this book, because the Samuel Johnson quotations throughout this book were drawn from my Johnson web site. But we hardly know each other.)
Although this book collects many of the columns Cohen has written for the New York Times and in syndication (as "The Ethicist" and "Everyday Ethics," respectively), this book is far more than just the original columns. Added here is more overview and dialog (which a brief newspaper column would never accommodate). Some of the back and forth is in the original Q&A format of the column, but it's been augmented by postscripts and perspectives from others in the fields related to the original questions. Thus, while Cohen's answers are basically prescriptions and brief explorations, the subsequent discussions from Cohen and the others round the issues out. So, in a sense, it becomes a town-square-type discussion you won't see in some other books.
The really interesting part is that, by engaging others, Cohen opens it up to more discussion and thought from -you.- Cohen doesn't always read like the final word, and you may find that this involving book provokes discussions in your own home. (This past weekend, a question surrounding how much to include on a resume led to a good 20 minute discussion between friends.) Any time a book gets you to think, and then actually leaves its original medium on the page to become part of a broader discussion, is pretty impressive, if you ask me. So many other books of this ilk come off as absolute pontifications, that they seem to do all the thinking for you, and for me that's not enough.
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Format: Hardcover
Randy Cohen, author of THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE'S
popular column "The Ethicist" . . . it is a provocative look
at today's manners and mores with interesting advice
about how to be good in the real world.
Though I did not agree with everything that the author wrote,
it got me thinking . . . it also pointed out to me that
there are certainly no easy answers to a whole bunch of
complex questions.
Cohen has an engaging, breezy style that certainly did not make
this a dry philosophical tome . . . in particular, his humor added to my enjoyment of the book.
There were many memorable passages; among them:
[on whether to tell a boss if you're pregnant when looking for a job]
But inconvenient as it may be for the boss, pregnancy is a
fundamental experience that society must accommodate, rather
than ask individuals to cobble together their own solution. On the other hand, if you'd like to make your every human need
subservient to the demands of commerce, you might try this
strategy: Pledge to deliver your baby in the employee lounge
during your break, making a little cradle out of an empty box
of file folders. That'll show you're a team player.
[on when to break up with a girlfriend whose father is severely ill]
Those in a hurry to break up often seek justification from another Academy Award winner, William Shakespeare: "If it were done, when 'tis done, then "twere well it were done quickly," but the line was spoken by Macbeth; Shakespeare did not intend it
as a dating tip. As you know, MacBeth's breakup with Duncan
did not go well.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This was entertaining at first but quickly grew boring. This should be viewed as a quirky read, to be read in snippets or given as a gift to the right individual (if you don't know who that is, don't get it for them). This is not something you're meant to sit down with on Saturday and pore over until Sunday morning.

There were some interesting situations, but like I said, I grew bored with the premise quickly. The topics here would make for a spirited debate, but as it stands, you're just reading one person's opinion, no matter how good, bad or inconsistent. Cohen tries to spice it up with others' opinions every once in awhile, but that wasn't enough. And Cohen himself isn't likable, hatable, or controversial enough to make the book work. Maybe get this from the library, but don't take the chance spending money on it.
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