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Help: The Original Human Dilemma Hardcover – September 14, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This eloquent inquiry into how humans help or do not help one another ranges widely in philosophical issues. A former Episcopal priest, Keizer (The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin) offers no panaceas or programs for becoming a better or happier person. Instead, he presents well-written, irreverent and perceptive essays that examine why humans offer assistance and how that assistance is accepted. Drawing on examples from religion, literature, history and personal experience, he delves into a number of very different giving experiences. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, assistance is spontaneously given, but in a limited manner that doesn't involve a long-term commitment. To illustrate how help can backfire, Keizer recalls how Norman Mailer helped to gain parole for convicted killer Jack Abbott, an aspiring writer, who, once released, went on to murder again. Keizer recounts, at length, the familiar tale of the French town of Le Chambon, which sheltered Jews from the Nazis. Many who were hidden never returned to thank their rescuers—not out of ingratitude, Keizer says, but because to revisit the town would have meant reliving a time of unspeakable horror. Keizer's provocative essays on the limits and contradictions of giving are refreshingly nonjudgmental. "Help is a part of our humanity," he concludes, but "its paradoxes define us" as well.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Altruism, that capacity to do unto others whether or not they would similarly do unto you, is examined from wide-ranging anthropological and philosophical viewpoints by an author who brings fresh perspectives and thought-provoking insights to this frequently misinterpreted human, and nonhuman, imperative. Keizer takes a philosophical approach by analyzing situational ethics that confront individuals on a daily basis. Often framing his arguments within the context of the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, Keizer contends that the nature of one human being's desire to assist another is a complex one, not always as selfless as it seems, and not always as effective as it is intended to be. Given today's extraordinary global challenges, altruism as a moral mandate is more critical than ever yet may be harder to achieve. Books such as Keizer's can help readers understand how we can develop unselfish attitudes, change our behavior, and pave the way to bringing about universal benefits. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is about the one question that comes up again and again in one's life. But that is not what it is limited to. The real value of this book lies in the depth with which it tackles the issue, from all angles, without taking sides.
Rarely do I encounter a book which starts so many thoughts, plants so many ideas.
It is a book for the thinking person.
And I am lucky to have come across it at the right time in my life. If I had read it three years ago, I would have dismissed it as irrelevant, overly cyclical, stating the obvious. Only now can I appreciate it for what it really is.
He went off on tangents that were not particularly germaine to the general topic. It worked as a rumination on his own experiences and would have been better if that's the approach he had taken. Instead, he tried to deal with issues much more generally. Rev. Keizer is both thoughtful and caring. I applaud him for those attributes in this book, but I could have used some "help" tryin to understand where he really was going with his ideas in the mid to late chapters. Then, in the last chapter, he returned to clarity again. I know that we were sorry we had chosen THIS book to recommend to our parishioners. This book is a wonderful idea, but it still needs some sorting through by the writer and editor.
Keiser has a writerly fascination with language and literary curlicues that in another context I might appreciate, but with this subject matter I found myself getting annoyed with his "cleverness." Clearly that's his style but to me it came across a bit like someone enamored of the sound of his own voice.
I had high expectations of this book when I bought it (I can afford to buy a full-price hardcover only extremely rarely). It was worth the money and the time and I would definitely recommend it. It did disappoint me particularly in one way however, which was its much less depth of attention to the problems of receiving help--the orientation is mainly toward being the helper. As a retired clergyman the author clearly identifies as a helper and makes some assumptions that his readers will be materially secure, socially conscious helper types. I fit the latter part of that profile, but as a poor person and a person with a degree of disability I've experienced receiving help as perhaps even more complex and morally and emotionally fraught than helping. I was going to give only 4 stars for this reason, but I've changed my mind in the hopes that Keizer will write a companion volume, "Helped."
The book does include some nice discussion of recognizing the moral agency of the person being helped, and his or her own need to help--I appreciated that, while the emphasis was mostly on helping, the book largely avoids objectifying those being helped, which I think goes hand in hand with not glorifying the heroism of the helper.
In other words, a healthy and organic rather than romanticized concept of help.