Shelf Help: 'Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help' - Pacific Standard

Shelf Help: 'Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help'

Gripping portraits of extreme do-gooders.
Author:
Publish date:
Strangers Drowning. (Photo: Penguin Press)

Strangers Drowning. (Photo: Penguin Press)

Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help
Larissa MacFarquhar
Penguin Press

A husband and wife who adopt 22 orphans, many with severe special needs. People who give their kidneys to strangers. “Effective altruists” who organize their lives around giving the most money possible to charity. In her first book, New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar presents gripping portraits of extreme do-gooders who feel duty-bound to help strangers. Along the way, she also poses a thorny question about the rest of us: Why, when presented with tales of extreme do-goodery, do we so often react with defensiveness, or even scorn? The aim of the book is neither to urge readers to change their lives nor to suggest that do-gooders are deluded. Instead, MacFarquhar draws attention to a fact of life that we often prefer to sweep under the psychological rug: Sometimes we prioritize our moral duty to others, and sometimes we prioritize ourselves. Everyone draws that jagged line somewhere.

ps_break1.jpg

Submit your response to this story to letters@psmag.com. If you would like us to consider your letter for publication, please include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium.

For more from Pacific Standard, and to support our work, sign up for our free email newsletter and subscribe to our print magazine, where this piece originally appeared. Digital editions are available in the App Store and on Zinio and other platforms.

Related