Book Review: Beautiful Souls by Eyal Press

Beautiful Souls - Press

Beautiful Souls

By Eyal Press

My Rating: 3 Stars

The full title of this book is “Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times.”  It’s a fascinating look at why people go against the norm to stand up for something that directly contradicts the group as a whole and which could ultimately cause great harm and/or suffering for doing so.

Press uses multiple examples to explore the reason people do this and attempts to use these examples to come up with an explanation for their actions.  The first is a police captain who, in 1938, while working at the Swiss border allows Jewish refugees to enter the country despite rules against it.  The second is a Serb who, almost a half a century later,  defies his superiors to save the lives of Croats.  The third, is the story of a member of the Israeli elite military unit who informs his superiors that he does not wish to serve.  And the final example is of a whistle-blower who loses her job after standing up and refusing to sell something to her clients that seems to be sketchy.

Through numerous interviews, combined with research by moral psychologists and neuroscientists, Beautiful Souls, is a fascinating piece of narrative journalism about the dilemmas we face when presented with rules, policies and practices that contradict the moral principles by which we chose to live.  It examines how loyalty is questioned and confronted as we try to balance our morality with our sense of duty and patriotism for our country and it’s citizens.

My Thoughts

I found this book to be fascinating.  Though it’s merely touches on the subject and can not be considered an all encompassing discussion and analysis of the subject, it is still an interesting walk down the beginning of this road.  Coming in at a mere 183 pages it barely scratches the surface but it is enough to make you sit and think about the subject and issues brought up in it, long after you’ve closed the book.  Overall, I felt the arguments were sound and adequately supported by the examples used in the book.

It’s important to note that this book is considered narrative journalism and focuses more on feeling than the basic facts like mainstream journalism.  But it’s an important aspect to evaluate.  How does one justify certain acts when they go against our very morals?  Should people feel a moral obligation to go against policies and procedures that cause harm?  Why are some people nonconformists and others aren’t?  Why do some have the moral courage to stand up against wrong?  Is there a difference between courage and moral courage?  All interesting questions presented by this book.  And it’s definitely something I’d be interested in learning more about in the future.  Overall, a fascinating read and worth checking out.

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