Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times

Eyal Press. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-14342-8
In his latest, journalist Press (Absolute Convictions) explores what compels people to act according to their conscience when faced with a moral dilemma in dangerous circumstances. In 1938, a Swiss police captain allows Jewish refugees to cross into “neutral” Switzerland, defying orders that the border be closed. During the Balkan conflict, in 1991, a Serb disobeys his superiors to save the lives of Croats from his hometown, the war-torn city of Vukovar. A financial adviser in Houston loses her job when she refuses to sell a toxic product she rightly suspects of being a Ponzi scheme. In a particularly compelling vignette, an Israeli soldier in an elite military unit refuses to serve in the occupied territories during the second intifada. Drawing on research by psychologists, sociologists, political activists and theorists (such as Susan Sontag and Hannah Arendt), and neuroscientists, Press reveals that the boldest acts of defiance are often made by ordinary people who regard the ideals and values of their societies to be inviolable. This thought-provoking and moving narrative highlights the different ways people react to moral quandaries and, at its best, makes us question the role our own passivity or acquiescence plays in allowing unconscionable acts to happen on our watch. Agent: Sarah Chal-fant, the Wylie Agency. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/12/2011
Release date: 02/14/2012
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