Download Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help Audiobook

Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help Audiobook, by Larissa MacFarquhar Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Larissa MacFarquhar Narrator: Larissa MacFarquhar Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2015 ISBN: 9780698411173
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What does it mean to devote yourself wholly to helping others? In Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar seeks out people living lives of extreme ethical commitment and tells their deeply intimate stories; their stubborn integrity and their compromises; their bravery and their recklessness; their joys and defeats and wrenching dilemmas.

A couple adopts two children in distress. But then they think: If they can change two lives, why not four? Or ten? They adopt twenty. But how do they weigh the needs of unknown children in distress against the needs of the children they already have?
Another couple founds a leprosy colony in the wilderness in India, living in huts with no walls, knowing that their two small children may contract leprosy or be eaten by panthers. The children survive. But what if they hadn’t? How would their parents’ risk have been judged?

A woman believes that if she spends money on herself, rather than donate it to buy life-saving medicine, then she’s responsible for the deaths that result. She lives on a fraction of her income, but wonders: when is compromise self-indulgence and when is it essential?

We honor such generosity and high ideals; but when we call people do-gooders there is skepticism in it, even hostility. Why do moral people make us uneasy? Between her stories, MacFarquhar threads a lively history of the literature, philosophy, social science, and self-help that have contributed to a deep suspicion of do-gooders in Western culture.

Through its sympathetic and beautifully vivid storytelling, Strangers Drowning confronts us with fundamental questions about what it means to be human. In a world of strangers drowning in need, how much should we help, and how much can we help? Is it right to care for strangers even at the expense of those we are closest to? Moving and provocative, Strangers Drowning challenges us to think about what we value most, and why.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “MacFarquhar’s book—daringly conceived, brilliantly executed—may change not just how you see the world but how you live in it.”

    Katherine Boo, Pultizer Prize–winning journalist and author

  • “Told in glowing, evocative prose…Few books throw one’s personal moral universe into question, but this one does, and it does so powerfully and monumentally.”

    Andrew Solomon, New York Times bestselling author

  • “MacFarquhar…has a vivid writing style, and…her subjects emerge as fully human despite personal eccentricities, selfish tendencies, and nonstandard ideas about how to live a moral life.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “Superb…Ms. MacFarquhar’s book…both streamlines and complicates the issues surrounding deep ethical scruples…[The profiles] are as taut and evocative as parables…[and] don’t swamp the inquisitive tone of her broader intellectual narrative.”

    New York Times

  • “Elegant, engaging, empathetic, and profoundly humane…full of insights, inspiring and unsettling.”

    Psychology Today

  • “With a series of fascinating profiles, MacFarquhar…offers a thought-provoking look at altruists and raises deeply unsettling questions about how far each of us can and should go to help others.”


  • “These fascinating stories and Larissa MacFarquhar’s own wise, funny meditations force you to inquire into your own sense of charity (or lack thereof). Easily the best book on both prescriptive and applied ethics I’ve read in a decade—mandatory reading for the examined life.”

    Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club

  • A BookPage Top Pick of 10 Best Books of October 2015
  • A 2015 New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • A NPR’s Great Reads Selection of 2015

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About the Author

Larissa MacFarquhar has been a staff writer at the New Yorker since 1998. Her subjects have included John Ashbery, Barack Obama, and Noam Chomsky, among many others. Previously she was a senior editor at Lingua Franca and an advisory editor at the Paris Review. MacFarquhar lives in New York.