David Perry grew up in Tacoma, and earned a B.A. in religion at Pacific Lutheran U. and a Ph.D. in ethics at the U. of Chicago. He joined the EHBC staff in September 2019 after teaching practical ethics in undergrad and grad schools for 24 years. He's published a book, Partly Cloudy: Ethics in War, Espionage, Covert Action, and Interrogation (2nd ed. 2016), and over 50 articles. His eclectic musical tastes range from Debussy to Ella Fitzgerald to Fountains of Wayne, and his favorite cartoons are Invader Zim and Bob's Burgers. (The photo shows him with a distant relative at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.) David is also the host of the popular podcast Practical Ethics where he explores a wide range of ethical dilemmas facing our society.
Singer is an Australian philosopher who published the first edition of this important book in 1975. Fully updated, this new edition documents the legislative and regulatory progress achieved in many countries to reduce the suffering of animals raised for food etc., but sadly also the unnecessary cruelty that continues to be inflicted on them for our convenience and tastes. Singer narrates the history of ideas, many of them asserted by otherwise respected philosophers and theologians, that reinforce our tendency to ignore or downplay the suffering of animals. This book is likely to spur you at least to seek information about the welfare of animals used in the products you consume, and perhaps even inspire you to eat less meat or give it up entirely. ~David
Australian philosopher Peter Singer has never hesitated to tackle tough, controversial questions. This excellent anthology is comprised of short essays, most of which were originally published in popular media rather than scholarly journals. Readers are virtually guaranteed to find many of his topics engaging; I wager that they'll frequently judge his arguments to be compelling as well. His wide-ranging subjects include: The teachability of ethics; meat-eating versus veganism; abortion and the reversal of Roe; public health versus private freedom; gene editing; decisions on who lives and who dies; homosexuality; prostitution; free speech and fake news; artificial intelligence; and whether robots can be persons. ~David
Currently a staff writer for the New Yorker and previously a music critic for the New York Times, Kelefa Sanneh exhibits in this book an amazingly broad and deep knowledge of popular music across an astoundingly wide range of genres. Sanneh shares his sophisticated sense of the role of music in popular American culture during the past five decades. The author also discusses how musical genres (and their myriad sub-genres) both draw listeners together and sometimes divide them into opposing clans. What is more, he treats diverse musicians and their songs with care and respect, inspiring his readers to explore music that they have previously ignored, disdained, or simply been unaware of. ~David
Douglas London worked at the Central Intelligence Agency for several decades specializing in HUMINT, i.e., recruiting foreign citizens to become spies for the U.S. In this fascinating memoir, he offers richly detailed stories about individuals whom he enlisted to provide secrets about their governments, or in some cases terrorist organizations. He exhibits nuanced and reflective views on the ethical dilemmas and moral ambiguities in HUMINT, such as dealing with unsavory characters, or protecting a spy providing valuable intelligence. He takes us inside tense situations where he and/or his agents faced severe consequences if their espionage work were exposed. He also comments on the personalities and leadership styles of various colleagues and bosses (mostly unnamed) within the CIA and evaluates changes over time in the culture of the organization. ~David
Remotely piloted aircraft (also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), primarily the ominously named Predator and Reaper, have been used frequently during the past two decades to target members of Al Qaeda and ISIS, often generating controversy. Joseph Chapa is uniquely qualified to assess the ethical issues involved, being a U.S. Air Force officer with extensive experience with these vehicles and having earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford. I found the dilemmas faced by UAV pilots, especially in cases where they observe innocent civilians near their intended targets, especially compelling. ~David
In this book the author somehow manages to be both serious and fun – serious in exploring many classic and contemporary philosophical questions, such as the nature of rights, revenge and punishment, gender, and race, what ought to count as knowledge and truth, the mystery of consciousness, and God and the problem of evil – while also exhibiting a great sense of humor. He delightfully relates many fascinating conversations that he's had with his two young sons about important issues. A professor of philosophy and law, Hershovitz also offers much wise parental advice on how to raise curious, thoughtful, and compassionate kids. ~David
Larson combed extensive primary-source materials to illuminate the experiences of Britons during the 1940-41German bombing of London, in an effort to make an invasion and occupation possible. In fascinating detail, we come to understand how Britain survived, with the result that Hitler pivoted and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The author skillfully mined his sources and told the story of the blitz with care and eloquence. Fans of Larson's previous books, Dead Wake and Devil in the White City, will not be disappointed. ~David
How honest must we be if the truth would offend a friend? What if the products we buy involve child labor or animal cruelty? The field of ethics is endlessly fascinating, but much moral philosophy can seem abstract and far removed from such real-life concerns. Although this book is flippant in places, it is nonetheless a mostly accurate introduction to classic ethical theories, and delves into many practical and intriguing issues, including the famous "trolley problem" that vexed one of the main characters in The Good Place. If you've seen either of these clever TV series, The Office or Parks and Rec, you'll recognize Shur's comedic style; he worked as a writer and producer for those shows. ~David
This is a highly engaging introduction to critical thinking, drawing on the disciplines of logic and psychology, but employing vivid examples and lively stories. Logic helps us understand the differences between good and bad reasoning, while psychology indicates how our perceptions and memories can be misleading, and why we are too often attracted by weak arguments and ridiculous claims, such as ones put forth by astrologers, psychics, QAnon, and the anti-vaccine crowd. All of us can benefit from the education that Grimes provides here, to enable us to be on our guard against sloppy thinking.
Bryson takes us on a lively tour of the human body, from macro to micro levels. Although he's clearly done impressively careful research spanning a huge range of disciplines, his prose style is engaging, clever and witty, as longtime fans of Bryson would expect. As another reviewer wrote, "The author marvels at the intricacies of the human body and its extraordinary feats of timing and fine-tuning. He digs into history to show the persistence and tribulations of researchers. [And he] describes the amazing feats of medicine and surgery accomplished in the last few decades." Highly recommended. ~ David
Churchland is an exceptional scholar in that she has expertise in both neuroscience and moral philosophy. In this book she deftly combines the insights from those fields and others to produce a fascinating account of how we make decisions that have moral significance. Some of her descriptions of how our brains work are rather technical, but overall her writing style is very engaging and accessible. ~ David
In this insightful book, Professor MacMillan draws on her extensive knowledge of world history to explain war's place in it. She explores the diverse reasons why wars have occurred, how they have been experienced by soldiers and civilians, the ethical and legal constraints that have been applied to them, and how war has been portrayed in the arts. Each chapter is richly detailed, in eloquent and often moving prose. "We need to pay attention to war," she writes, "because it is still with us. We need to know about its causes, its impact, how to end it and how to avoid it. And in understanding war we understand something about being human, our ability to organize ourselves, our emotions and our ideas, and our capacity for cruelty as well as for good." ~ David
If you’ve seen at least several episodes of Seinfeld (who hasn’t?) and you like his sense of humor (who doesn’t?), I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a comprehensive and roughly chronological compilation of every comedy bit that he’s written for his standup routines over the past 40+ years. So, knowing Seinfeld’s vocal style, reading these bits is like hearing him perform them for you as the sole member of the audience. Very entertaining!
Fox worked for several years in CIA's Clandestine Service, adopting fake identities in dangerous places in order to uncover and prevent efforts by terrorist groups to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Having researched and published extensively on ethical issues in espionage and covert action, I was impressed with her desire to pursue legitimate goals through ethical means. In her compelling memoir, Fox takes us inside her CIA training, explains what it takes to recruit and handle foreign agents, and helps us feel her stress in pretending to be someone else while knowing that she could be under surveillance 24/7 by hostile intelligence agencies. ~ David
The author is a former FBI agent who spent most of his career investigating Al Qaeda. His book offers a fascinating history of Islamic terrorist groups beginning around 1979, along with various tactics used by the U.S. and its allies to identify and disrupt their violent plots. But Soufan is also highly critical of the so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques that CIA, military, and civilian contractors began using on detainees after 9/11, which amounted to torture, and other treatment prohibited by treaties binding on U.S. government personnel. Black Banners is a sobering, compelling, and informative read, which now includes extensive passages that had been censored by the CIA when first published in 2011. ~David
Social psychologists Travis and Aronson focus here on our all-too-human tendency to rationalize our mistakes, often due to our discomfort with the "cognitive dissonance" between our obvious faults and our inflated views of our character and intelligence. Fascinating and enlightening, with lively real-world examples.
Boris Pasternak was greatly revered as a poet in his native Russia, even by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. But as Pasternak neared completion of his epic novel, Doctor Zhivago, the Soviets were keen to prevent it from being published anywhere, fearing (rightly) that it would portray the Bolshevik Revolution in a harsh light. In this historical novel, Lara Prescott immerses us in the dilemmas facing Pasternak and his family in light of the real threat of KGB interrogation and the Gulag if he were to publish Zhivago. In addition, Prescott invents several lively fictional female characters working in the typing pool at the CIA in Washington DC, who with their male colleagues work to obtain a manuscript of Zhivago to use in the Cold-War propaganda struggle. The Secrets We Kept is an engaging spy story that also features at least two compelling love stories. ~ David
This is a wonderful book. Like many other great writers and artists, John notices and makes us aware of value in the world around us that we’re otherwise likely to miss. And his craftsmanship shows in the careful connections he draws between seemingly unrelated experiences and memories. ~ David
Imagine a set of cartoon characters who appear to be alien beings but who experience many of the same daily joys and frustrations that we do. Then imagine that these beings are somehow naive and curious AND wise, with complex vocabularies and gentle senses of humor. Pyle's characters make us aware of the strangeness of many of the things we take for granted on our own planet.
You don't have to be a Monty Python fan like me to enjoy this autobiography by one of its members, though it would at least prepare you for the zany humor you'll encounter here. The title of the book is from a song that first appeared in the Pythons' movie, Life of Brian. Idle explains how the wacky Python members began collaborating in the 1960s, and narrates the development of their hit TV series, their Holy Grail and Meaning of Life movies, and the musical Spamalot. He also relates some wonderful adventures that he's had with famous friends like George Harrison and Robin Williams. Eric Idle is a brilliant and frequently hilarious writer.
Oluo, a Seattle-based writer, has written an important, compelling and timely introduction to a wide range of issues concerning racism in America. Some of Oluo’s most powerful points concern racial disparities in treatment by the police. Consider the following: “My fear, as a black driver, is real. The fact that black drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers . . . and more likely to be ticketed and arrested in those stops . . . also leads to a 3.5-4 times higher probability that black people will be killed by cops. . . .” You may not agree with all of Oluo’s arguments, but you will probably feel some of your assumptions challenged, and you'll come away with many insights relevant to your daily thoughts and actions.
Although the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has been used by many large organizations, it is a deeply flawed and unreliable source of genuine insights about individual personalities. Merve Emre provides here a fascinating narrative about the origins of MBTI through lively biographies of its primary creators.
Vanderbilt historian Jon Meacham previously published biographies of American presidents, and is often recruited to offer commentary on TV about current events. Impressed with his wisdom and eloquence, I hoped that this book would alleviate my despair about the current state of American politics. I was not disappointed. Meacham is no Pollyanna: he reminds us that popular prejudices (often fed by demagogic leaders) have impeded moral progress throughout our nation's history. But he also marshalls extensive evidence of the ability of the American "soul" to recognize and repair its flaws, and quotes Harry Truman in support, "The people have often made mistakes, but given time and the facts, they will make the corrections." Meacham urges us to be politically active and to resist tribalism, respect facts, deploy reason, find a critical balance, and keep history in mind. His book helps us to do all of those things.
Stone, a distinguished professor of law at the University of Chicago, is an expert on American constitutional law, especially how freedoms of speech and assembly have frequently been constrained during wartime. In this fascinating volume, Stone traces the history of legal regulations on sexual behavior, marriage, pornography, contraception and abortion, and how religious values have influenced those laws at different stages. ~ David
Why recommend this particular version of the Bible? Because it not only has great translations of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, it crucially contains dozens of articles written by renowned scholars, providing highly informative introductions to the Bible as a whole and each individual book within it. ~David
Frederick Douglass ranks as one of the most eloquent and powerful speakers and writers in American history. Born a slave, he basically taught himself to read and write, and became a key leader in the Abolitionist movement. This volume is a comprehensive but affordable collection of Douglass's most significant works, spanning a crucial period in U.S. history from 1845 to 1891. Douglass's condemnations of slavery and racism still resonate deeply with us today.
Singer, an author on practical ethical concerns for nearly 50 years, has often focused on the problem of extreme poverty in developing countries, and the suffering experienced by animals in the production of meat and cosmetics. Those concerns remain significant in this book as well, but Singer also wrestles with recent issues like global warming. His main objective is to help us decide how best to use our valuable time and money to prevent and alleviate suffering. The book helpfully combines solid moral philosophy with careful empirical studies of the relative effectiveness of different charities and government policies. This book is likely to bother you, in a good way. ~ David
Dr. Lucas was a professor of ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy and president of the International Society of Military Ethics. In this impressive book, he outlines the history of ethical reflection on war and the foundations of the international laws of armed conflict. He clarifies the considerations that are supposed to guide decisions by government leaders on whether or not to wage war, and the rules that military professionals must follow in their conduct of war. Additionally, he explores several contemporary issues regarding humanitarian military interventions, armed drone aircraft, and cyber weapons. Lucas helps us to interpret incidents of war around the world, to evaluate debates about war in our media, and to exercise our influence as citizens.
Having been a fan of Monty Python and the Fawlty Towers series since I was a teen, I fully expected to enjoy this autobiography. I was pleasantly surprised that Cleese spends most of the book narrating his life before Python. I learned about his childhood, his school days, his nearly becoming a lawyer, and his emergence as a comedy writer and performer at a remarkably young age. He’s generous in his praise for mentors like David Frost, his longtime writing partner Graham Chapman, and other fellow Pythons. But he wields a merciless wit against people whom he credibly judges to be selfish or clueless. I frequently laughed out loud while reading this wonderful memoir. ~ David
Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, has discovered through several fascinating experiments with little children that we seem to be born with basic intuitions about right and wrong, good and evil. Rudimentary intuitions, to be sure, and ones that have to be nurtured by family and friends in order for us to develop a robust conscience. But Bloom also draws on sobering evidence that we’re prone to developing biases against people who don’t look or talk like us. In other words, Bloom helps us understand the roots of bigotry, as well as our capacities for fairness and compassion that can transcend prejudice.
Bryson brings a childlike curiosity and sense of wonder to every subject that he studies. In this book he summarizes the findings from an astounding range of scientific disciplines, including physics, cosmology, chemistry, geology, and biology, to provide us with insights about the immense age and size of our universe, the origins of our solar system and planet, and the emergence of life in general and of our species in particular, all with his trademark wit and creative analogies. ~David
An English professor at Davidson College, Alan Michael Parker has given us a little masterpiece, a delightfully quirky novel ostensibly consisting of short observations, ruminations and notes taken by a member of a "committee on town happiness" in an unidentified small town. The committee takes its responsibilities seriously, defining what ought to count as things that make for genuine satisfaction versus things that are merely silly or borderline dangerous or rebellious, while also enforcing their bureaucratic rulings with enthusiastic encouragement or stern but questionably forceful disapproval. But the committee is puzzled and increasingly worried about the mysterious disappearances of many of their neighbors, an ominous development that threatens to completely depopulate the town.
Why has aggressive war occurred so frequently in human history? Wrangham and Peterson note disturbing similarities between patterns of violent aggression in both human and chimpanzee societies, as well as the startling lack of such violence among bonobos, who are also closely related genetically to both humans and chimps. The authors go on to offer a compelling theory of how and why those traits emerged. Hint: It’s related to a significant change in the earth’s climate during a key phase in the evolution of our respective species in Africa.
This is a delightful collection of stories and poems first published in 1916, in newspaper columns by Don Marquis, purportedly typed at night by a cockroach named Archy. Archy can only manage one lower-case letter at a time by diving onto the keys head-first. He insists that in a previous life, he was an esteemed poet; and his alley-cat friend Mehitabel claims to have been Cleopatra. His descriptions of their relationship, associates, and adventures, plus his ruminations on life's injustices, are rich in humor, character, whimsy, and surprise. The illustrations, courtesy of George Herriman of Krazy Kat fame, are utterly charming. ~David & McNevin