Summary and book reviews of Justice by Michael Sandel

Justice

What's the Right Thing to Do?

By Michael J. Sandel

Justice
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2009,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2010,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

What are our obligations to others as people in a free society? Should government tax the rich to help the poor? Is the free market fair? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is killing sometimes morally required? Is it possible, or desirable, to legislate morality? Do individual rights and the common good conflict?

Michael J. Sandel’s “Justice” course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. Up to a thousand students pack the campus theater to hear Sandel relate the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and this fall, public television will air a series based on the course. Justice offers readers the same exhilarating journey that captivates Harvard students. This book is a searching, lyrical exploration of the meaning of justice, one that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, patriotism and dissent, the moral limits of markets—Sandel dramatizes the challenge of thinking through these conflicts, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well. Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise—an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life.

1. DOING THE RIGHT THING

In the summer of 2004, Hurricane Charley roared out of the Gulf of Mexico and swept across Florida to the Atlantic Ocean. The storm claimed twenty-two lives and caused $11 billion in damage. It also left in its wake a debate about price gouging.

At a gas station in Orlando, they were selling two-dollar bags of ice for ten dollars. Lacking power for refrigerators or air-conditioning in the middle of August, many people had little choice but to pay up. Downed trees heightened demand for chain saws and roof repairs. Contractors off red to clear two trees off a homeowner’s roof—for $23,000. Stores that normally sold small household generators for $250 were now asking $2,000. A seventy-seven-year-old woman fleeing the hurricane with her elderly husband and handicapped daughter was charged $160 per night for a motel room that normally goes for $40.2 Many Floridians were angered by the inflated prices. “After Storm Come the Vultures,&...

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About This Guide

The topics and questions that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Justice. The first part of this guide contains questions for those who are just starting to think in terms of what the right thing to do is. The second part of this guide contains questions that are more advanced.

Introduction

What are our obligations to others as people in a free society? Should government tax the rich to help the poor? Is the free market fair? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is killing sometimes morally required? Is...
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Reviews

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In pushing us to track the movements of our own moral compasses, Sandel lays out before us a cavalcade of conundrums, many based on real-life events, and forces us to arrive at our own decisions about the correct course of action. Pondering these hypothetical scenarios is all the more compelling because Sandel offers a working vocabulary of right and wrong based on the competing principles of liberty, equality and fairness. Not only that, he manages to present solid arguments both for and against the positions he considers, placing the burden squarely on the reader to make up his or her own mind.   (Reviewed by Micah Gell-Redman).

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Media Reviews
The London Times

The lectures were provocative and challenging. [The book] is, sadly, a far less engaging, less lively version of Sandel’s argument, though the relationship with the radio lectures does come through. He is a charismatic speaker who attracts huge audiences, but, without the compelling delivery, readers may find it hard to sustain the sense of moral urgency that Sandel urges upon us. I would, however, encourage them to persevere.

Shelf Awareness

This stimulating volume.. succeeds admirably in translating to a wider audience the challenging moral dilemmas [Sandel] and his students confront and will help thoughtful readers focus their thinking about what a just society might look like while sharpening the vocabulary they call upon to express their views.

Publishers Weekly

Erudite, conversational and deeply humane, this is truly transformative reading.

The Seattle Times

For those seeking a short course through moral philosophy from a witty writer, fast on his feet, and nimble with his pen, this thin volume is difficult to beat.

Reader Reviews
Esperanza Reynolds

Justice, a subject that inspires reason
On Tuesday, October 27th, 2009, Lisa Moreno, Pablo Carvallo and I attended a book review at Books & Books, Coral Gables, Florida. This book store chain has a calendar of events filled with exciting opportunities to get to know authors of books ...   Read More

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Justice on PBS
Sandel's writing style bears the unmistakable imprint of an accomplished teacher and lecturer. While reading certain passages you can almost see him pacing beside the lectern, pausing to give emphasis to a particular thought or casting his eyes over the audience in search of a willing volunteer for questioning. Interested readers can now take a seat in the lecture hall alongside Harvard College students, thanks to a 2009 PBS lecture series.

You can access the complete episodes, plus a wealth of related material on the series website: justiceharvard.org

Here's a preview:

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