Summary and book reviews of The Good, The Bad and The Difference by Randy Cohen

The Good, The Bad and The Difference

How to Tell Right from Wrong in Everyday Life

By Randy Cohen

The Good, The Bad and The Difference
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2002,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2003,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

The man behind the New York Times Magazine's immensely popular column "The Ethicist"--syndicated in newspapers across the United States and Canada as "Everyday Ethics"--casts an eye on today's manners and mores with a provocative, thematic collection of advice on how to be good in the real world.

Every week in his column on ethics, Randy Cohen takes on conundrums presented in letters from perplexed people who want to do the right thing (or hope to get away with doing the wrong thing), and responds with a skillful blend of moral authority and humor. Cohen's wisdom and witticisms have now been collected in The Good, the Bad & the Difference, a collection of his columns as wise and funny as a combination of "Dear Abby," Plato, and Mel Brooks. The columns are supplemented with second thoughts on (and sometimes complete reversals of) his original replies, follow-up notes on how his advice affected the actions of various letter writers, reactions from readers both pro and con, and observations from such "guest ethicists" as David Eggers and the author's mom. Each chapter also features an "Ethics Pop Quiz".

The Good, the Bad & the Difference is divided into seven sections:

  • Civic Life (what we do in public)
  • Family Life (what we do at home)
  • Social Life (what we do in other people's homes)
  • Commercial Life (what we do in situations where money is a factor)
  • Medical Life (the rights and obligations of patients and caregivers)
  • Work Life (ethics for the professional sphere)
  • School Life (moral questions from and about kids)

Each section provides a window into how we live today, shedding light on the ways in which a more ethical approach to the decisions we make, and to our daily behavior, can make a big difference in how we feel about ourselves tomorrow.

Commercial Life

Whoever commits a fraud is guilty not only of the particular injury to him who he deceives, but of the diminution of that confidence which constitutes not only the ease but the existence of society.
- Johnson, Rambler #79 (December 18, 1750)

That this is one of the book's longest chapters is unsurprising: It takes up the ethics of commercial transactions, our culture's most common sort of human interaction. One way or another, these questions involve money. In particular, they deal with shopping and with the essential conflict between buyer and seller. The former wants to pay the lowest price, the latter wants to receive the highest; the temptations of deceit are powerful. That is why the used-car dealer has long been depicted as a reviled and tormented soul. If the car had been invented one hundred years earlier, Verdi would no doubt have written an opera about a used-car dealer. (And he would have taken very different sorts of vacations, perhaps driving along ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

An enjoyable and thought provoking book - one to dip into rather than to read cover to cover.  

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Not unlike Miss Manners, Cohen tries to focus on problems that everyday people actually face....It's the perfect gift for anyone who doesn't read a lot, but feels strongly about how things ought to be done.

Reader Reviews
Randy Cohen

Yeah! ethics~ it's all good!!

David

pain in experiences and not very helpful in the real world

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