The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times
“[Beautiful Souls] provides rich, provocative narratives of moral choice . . . Press makes us wonder if we would have the strength to act against the crowd, and in so doing spread a bit of light in our own dark times.”—Michael S. Roth, The Washington Post
On the Swiss border with Austria in 1938, a police captain refuses to enforce a law barring Jewish refugees from entering his country.
In the Balkans half a century later, a Serb from the war-blasted city of Vukovar defies his superiors in order to save the lives of Croats.
At the height of the Second Intifada, a member of Israel’s most elite military unit informs his commander he doesn’t want to serve in the occupied territories.
History has produced many specimens of the banality of evil, but what about its flip side, what impels ordinary people to defy the sway of authority and convention? Eyal Press explores the flip side of banality through dramatic stories of unlikely resisters who feel the flicker of conscience when thrust into morally compromising situations.
Press shows that the boldest acts of dissent are often carried out not by radicals seeking to overthrow the system but by true believers who cling with unusual fierceness to their convictions. Drawing on groundbreaking research by moral psychologists and neuroscientists, Beautiful Souls examines the choices and dilemmas we all face when our principles collide with the loyalties we harbor and the duties we are expected to fulfill. The book culminates with the story of a financial industry whistleblower who loses her job after refusing to sell a toxic product she rightly suspects is being misleadingly advertised.
Eyal Press is the author of Absolute Convictions. His work has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Raritan Review and numerous other publications. He lives in New York City.
Beautiful Souls has been adopted for First-Year Experience programs at:
Brown University (RI); College of the Holy Cross (MA); Middlesex School (MA); Pennsylvania State University; Pennsylvania State University, Berks; St. Joseph’s College (NY); Queens University (NC); Washington College (MD)
Beyond the Book
Read more of Eyal Press’s written work in the archives on his website.
When he visited Pennsylvania State University, where Beautiful Souls was the inaugural Penn State Reads selection, Eyal Press spoke with WPSU/Penn State Public Media as part of their Conversations from Penn State interview series.
The author has also appeared on the Massachusetts School of Law’s program Books of Our Time, NPR, Democracy Now, and other programs to talk about moral choices, whistle blowers, and listening to voices of dissent. Here, watch him on MSBNC’s UP with Chris Hayes: