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Staff Recommends

Staff Reviews of Wood Library Books

Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do About It (Max H. Bazerman & Ann E. Tenbrunsel, 2011)

Leading business ethicists Max Bazerman and Anne Tenbrunsel’s Blind Spots (2011) examines the question of “Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It.”  Though most people would like to believe that they would do the right thing if a situation were to present itself, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel address the ways in which humans habitually overestimate their ability to behave ethically. 


The book cites a variety of real world examples, such as the collapse of Enron and the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy, to show how humans and businesses continue to act unethically, whether intentional or not.  Though the authors to investigate these subversions to ethical principles, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel also discuss how humans can work to do the right thing and bridge the gap between how they would like to behave and how they do behave.  

Molly McGonigal, Lead Intern


American Grace:  How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Robert D. Putnam & David E Campbell, 2010) 

American Grace is a very readable book which deals with complex questions in clear, straightforward prose examining ideas which keep the reader quickly turning pages.  It centers on the paradox that America is a deeply religious country, but it is also religiously diverse and remarkably tolerant of that diversity. 

Robert Putnam and David Campbell examine the last fifty years in American history in terms of what they regard as three major events in the religious life of the country:  (1) The sixties brought a diminishing of religious observance. (2) In reaction to that, the 70s and 80s were marked by a rise in evangelicalism and the Religious Right.  (3)  Since the 1990s, the younger generation, angry about the growing connection between faith and conservative politics, have left organized religion.  Putnam and Campbell chronicle this process and sometimes rely too much on description and not enough on analysis for my taste.  I wish that they had more often asked why?  But that, I think they would respond, is a different book.  This one is fascinating on its own terms.

This book surprised me in a number of ways.  I found the statistical findings contrary to what I thought were the “obvious truths” about American religion.  Just a few examples from the description of the book on Amazon:

• Between one-third and one-half of all American marriages are interfaith;

• Roughly one-third of Americans have switched religions at some point in their lives;

• Young people are more opposed to abortion than their parents but more accepting of gay marriage;

• Even fervently religious Americans believe that people of other faiths can go to heaven;

• Religious Americans are better neighbors than secular Americans: more generous with their time and treasure even for secular causes—but the explanation has less to do with faith than with their communities of faith;

• Jews are the most broadly popular religious group in America today.
(Book description, Amazon)

This is a very long book, but you can select the sections you are most interested in and read only part of it.  The first chapter lays out the order and format of the work clearly and provides a helpful map to the various aspects of the work. A good read!



Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff (James B. Stewart, 2011)

How important is the principle of honesty? How significant is the value of truth in our society? What happens when lying and dishonesty prevail?

DePauw graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart (DePauw, ’72) tackles such questions in his latest book, Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America. While his focus is primarily on the legal system and the rules of law, he is, in many ways, writing about the moral underpinnings of our society and the ethical behavior of individuals.

Jim Stewart writes that our system of justice only succeeds when witnesses promise to tell the truth and follow through. He argues there is a "perjury epidemic" in the United States and the consequences are profound with the erosion of our justice system. “False statements have a direct, immediate, and often devastating impact” on many stakeholders, Stewart writes, and “ultimately to the very moral fabric of the society in which we live.”

Stewart offers real-life cases to make his point. Tangled Webs gives us a microscopic look at the public tribulations and courtroom trials of media maven Martha Stewart, Bush White House political adviser Lewis "Scooter" Libby, baseball's home-run king Barry Bonds, and Wall Street money manager, turned crook Bernard Madoff. The book also introduces us to other individuals – some with easily recognizable names and others you never heard of – who were caught up in the webs of deceit through either blind loyalty or their own chicanery.

This book is not an easy read. Jim Stewart is an exceptionally skilled reporter and writer who provides highly detailed accounts woven into the complexity of the legal system. He also introduces a considerable cast of characters, so it can be challenging to follow the intricacies and the flow of each case study. Those challenges recognized, Tangled Webs is a very worthwhile read because it takes us into the heart of profoundly important issues in our society. Stewart doesn’t offer simplistic solutions. He does challenge us to grapple with really tough questions.    

Bob Steele, Director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics and Distinguished Professor of Journalism at DePauw University