Book Review                                      Online Exclusive


Be Good  

How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything  


by Randy Cohen, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, Calif., 2012, 318 pp., $24.95 hardcover

In Be Good, Randy Cohen collects his favorite questions and responses from his 12 years writing “The Ethicist,” a column on sorting out personal dilemmas that appeared weekly in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. His book suggests reasonable people can disagree on what ethical behavior is.

Many individuals sought Cohen’s advice through his prominent column, not just on what they should do but why they should do it.

The book covers an array of ethical questions involving money, civic life, animals, sports, work, arts, technology, religion, school and medicine — 18 chapters in all.

I found many interesting scenarios, including these:

  • “Recently a friend told me that he and his wife were expecting a baby, cautioning me that this news was confidential. Once they went public, I told my wife, who is very upset that I didn’t tell her the news the minute I heard it. She says that on nonprofessional matters like this, there is an expectation that a husband would tell his wife and that the confidentiality would not be violated. Is she right?”
  • “My friend and I met for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. The tab was $60 and we split the cost, each paying $30. My friend told me that he would expense his own share of the meal. (He gets reimbursed up to $25 by his boss.) Thus, he paid $5 for dinner while I paid $30. Was this fair or should we have divided the reimbursement with each of us paying $17.50 for the meal?”

In his responses, Cohen displays an entertaining dry wit, typically offering a rationale. However, I could not recommend this work to professional educators seeking something relevant to K-12 schooling. In the chapter on schools, most questions pertained to college-level situations.

Reviewed by Paul A. Shaw, director of educator ethics, Georgia Professional Standards Commission, Sautee, Ga.


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