Thursday, January 23, 2014

Would You Kill the Fat Man? by David Edmonds | Book Review

Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong by David Edmonds

Wow!  What a surprisingly good book!  Seriously:  this book is totally doable for anyone and everyone.  I've never read a scientific nonfiction book that was written in such a way as to be so accessible to anyone, even those of us (ahem) without advanced science degrees!

Here's the trolley problem that is at the core of this intriguing book:  You are standing on a footbridge over a railroad track.  There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing next to a fat man.  If you push the fat man off the footbridge, his girth will stop the trolley, thus saving five lives, but killing the fat man.  If you do nothing, the trolley will hit the five people tied to the tracks, killing them all, but saving the fat man.  What do you do?

Well?  What would you do?  I read this book last week and I'm still not sure of what I would do in this situation.  And if you read the book, you'll be presented with many more variations on the scenario.  It's all so fascinating!  The author presents all the different scenarios with illustrated diagrams, so it's all clear and easy to understand your choices.  It's just hard to choose!

Speaking of choosing:  there's no "right" answer.  This is a book on philosophy.  There's no easy way to determine the correct action.  Isn't that just frustrating as all get-out?

David Edmonds does such a SUPERB job in his presentation of this part of philosophy.  Not only does he present the information in such a way as to be appealing and understandable to the general public, but he supplements it with the history behind the posing of the question and the modern scientific test being done on the subject.  (For instance, did you know that people are more like to be monetarily generous to a stranger after eating cheese?  Yup; you'll get to that near the end of the book.)

I highly recommend this book to everyone!

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