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Books on Character

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Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.

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Mortimer Adler, American philosopher and educator (1902-2001)
Randy Traeger
Deep River Books, 2014

Building Character One Virtue at a Time contains a treasure trove of inspiring quotes, stories, and essays about 52 unique virtues. Readers will begin to form a more virtuous self image as they identify who they truly are, where they belong, and where they need to go in order to be contributing members of our society and to live fulfilled lives.

Learning Leadership in a Changing World provides much needed direction and support in the form of the 4R Model of Leadership—a theoretically sound, conceptually straightforward, and educationally powerful framework. The framework and content of the 4R Model replaces the charisma and competence images of leadership effectiveness with a fresh vision of 'good leadership' as virtue-based influence and provides a developmental framework to put this new perspective into practice.

To the benefit of all of us, the world is filled with wise and virtuous people. Though many of them seem ordinary, they are all around us. This book is about some of them and the timeless bits of wisdom they have offered to us. It is not, however, a tribute to their inspiration and spirit. It is about that which they offered our world and how they so innocently were able to change it.

Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono
West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2014

In Making Grateful Kids, two of the leading authorities on gratitude among young people, Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono, introduce their latest and most compelling research, announce groundbreaking findings, and share real-life stories from adults and youth to show parents, teachers, mentors, and kids themselves how to achieve greater life satisfaction through gratitude. Most importantly perhaps, they expand on this groundbreaking research to offer practical and effec­tive common-sense plans that can be used in day-to-day interactions between kids and adults to enhance success and wellbeing.

Thomas Hurka
New York: Oxford University Press, 2010

In The Best Things in Life, distinguished philosopher Thomas Hurka takes a fresh look at these perennial questions as they arise for us now in the 21st century. Should we value family over career? How do we balance self-interest and serving others? What activities bring us the most joy? While religion, literature, popular psychology, and everyday wisdom all grapple with these questions, philosophy more than anything else uses the tools of reason to make important distinctions, cut away irrelevancies, and distill these issues down to their essentials. Hurka argues that if we are to live a good life, one thing we need to know is which activities and experiences will most likely lead us to happiness and which will keep us from it, while also reminding us that happiness isn't the only thing that makes life good. Hurka explores many topics: four types of good feeling (and the limits of good feeling); how we can improve our baseline level of happiness (making more money, it turns out, isn't the answer); which kinds of knowledge are most worth having; the importance of achieving worthwhile goals; the value of love and friendship; and much more. Unlike many philosophers, he stresses that there isn't just one good in life but many: pleasure, as Epicurus argued, is indeed one, but knowledge, as Socrates contended, is another, as is achievement. And while the great philosophers can help us understand what matters most in life, Hurka shows that we must ultimately decide for ourselves.

Charles Duhigg
New York: Random House, 2014

In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

Philip E. Dow
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013

What does it mean to love God with all of our minds? Our culture today is in a state of crisis where intellectual virtue is concerned. Dishonesty, cheating, arrogance, laziness, cowardice--such vices are rampant in society, even among the world’s most prominent leaders. We find ourselves in an ethical vacuum, as the daily headlines of our newspapers confirm again and again. Central to the problem is the state of education. We live in a technological world that has ever greater access to new information and yet no idea what to do with it all. In this wise and winsome book, Philip Dow presents a case for the recovery of intellectual character. He explores seven key virtues--courage, carefulness, tenacity, fair-mindedness, curiosity, honesty and humility--and discusses their many benefits. The recovery of virtue, Dow argues, is not about doing the right things, but about becoming the right kind of person. The formation of intellectual character produces a way of life that demonstrates love for both God and neighbor. Dow has written an eminently practical guide to a life of intellectual virtue designed especially for parents and educators. The book concludes with seven principles for a true education, a discussion guide for university and church groups, and nine appendices that provide examples from Dow’s experience as a teacher and administrator. Virtuous Minds is a timely and thoughtful work for parents and pastors, teachers and students--anyone who thinks education is more about the quality of character than about the quantity of facts.

Venerable Master Hsing Yun (Author), Tom Graham (ed.)
Buddha's Light Publishing, 2009

Being Good invites readers to consider what it means to lead a good life. In this collection of essays, Venerable Master Hsing Yun offers practical advice on specific moral and ethical issues, using passages from the Buddhist scriptures as points of departure for his discussions. Topics include controlling the body and speech, overcoming greed, ending anger, having patience under insult, getting along with others, as well as what it means to practice Buddhism, and the joys and blessings that can come from that practice.

Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett (eds.)
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011

This volume offers a fresh, timely, practical look at eleven key Christian virtues: faith, open-mindedness, wisdom, zeal, hope, contentment, courage, love, compassion, forgiveness, and humility.

Writing from a distinctively Christian perspective, the authors thoughtfully explore and explain these select virtues, seeking to nurture readers in lifelong character growth and to promote the centrality of the virtues to the Christian faith. Grouped under the headings Faith, Hope, and Love, the chapters each conclude with questions for further reflection.

The New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality returns with thought-provoking work to challenge our preconceptions about dishonesty and urge us to take an honest look at ourselves.

Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it's the white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely turns his unique insight and innovative research to the question of dishonesty.

But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives. With compelling personal and academic findings, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty will change the way we see ourselves, our actions, and others.

Comte-Sponville, Andre
New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2001

In an age of political correctness, individual virtue has shriveled into an anachronism for many commentators. Not for ComteSponville, a Sorbonne philosopher whose reflections on virtue bridge the gap between timely and timeless. Ascending from politeness (the slightest virtue, pertaining only to form and ceremony) to love (the ultimate virtue, binding society together, motivating all service and sacrifice), ComteSponville confronts his readers with the moral challenges essential to the enlargement of our character and the redemption of our humanity. The analysis of 18 virtues naturally focuses on foundational attributes such as justice and generosity, especially within the context of twenty-firstcentury expectations. Yet, again and again, the great moral philosophers of the past--Aristotle and Plato, Hume and Montaigne--speak up, shredding the smug complacency of modernity. And although he himself disavows any religious belief, ComteSponville opens the door to pious thinkers--from Saint Paul to Simone Weil--who see in mortal virtues a partial reflection of God's immortal goodness. His subject demands a sober seriousness, but Comte-Sponville still manages to avoid taking himself too seriously: humility makes it into his litany of virtues, as does humor. A laudable renewal of the ancient quest for ethical wisdom. Bryce Christensen

Damon, William
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988

Professor of Education at Brown University, William Damon offers the first, much-needed overview of the evolution and nurturance of children's moral understanding and behavior from infancy through adolescence, at home and in school.

Damon, William (ed.)
Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2002

Education in the United States has at last ended its failed experiment with separating the intellectual from the moral—and schools from K–12 to college campuses are increasingly paying attention to students' values and accepting responsibility for students' character. But how can we bring in this new era in character education in a way that makes the right kind of difference to young people? What are the approaches that will provide character education the solid foundation necessary to sustain it now and into the future? What obstacles in our current educational system must we overcome, and what new opportunities can we create? This book provides a unique perspective on what is needed to overcome the remaining impediments and make character education an effective, lasting part of our educational agenda. Each chapter points out the directions that character education must take today and offers strategies essential for making progress in the field. The expert contributors explain, for instance, how we can pass core values down to the younger generation in ways that will elevate their conduct and their life goals. They reveal why relativism has threatened the moral development of young people in our time—and what we can do to turn this around. And they show the critical importance of reestablishing student morality and character as targets of higher education's central mission. The authors make a strong case for "moral exemplarity"—actual human examples of moral excellence—as an effective tool of educational practice and describe how stoic "warrior" principles can offer a moral manner of managing one's emotions in times of pressure. Perhaps most important, they clarify the necessity of authority in any moral education endeavor—and show how it is actually a powerful force for both personal freedom and character building.

DeSteno, David, and Piercarlo Valdesolo
New York: Crown Archetype, 2011

Character. We want it in our leaders, we look for it in our spouses and friends, we try to teach it to our children. The prevailing view is that it comes from hard work and due diligence. It’s cultivated; it’s stable. But if character is so stable, then why do we so often disagree over who’s got it and who doesn’t? Why do we so often see paragons of virtue fall, see supposedly honest people deceive, and find ourselves surprised when those without a good bone in their body engage in acts of humility and generosity?

 In Out of Character: The Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us, we attempt to turn the prevailing wisdom upside down by showing that character, nobility, and goodness are all shaped to a high degree by forces outside of our awareness. We’ll take readers into our lab to provide first-hand accounts of how the best and worst of humanity arise from the interplay of these hidden forces and the emotions they evoke. From jealousy and bigotry to compassion and altruism, from cheating and hypocrisy to honesty and loyalty, from self-indulgence to self-control, we’ll provide a unique window into the forces that shape our character from moment to moment by watching these phenomena unfold before our very eyes.

Eberly, Don (ed.)
Lantham: Madison Books, 1995

Essays from prominent American thinkers on what individuals can do to re-establish their bonds with society.

Ellenwood, Stephan, et al
Boston: Boston University Press, 1988

The Art of Loving Well: A Character Education Curriculum for Todays Teenagers

Emmons, Robert
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007.

From Publishers Weekly
This fine, succinct contribution to the relatively new field of positive psychology (which seeks to promote emotional wellness, rather than treat disorder) focuses on what a French saying calls the memory of the heart. Emmons (The Psychology of Gratitude), a leader in the field and professor at UC-Davis, looks at gratitude from an interdisciplinary perspective, including literature, psychology, religion and anthropology. He demonstrates how it contributes to emotional equanimity and pleasure, richer personal relationships and greater health. Perhaps Emmons's most interesting chapter is on ingratitude, which Kant called the essence of vileness and which Emmons sees as resulting from the grudging resentment of one's own dependence on others. Gratitude is more... than a tool for self-improvement. Gratitude is a way of life Emmons says, and he ends by offering 10 ways to cultivate gratitude, including keeping a gratitude journal and learning prayers on gratitude. Emmons introduces an important topic through deftly synthesizing scientific and popular inspirational literature. (Aug. 6)

Gibbon, Peter
New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002

Is Michael Jordan a hero?... Lenny Bruce?... Why can't Charles Manson be a hero? These are among the questions teenagers pose to Gibbon when he addresses them on the subject of heroism. Gibbon, a research associate at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, answers in a series of brief reflections. Examining the writings of Emerson and Carlyle, the 19th century's premier thinkers on the subject, Gibbon extracts several characteristics of the hero: sincerity, persistence, intuition, austerity, bravery and virtue. He then defines a hero as a person of extraordinary achievement, courage, and greatness of soul. Reading through these lenses, Gibbon establishes his own hall of heroes, many not surprising: Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass; others more unexpected: Lucretia Mott, artist Kathe Kollwitz, educators Martha Berry and Horace Mann. He examines the models of the warrior-hero and the athlete-hero and their impact on American notions of the hero. Disgusted by the contemporary cult of celebrity, Gibbon asserts that celebrities lack the greatness of soul and moral vision that being a hero requires. Yet he explores with great candor the shortcomings of his own representative men and women. While Gibbon's enthusiasm for restoring the notion of heroism is admirable, his definitions are subjective and depend on the unlikely chance of our returning to a society like Emerson's in which values are commonly shared.

Hibbs, Thomas
Dallas: Spence Publishing, 1999

The portrayal of evil in film and television, frequently denounced as an attack on "family values" and an incitement to real-life violence, is more complicated and more disturbing than we realize. In a pointed challenge to both Hollywood and its critics, Professor Thomas Hibbs argues that the demonic anti-heroes and seductive comic evil of popular culture are not weapons in a conscious cultural assault but reactions to the apathy and conformity of American life.
While the movies of Frank Capra once celebrated the triumph of good over evil, George Bailey has given way to Hannibal Lecter, who through raw power and bold creativity lives "beyond good and evil." Professor Hibbs follows the trajectory of evil in American film and television, linking it to the spread of nihilism-a state of spiritual impoverishment and shrunken aspirations to which, both Tocqueville and Nietzsche warned, democracies are especially susceptible. The most recent product of Hollywood's fascination with evil is the comic nihilism of Seinfeld, in which the distinctively American pursuit of happiness is endlessly frustrated by dark forces beyond our understanding or control.
Professor Hibbs probes the themes and artistry of the landmark works of the cinematic quest for evil. A series of grisly films from The Exorcist to Cape Fear and Silence of the Lambs reveals a preoccupation with the power of evil. When evil ceases to terrify, it becomes banal, producing a comic view of the meaninglessness of life (Forrest Gump, Natural Born Killers, Titanic, The Simpsons). Seinfeld and Trainspotting represent nihilism's last stage, but not the last word, and Professor Hibbs considers how classical ideals-partially recovered in recent comedy (Pulp Fiction) and film noir (L.A. Confidential, Seven)-might point the way out of nihilism.

Kilpatrick, William
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993

For parents, educators, and policymakers, Kilpatrick's hard-hitting and controversial book will not only open eyes but change minds. He maintains that by stressing "feelings" rather than good behavior, schools and parents have failed to instill moral values in our youth.

Lickona, Thomas
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004

In his timely follow-up to the definitive Educating for Character, Lickona plucks the burden of moral corruption from society at large and plants it squarely in the laps of parents and teachers. He describes a society nearly bereft of character, and proposes that the solution is to awaken children's social consciences. Through a series of grim statistics and anecdotes from his research as a psychologist and educator, Lickona illuminates a culture that is lost (but not hopelessly), due largely to an overemphasis on academic achievement in lieu of formal character education. "The disturbing behaviors that bombard us daily-violence, greed, corruption, incivility, drug abuse, sexual immorality, and a poor work ethic-have a common core: the absence of good character." He defines 10 essential virtues that comprise good character and prescribes a six-part remedy, including modeling virtuous behavior, building a strong home-school partnership and getting involved with communities. Quotes from Aristotle, Martin Luther King Jr. and others make more eloquent points for why character matters, but the author's passion for creating a more civil and harmonious world is evident and inspiring. Lickona admits that changing the moral fiber of an entire generation is a lofty goal and that his solutions are ambitious: "The social-moral problems that beset our society have deep roots and require systematic solutions." However, this book can be one small step along that path, if it finds its way into the right hands.

Lickona, Thomas
New York: Bantam, 1992

Lickona, a professor of education at the State University of New York and the author of the highly praised Raising Good Children , addresses the controversial topic of "values" education and its place in today's classrooms. In a well-balanced presentation distilling his decades of experience, Lickona suggests practical approaches that have been developed by several programs of moral education. Proceeding from the principle that "there is no such thing as value-free education," the author demonstrates that character development is as necessary as academic achievement, and that parents and school administrators are increasingly aware of this need. In his view, two great values, expressed as respect and responsibiity, should define the public school's moral agenda. Acknowledging that values education has often proved divisive, Lickona specifies strategies likely, he believes, to make moral education effective and less anxiety-provoking for parents and teachers. This important study will be a resource for those concerned with the "ethical illiteracy" of children.

Oliner, Samuel P
New York: Basic Books, 2004

A passing motorist stops to help the passengers of a car that has crashed into an embankment. A hospice volunteer begins her shift in hospital ward caring for people with AIDS. A Vietnam chopper pilot stops the brutal execution of innocent civilians at Mylai by American soldiers. A firefighter responds to a routine call. All of these people are considered heroes, but what motivates such brave and altruistic acts, whether by trained professionals or just ordinary people?
In Do Unto Others, Holocaust survivor and sociologist Samuel Oliner explores what gives an individual a sense of social responsibility, what leads to the development of care and compassion, and what it means to put the welfare of others ahead of one's own. Having been saved himself from the Nazis at age 16 as the result of one non-Jewish family's altruism, Oliner has made a lifelong study of the nature of altruism. Weaving together moving personal testimony and years of observation, Oliner makes sense of the factors that elicit altruistic behavior - exceptional acts by ordinary people in ordinary times.

Postman, Neil
New York: Penguin Books, 1986

From the author of Teaching as a Subversive Activity comes a sustained, withering and thought-provoking attack on television and what it is doing to us. Postman's theme is the decline of the printed word and the ascendancy of the "tube" with its tendency to present everythingmurder, mayhem, politics, weatheras entertainment. The ultimate effect, as Postman sees it, is the shrivelling of public discourse as TV degrades our conception of what constitutes news, political debate, art, even religious thought. Early chapters trace America's one-time love affair with the printed word, from colonial pamphlets to the publication of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. There's a biting analysis of TV commercials as a form of "instant therapy" based on the assumption that human problems are easily solvable. Postman goes further than other critics in demonstrating that television represents a hostile attack on literate culture.

Coles, Robert
New York: Penguin Putnam, 1998

Child psychiatrist and Harvard professor Robert Coles has actively dedicated much of his life to exemplifying, teaching, and writing about the moral life. In his wonderful new book, Coles illuminates the ways in which children become moral--or not so moral--adults, drawing on case studies, talks with parents, visits to nurseries and classrooms, and interviews with children.

Coles, Robert
Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1989

From Library Journal
Using the "documentary study or psychiatric anthropology" approach of his previous works, Coles presents conversations with college, law, and medical school students that focus on the moral impact of their reading. For Coles, the study of literature is not a purely intellectual exercise but an encounter with exempla that bear on everyday moral dilemmas, and he argues that these students have come to see characters in novels as "buddies" that "help them make choices," find a direction, identify moral hazards, and understand their private lives. The argument is interesting, but the most compelling part of this loosely organized book is Coles's own reflections on the development of his own commitment to the moral dimension of literature and his memories of W.C. Williams, L.E. Sissman, and others.
- Richard Kuczkowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.

With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bobos in Paradise, has long explored and explained the way we live. Now, with the intellectual curiosity and emotional wisdom that make his columns among the most read in the nation, Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life.

This is the story of how success happens. It is told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica—how they grow, push forward, are pulled back, fail, and succeed. Distilling a vast array of information into these two vividly realized characters, Brooks illustrates a fundamental new understanding of human nature. A scientific revolution has occurred—we have learned more about the human brain in the last thirty years than we had in the previous three thousand. The unconscious mind, it turns out, is most of the mind—not a dark, vestigial place but a creative and enchanted one, where most of the brain’s work gets done. This is the realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, personality traits, and social norms: the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made. The natural habitat of The Social Animal.

Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to school; from the “odyssey years” that have come to define young adulthood to the high walls of poverty; from the nature of attachment, love, and commitment, to the nature of effective leadership. He reveals the deeply social aspect of our very minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. Along the way, he demolishes conventional definitions of success while looking toward a culture based on trust and humility.

The Social Animal is a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. Impossible to put down, it is an essential book for our time, one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world.

Bradshaw, John
New York: Bantam, 2009

Bestselling recovery expert and motivational speaker Bradshaw (Family Secrets), presents an in-depth survey of human behavior from many angles in a probing exploration of our inner guidance system. Beginning with magnificent moral moments (a black girl integrating a school smiles at a woman who spat at her), he interweaves his own tangled life experiences: he obtained advanced degrees in theology and philosophy, yet lost jobs after alcoholic binges even after a 12-step recovery program; he still felt like he was on the outside of life looking in and set out to change the direction of his life. Inviting the reader to join him on his personal journey to make sense out of the complexities and ambiguities of the moral/ethical order, Bradshaw divides his book into three potent and compelling sections: part one defines the nature of moral intelligence; the second section examines how to develop that intelligence. In the final pages, he outlines family goals and offers ways for readers to develop their children's moral intelligence. Bradshaw followers and many first-time readers will find this an extremely effective and valuable guide.

Bennett, William J. (ed.)
New York: Touchstone Books, 1996

From Publishers Weekly
Like Bennett's bestselling Book of Virtues, this volume gathers hundreds of stories, poems and essays that defend or illustrate virtue and family values. Quoting Flannery O'Connor, Bennett states the book's purpose: "You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you." Compass, just as portly as its predecessor, is arranged by seven life stages and challenges: the child at home and at school; the adult in need of perseverance, compassion, family fidelity, community, responsibility and faith in God. Selections, ranging in length from just a few lines to over 15 pages, come mostly from times when masculine virtue was considered the norm and men took center stage. Most are from European or Western culture, but a not inconsiderable number are drawn from African, Asian and Latin American traditions.

Bennett, William J. (ed.)
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996

Believing with Plato that "tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thought," former Secretary of Education Bennett ( The De-Valuing of America , LJ 4/1/92) has produced a McGuffey's Reader for the Nineties. The author draws upon a variety of literature ranging from biblical stories to political legends and speeches to illustrate the catalog of virtues--self-discipline, compassion, work, responsibility, friendship, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, faith--that he believes are foundational to strong moral character. Most selections are introduced by a short thematic note, e.g., "an honest heart will always find friends." Bennett's elevation of these virtues to moral absolutes renders the book's view of morality rather simplistic. In addition, the collection's lack of attention to women's and non-Western voices encourages the view that the experience of virtue belongs primarily to Western males. Still, this anthology will prove popular with some readers.

Bellah, Robert, et. al.
San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985

Habits of the Heart is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how religion contributes to and detracts from America's common good. An instant classic upon publication in 1985, it was reissued in 1996 with a new introduction describing the book's continuing relevance for a time when the country's racial and class divisions are being continually healed and ripped open again by religious people. Habits of the Heart describes the social significance of faiths ranging from "Sheilaism" (practiced by a California nurse named Sheila) to conservative Christianity. It's thoroughly readable, theologically respectful, and academically irreproachable.
--Michael Joseph Gross

Bellah, Robert, et. al.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

From Library Journal
The reception accorded the authors' Habits of the Heart ( LJ 3/1/85) should assure a cordial welcome for this follow-up volume. In it, the authors observe that people are losing trust in their institutions--governmental, religious, business, educational, etc.--and maintain that a more active participation by an enlightened citizenry in institutional affairs is essential for the well-being not only of America but of the world. They claim that large-scale institutions are amenable to citizen action and the influence of global opinion. The book is packed with vigorous thinking, and its value as a harsh stimulant cannot be denied. The one defect is that it is perhaps better fitted to arouse people on the need for asserting themselves than to assist them in the task of doing so. For readers who are seriously interested in societal problems.
- A.J. Anderson, Graduate Sch. of Lib. & Information Science, Simmons Coll., Boston