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Help: The Original Human Dilemma

Author(s): Garret Keizer

ISBN13: 9780060816148

ISBN10: 0060816147


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  • In a book the San Francisco Chronicle called "unclassifiably wise" and a "masterpiece," noted Harpers essayist Garret Keizer explores the paradox that we are human only by helping others, and all too human when we try to help.

    It is the primal cry, the first word in a want ad, the last word on the tool bar of a computer screen. A song by the Beatles, a prayer to the gods, the reason Uncle Sam is pointing at you. What we get by with a little of, what we could use a bit more of, what we were only trying to do when we were so grievously misunderstood. What well be perfectly fine without, thank you very much.

    It makes us human. It can make us suffer. It can make us insufferable. It can make all the difference in the world. It can fall short.

    "Help is like the swinging door of human experience: I can help! we exclaim and go toddling into the sunshine; I was no help at all, we mutter and go shuffling to our graves. Im betting that the story can be happier than that . . . but I have a clearer idea now than I once did of what Im betting against."

    In his new book, Help, Garret Keizer raises the questions we ask everyday and in every relationship that matters to us. What does it mean to help? When does our help amount to hindrance? When are we getting less help, or more, than we actually want? When are we kidding ourselves in the name of helping (or of refusing to "enable") someone else?

    Drawing from history, literature, firsthand interviews, and personal anecdotes, Help invites us to ponder what is at stake whenever one human being tries to assist another. From the biblical Good Samaritan to present day humanitarians, fromheroic sacrifices in times of political oppression to nagging dilemmas in times of ordinary stress, Garret Keizer takes us on a journey that is at once far, ranging and never far from where we live. He reminds us that in our perpetual need for help, and in our frequent perplexities over how and when to give it, we are not alone.

  • Garret Keizer

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    Keizers learned, wise, compassionate and occasionally angry book will help anyone who reads it. With any luck it will be read and discussed by book groups, in churches, in faculty lounges and, indeed, wherever people gather because we all need a little help sometimes.

    - Daniel McMahon, The Washington Post

    This eloquent inquiry into how humans help or do not help one another ranges widely in philosophical issues. A former Episcopal priest, Keizer (The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin) offers no panaceas or programs for becoming a better or happier person. Instead, he presents well-written, irreverent and perceptive essays that examine why humans offer assistance and how that assistance is accepted. Drawing on examples from religion, literature, history and personal experience, he delves into a number of very different giving experiences. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, assistance is spontaneously given, but in a limited manner that doesnt involve a long-term commitment. To illustrate how help can backfire, Keizer recalls how Norman Mailer helped to gain parole for convicted killer Jack Abbott, an aspiring writer, who, once released, went on to murder again. Keizer recounts, at length, the familiar tale of the French town of Le Chambon, which sheltered Jews from the Nazis. Many who were hidden never returned to thank their rescuers not out of ingratitude, Keizer says, but because to revisit the town would have meant reliving a time of unspeakable horror. Keizers provocative essays on the limits and contradictions of giving are refreshingly nonjudgmental. "Help is a part of our humanity," he concludes, but "its paradoxes define us" as well. Agent, Peter Matson. (Sept. 9) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

    - Publishers Weekly

    In this rambling and rambunctious meditation on the nature of help, Keizer (A Dresser of Sycamore Trees) attempts to unravel the various methods that humans find to help one another. He searches for the meaning of help through his own encounters with aiding others and retellings of the biblical story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), contending that help is not simply a form of altruism but is based on our desire and intention to give aid. In addition, help is so much a part of our human character that we find ourselves asking whether or not we should help someone in need and, if so, how much we should lend our assistance. Although Keizers narrative jumps around in such an unfocused way that the overall point often gets lost, the book will nevertheless be popular with fans of his previous works. Most libraries will want a copy.

    - Library Journal


Help: The Original Human Dilemma

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