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Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  781 ratings  ·  164 reviews
On the Swiss border with Austria in 1938, a police captain refuses to enforce a law barring Jewish refugees from entering his country. In the Balkans half a century later, a Serb from the war-blasted city of Vukovar defies his superiors in order to save the lives of Croats. At the height of the Second Intifada, a member of Israel's most elite military unit informs his comm ...more
Hardcover, 183 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  781 ratings  ·  164 reviews

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Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
The brevity of the book (183 pages of text consisting of an introductory prologue, four case studies, and a brief epilogue + notes) belies the expansiveness of the material and how much reflection the book deserved. (In my case I needed a respite after each chapter to let things sink in.)

I pulled out a quote that, although not Eyal Press's own prose, illustrates a major conclusion: "Conformists are often though to be protective of social interests, keeping quiet for the group. [...] By contrast,
Mikey B.
There are four very different beautiful individuals portrayed in this book. Certainly the most commendable is the Serbian, Jevtic, who rescued Croatian prisoners by pretending they were Serbians; he thus saved their lives from horrendous beatings and quite possibly death. If Jevtics’ rouse would have come to light, he almost certainly would have been in mortal danger.

Sometimes I found the writer, Eyal Press, taking his own preconceived ideas to the interview. For example in the case of Jevtic he
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In the uncertain hours of life we want to find a way to believe. We want to find people we can believe in. Within the pages of this beautiful book I found the stories of those who did what they knew to be right. They are the people who try hard to find a way to prevent or mend what seems bound to fall apart around them. Emotionally healing and highly recommended.
Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: amazon-vine
What motivates someone to object to the status quo because their conscience informs them that those around them are wrong? When we hear stories of soldiers who disobey orders they believe to be illegal, of police officers reporting the corruption of their colleagues, of corporate insiders exposing the illegal activities of their companies, what is our reaction? Sometimes, these people are hailed as heroes, people who resisted the pressures to conform with evil and stood up for what was right. Bu ...more
Paul Secor
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
An emotion and thought provoking book, one that should be read by everyone, although it probably will only be read by a small minority and won't be read by people who might benefit most by it.

For the first half of the book, I found it uplifting to read about individuals who acted according to their consciences, without concern for what would be best for them. Then, a pattern of retribution for their actions developed - from authorities and from society - society meaning other people. Jobs were l
Jul 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful thought-provoking book which describes the stories of four unrelated people of different nationalities, in different situations who act on their own beliefs to go against the grain of society to make hard choices to do the right thing. I kept asking myself: would I have the courage to do what he/she did? What sets these people apart is that they were not a part of an organized group fighting for justice. I can easily put myself in the position of someone joining a group to fi ...more
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
While I was interested in the profiles featured and moral questions raised in this book, I ultimately found it difficult to enjoy because it was so poorly written. There were sentences so convoluted and poorly phrased that I needed to re-read them several times to try to figure out what the author was trying to say. I believe I encountered my first run-on sentence fragment.

It's really a shame, because I wanted to like this book. I'm always interested in voices of dissent, especially lone voices
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
'....the fiercest conflicts take place inside a person's mind and heart as commitments that once went unquestioned come to be reexamined and, at a certain point, betrayed.'

The book takes its title from the Hebrew expression yafeh nefesh, the English translation of which is 'beautiful soul.' The best way to sum up the theme of this book is to steal the title of a late 80s Spike Lee movie: 'Do The Right Thing.' This is a book about doing the right thing. It uses a set of four mini-biographies of i
Oct 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting that yafeh nefesh which literally means "beautiful soul" is used disparagingly in Israel to describe "those whose cast judgment at an extremely safe remove from the place where hard choices have to be made." This book looks at four beautiful souls in hard-choice lands ( a border agent illegally letting jews through the Swis border in 1938, a Serb saving Croats Serbia in 1992, an elite unit IDF soldier refusing to serve in Israeli occupied territories in 2003, and an Enron whistleblo ...more
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was excellent. It focuses on four people who decided to stand up for what they believed was right, even though everybody else was going the opposite way. One man helped refugees illegally enter Switzerland during WWII. One saved Croats in a prison camp even though he was a Serb. One IDF soldier refused to serve in the occupied territories. And one woman lost her job trying to expose illegal financial practices that ruined thousands of lives.

These people were extraordinary in some ways,
Edward Sullivan
Feb 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fascinating, provocative book that seeks to explain the behavior of "righteous" individuals--those who, when all those around them do evil or are silently complicit in it, are not--people who break ranks, act alone, and risk everything including their lives in order to do the moral thing.
Feb 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, ethics
A must-read for anyone interested in moral courage.
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"At the center of our moral life and our moral imagination are the great models of resistance: the great stories of those who have said "No." - Susan Sontag

This book was just what I was hoping it would be - inspirational, thought-provoking, relevant. While it certainly does not read like a novel, it examines the decisions of four individuals who were faced with "choices and dilemmas we all face when our principles collide with the loyalties we harbor and the duties we are expected to fulfill."

Larry Bassett
I am a war tax resister and like to think that I am following my conscience and doing the right thing by refusing to pay federal income taxes that finance war and killing. So I came to read this book thinking it would replicate and reinforce my thinking. And in some ways it did but in many ways it did not.

The people explored in this book were a part of The System for the most part but came for some reason to believe that the system was wrong and they had to go against it. They did that with anxi
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An insight into how difficult and to what personal cost it takes to resist institutionalised inhumanity. These individuals, saw, their fellow humans as that. Its a depressing realisation that collectively we don't.
Mar 13, 2012 rated it really liked it

This is a thought provoking book, a deeply reflective one that seeks an explanation for the behavior of the 'righteous' - those individuals who, when all those around them are 'doing evil' or are silently complicit in it, are not - those who do 'the good thing', the moral heroes who act alone, defy the group norms, break ranks, risk their positions in society, their livelihoods, their lives, simply to be 'good'. In the author's search for an explanation of this behavior, Press considers some bas
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Thoughtful examination of individuals who chose to stand on principle and stand apart from the group. Press analyzes literature and interviews resisters and their families to examine what makes these people different from the rest of us. He opens with an example from WW II, when a German police squad in Poland, when offered a choice to participate or not in the execution of Jewish women, children and elderly, most conformed and complied with their orders. Some police, however, when offered a way ...more
Apr 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very interesting non-fiction book about 4 people who "did the right thing".
Each person gets their own section of the book, so the reader does not have to read it in order
nor all at one time. Although I hope I would be as "good" and "brave" as the first 3 people.
After reading this book, I would never do what this brave 4th person did. Even though what she
did was right...the author makes doing what she did sound like a hopeless endeavor without any
kind of recompense. In fact it makes such a perso
Sam Killermann
Apr 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well-written, compelling stories of historical figures I never knew, and am happy I now know of. That said, the book provides little more than these stories, which I found disappointing. I was expecting more in the way of non-fiction theory and praxis related to the subtitle, but got mostly non-fiction historical accounts of people who embodied those concepts. This shortcoming, I admit, is more in my assumption of what the book was than it was a shortcoming of the author to provide it, which is ...more
Feb 27, 2012 rated it liked it
A series of well written stories of men and women who went against
rules they knew to be morally wrong. The men and women could see
no other action to take; Although the consequences were initially harsh,
they have been later regarded by many as heroes.
The last story was of Lyla Wydler, the financial advisor who was fired for questioning
the practices of Stanford Financial that led to their downfall. She didn't realize how
corrupt her industry had become,
from the paid off politicians, the regulator
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book because it focuses on those who have stood up for the greater good and made an impact on the world in their own way. I am struck by how many whistleblowers have been tried to be locked away or completely mistreated to the point of being paupers. I think Eyal Press also wrote this in the hopes that more people will learn from these upstanders. I also like the questions that are raised in the book and whether or not there are cultural, biological, or life experiences that lend ...more
Margaret Sankey
Mar 24, 2012 rated it liked it
A spare and realistic case study of three whistleblowers--with the hard lesson that the things that make people willing to act against the conformity of the majority (already being outsiders, defying authority, having a different vision of the organization than their peers) is often something that makes them easier to attack and discount, and which tends to make their subsequent lives difficult and a painful discouragement to others who might break ranks.
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
When Eyal Press' book, Beautiful Souls was released, he was interviewed on multiple TV talk shows, which piqued my interest. He presents himself in a thoughtful, serious, and earnest manner. Mr. Press has written a short, easy to read non-fiction about "Saying no, breaking ranks, and heeding the voice of conscience in dark times". You will meet a varied group of people who had the personal inner reserve to stand by their own conscience. Don't we each wonder if we would have that fortitude?
Apr 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Bridget; Julia
Shelves: favorites
This book is incredible. Looks at what makes people say no to the norm and yes to what is right by all objective thought. Looks deeply into the situations of a Swiss guard, Serbian captive, Israeli soldier, and financial whistle-blower. Touches on psychological experiments and if the "objectors" are really the rebels most folks think they are. A great read.
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Patsy, Mary
Recommended to Lorrie by: Judith
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a wonderful book to read that verifies and legitimizes the need to say "NO" or tell the truth even when you personally have nothing to gain (but perhaps a lot to lose) except for the maintenance/substantiation of your own integrity.
Mar 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
A great, surprisingly scholarly book that doesn't shy away from hard questions.
Mar 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Very interesting, thought provoking analysis of why some people chose to do the right thing even when it comes at high risk.
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting read. It ties different historical events together through psychology and sociology. Really makes you ask "what would I have done in that situation?"
Feb 10, 2012 marked it as to-read
Sounds like an interesting complement to William Ian Miller's book The Mystery of Courage.
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book - thankfully short, so one doesn't get lost in a universe of no doubt hundreds of thousands of individuals who have stood up against their societies and injustices of one sort or another. The fact that the author picked four examples was admirable, and restrained.

Four individuals: a Swiss citizen who in the late 1930s quietly let Jews fleeing Germany into his country due to his position as a state police commander along the border. Paul Gruniger "was 47 years old, ... a pale u
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