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

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  657 Ratings  ·  146 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
Paperback, 208 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Picador (first published February 14th 2012)
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(showing 1-30)
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Sep 23, 2012 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Nov 04, 2011 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Paul Secor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Judith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Mallory rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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 Katherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Larry Bassett
Mar 30, 2017 Larry Bassett rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, history
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
Edward Sullivan
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 Naomi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ethics, non-fiction
A must-read for anyone interested in moral courage.
Mar 13, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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 Cindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 27, 2012 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Zane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2012 Joanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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?
Margaret Sankey
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 07, 2012 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Lorrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Carrieuoregon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great, surprisingly scholarly book that doesn't shy away from hard questions.
Arjun Narayen
Jul 19, 2013 Arjun Narayen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read, an enlightening book about how to stick with your conscience. It would be a 5-star book for me but the writing was sometimes a bit verbose for my taste at times.
Mar 09, 2012 B rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Cassie 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 Tom marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Sounds like an interesting complement to William Ian Miller's book The Mystery of Courage.
Jan 03, 2017 Jess rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Dec 19, 2014 Kate rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
Sometimes a book calls to me from the shelf of the used book section. This was one of them. The title caught my eye, and the subtitle intrigued me. I was ready to read about some uplifting situations and the heroes who stood up for what they believed was right. I was in for a surprise, though. This was not a fluffy book just written to make me feel good--it was a meticulously crafted, well-researched text. I took my time with it because it was so dense, but also because I wanted to think about t ...more
Mar 21, 2017 Jean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jean by: Book club choice
More specifically ordinary people, with everything to lose, who are completely part of the system they decide to defy, not outsiders.
Sep 29, 2015 Angela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
The full title of this book is "Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times." It's a fascinating look at why people go against the norm to stand up for something that directly contradicts the group as a whole and which could ultimately cause great harm and/or suffering for doing so.

Press uses multiple examples to explore the reason people do this and attempts to use these examples to come up with an explanation for their actions. The first is a p
Maria Paiz
May 03, 2013 Maria Paiz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Doing the right thing is not always easy. In fact, in extreme situations, making the morally correct choice may in fact be damaging to our own wellbeing. In this book, Eyal Press presents four cases of people who, against all odds, rebelled against the system and chose to respect and heed their principles despite of what was demanded of them.

At some point or another, we've all faced moments where our beliefs and morals are challenged against what others expect from us. The pressure from our peer
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