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Ethical Ambition:
Living a Life of Meaning and Worth

by Derrick Bell

ISBN 1582343039 / 9781582343037 / 1-58234-303-9
Publisher Bloomsbury USA
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

Author of Ethical Ambition Derrick Bell is a constitutional lawyer currently teaching at NYU law school and is the author of seven books including the New York Times bestseller Faces at the Bottom of the Well. Ethical Ambition is a slim volume offering wise council on the matter of living a life of integrity and worth. Setting out six principles on which to live our lives Bell urges us to live a life of passion, to have the courage of our convictions, to rely on our loved ones and our faith for support, to have the humility to know when our best intentions go astray. It sounds like a book of ethical platitudes for the young written by a wise old paid-his-dues do-gooder with some interesting stories to tell. It is, but it is none the worse for that.

Bell has walked the walk in his own life as lawyer/activist in the NAACP but also in his academic life where he suffered the indignity of being stripped of his tenure and dismissed from Harvard for taking a principled stand. The really interesting parts of the book are Chapters 1, 3 and 6. The first is an unusual take on the notion of passion. The third is a fine example of what it means to have religious faith in the modern worlda world of science and technology-without compromising one's intellectual integrity. Bell is a non-theistic progressive Christian reformer in the mould of John Shelby Sponge who also understands how and why the Christian myths were created in the first place and why it is time to get beyond theism. The final chapter is a disarming confession of his own failures as a social reformer, specifically it is a critique of the arrogance and self-righteousness of liberal lawyers losing touch with their community, with real-world politics, and the needs of those whose rights they believed themselves to be defending and upholding. More broadly it is a retrospective of the failures of liberalism in the late twentieth century. Overall, Ethical Ambition is easy, if not always comfortable, reading, with more than enough in it to keep the reader interested and on their ethical toes. --Larry Brown [via]