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Listen: Michael Schur lets you in on a little secret

'I believe—and this is controversial…'
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  • How to Be Perfect
  • 'I believe—and this is controversial…'

Publisher's Summary

From the creator of The Good Place and the cocreator of Parks and Recreation, a hilarious, thought-provoking guide to living an ethical life, drawing on 2,500 years of deep thinking from around the world. Read by the author, this one-of-a-kind audio production features guest appearances by members of the cast of The Good Place.

Most people think of themselves as “good", but it’s not always easy to determine what’s “good” or “bad” - especially in a world filled with complicated choices and pitfalls and booby traps and bad advice. Fortunately, many smart philosophers have been pondering this conundrum for millennia, and they have guidance for us. With bright wit and deep insight, How to Be Perfect explains concepts like deontology, utilitarianism, existentialism, ubuntu, and more, so we can sound cool at parties and become better people.

Schur starts off with easy ethical questions like “Should I punch my friend in the face for no reason?” (No.) and works his way up to the most complex moral issues we all face. Such as: Can I still enjoy great art if it was created by terrible people? How much money should I give to charity? Why bother being good at all when there are no consequences for being bad? And much more. By the time the book is done, we’ll know exactly how to act in every conceivable situation, so as to produce a verifiably maximal amount of moral good. We will be perfect, and all our friends will be jealous. Okay, not quite. Instead, we’ll gain fresh, funny, inspiring wisdom on the toughest issues we face every day.

How to Be Perfect is narrated by Michael Schur, Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Marc Evan Jackson, Jameela Jamil, and Todd May!

©2022 Michael Schur. All rights reserved. (P)2022 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"Michael Schur and the cast of "The Good Place" once again collaborate, this time to ponder today’s toughest moral questions using philosophical views from the East and West. Schur delivers hilarious sarcasm as he tackles ethics and explains how to balance morality and achieve virtue. Friendly and inviting sounding, he is able to take the difficult, oftentimes dry topic of philosophy and make it engaging and entertaining. Using a simple and steady pace, Schur's narration is coupled with signature voices from the show, including Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. The entire cast makes this production an intriguing and funny way to introduce or reintroduce oneself to philosophy and achieve goodness." (AudioFile Magazine)

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The book takes a major left-turn somewhere and…

I feel highly conflicted and maybe outright annoyed with this book. It’s very well written and his points are very clear. The audiobook quality and structure is incredible. But some later points he makes give me a headache. The book gets contradictory fast about halfway thru.

The introduction had me hooked and I immediately loved it. Maybe it would help me understand and navigate this “new moral philosophy” that I personally don’t get. Drive electric, be vegan, be a democrat or else. As he states in the intro, many of the modern “rules” to be perfect really do achieve the opposite, unintended result. Many people make choices without researching them. Some people actively ridicule others for making different choices. And they ridicule them even if they are *actually* making the overall more thoughtful choice.

He has clearly done his homework, citing lots of really appropriate philosophy pieces throughout the entire book. Appropriate examples, too! (Even when I couldn’t stand his opinions on them.) This was the meat that kept me reading most of the time. And the first few chapters, the first half of the book was awesome. Even through the rest, the homework was done. They were not lazy.

It was when he got deep into the political stuff: Pronouns, Washington Redskins, COVID, Chick-Fil-A, Ted Cruz, etc. I do not really find myself squarely in one or another camp about these issues, but about halfway through the book, he completely stops caring to speak in an unbiased, reasonable tone. If you’re a democrat, you will love this bit. Republicans will almost definitely be closing it right about here. A couple political quips was fine, eventually it felt like being harassed for having a different viewpoint. But the “educational” pretense made me see it through, begrudgingly.

Towards the late part of the book, I’m dreading any more chapters. He’s making strong claims about how *dead* philosophers would side on modern issues. I guess he knows and, you guessed it, they all agree unilaterally with him. The other side is dumb, no argument. Most of the time, I felt he had missed the point of the philosophy entirely, just to prove himself right! He casually bunts all recent major republican failures into the “bad ideas from the start” category, while doing deep dives and taking great mental-leaps to support even the most minor democrat inconveniences. Sometimes even using tactics he talked down upon in the first few chapters. So biased.

At one point, he suggests you enjoy artwork from “bad” artists, as long as you ‘actively condemn their actions while doing so.’ Should I pull out a sheet of paper and write “Woody Allen was … “ whenever I’m watching his movies? Perhaps self-flagellation is more appropriate. He makes the point that it doesn’t matter, but that I should ‘feel bad’ anyways, I guess? Sure, that would do the world a favor. Wtf?

If you like Ayn Rand, skip ahead 5 minutes when he talks about her. I’ll make it short and sweet (as he should’ve): he doesn’t really care for her. No need to read that bit at all.

Overall, the book is often really well done - but when he gets to the difficult ethical problems, I think he should’ve left it open-ended. I really, really think he should’ve handed this to a conservative-leaning editor. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have any political leanings in it, but they’re often inappropriate here. His political leanings detract from what would otherwise be a Malcolm Gladwell-level book.

It was so well done. Why was it so important to call everyone you don’t understand a nazi racist homophobe? You were at like the 1 yard line and you fumbled so hard. By all philosophical accounts listed in the book, the book is far less useful than it could’ve been because you just had to put your political digs in it.

42 people found this helpful

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Dumbed Down Philosophy & Corny Humor for the Woke

Michael Schur describes himself as an inveterate rule follower. He confesses that he rarely sees a rule he doesn’t feel compelled to follow. Schur has written a book about his thoughts on how to be “good” but it would be more aptly titled “How to Be Annoying.” While it is riddled throughout with corny attempts at humor, I did not find a funny line in the entire book. Schur is the kid everyone wanted to get after class in high school because of the way he spoiled everyone else’s fun with his incessant finger wagging and sucking up to the teacher. (And he is exactly the kind of person who might follow orders from any authority above him no matter how horrific.)

In short, Schur comes off as an annoying busybody who worries about such pressing moral dilemmas such as whether as a “moral vegetarian,” it is right for him to eat the chicken nuggets his daughter left on her plate. He gives several trigger warnings before mentioning the former name of the Washington DC football team (I won’t repeat it here so as not to offend his woke compatriots) and spends page after page for criticizing wealthy people for having too many luxuries and not giving away their money the way he thinks they should. What an original idea!

Schur has no conception that people tend to do what they want or like and not what some self-appointed Hollywood guru qua-comedy writer would like them to do. Schur is completely unable to overcome his own “goody two shoes” subjectivity about affluent people being morally obligated to give most of their money away except what they need to live (minus any luxuries). The book shows great sympathy for the “all-altruism all-the-time” opinions of Peter Singer, who most thinkers agree is as demented as Schur’s favorite nemesis and whipping girl, Ayn Rand, with her incessant praise of human selfishness.

After reading Schur, I think most readers would probably rather spend a year locked in a prison cell on bread and water with Ayn Rand than an afternoon discussing with Schur his favorite “namby pamby” moral dilemmas such as whether and under what circumstances to return his shopping cart from the mall parking lot or just leave it by his car.

But if you like smarmy, self-indulgent cliches, superficial Cliff Notes summaries of Cliff Notes summaries of popular philosophy and humorless attempts at humor, accompanied by the same tired trolley car hypotheticals that are beaten to death in every freshman philosophy 1001 class, and you also neither know anything about, or have any deep interest in, moral philosophy, then this book may be for you.

To the rest of the world, Schur owes a deep and unmitigated apology for his uninsightful, unfunny and boring manual of self-satisfied, sanctimonious, woke, political correctness.

Finally, if everyone spent their time doing what Schur recommends, then nothing of any substantial economic importance would ever be built, since Schur proposes that we give away all our resources to the poor and under-privileged in other countries. He titles his book “How to be Perfect” but admits that is impossible. He could also have titled it “How to be Broke”
which is at least something we can easily achieve by following his tired Sunday-school homilies and “give-it-all-away” personal value system.

27 people found this helpful

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Strong start but personal politics hurts story.

Great hope for this book that quickly dissipated as soon as politics reared its ugly head. I had the idea that this would be along the same line as Aziz Ansari book Modern Romance. (Not necessarily an expert but entertaining and informative.) I did not expect Mr. Schur to be a philosophy expert but I thought it would be a funny take on some of the concepts. I was left feeling frustrated because we are not aligned politically, and he made multiple statements that were pointed at people supporting “abhorrent politicians.” Every politician that was presented in a negative light being Republican, because of course how could it be any other way. Also, his over reliance on luck as a factor in life devoid of divine intervention is both sad and troubling. Overall not what I was hoping for but liberals might like it.

15 people found this helpful

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Some philosophy, lots of politics

If you, like me, think you are going to listen to a book that's a lighthearted overview of various schools of moral philosophy, sure, you'll find some of that here. I heard Schur on Tim Ferriss's podcast, love The Office and The Good Place, and so was excited to give this book a listen.

However, Schur can't help himself from including extraneous asides about how dumb and immoral various conservative politicians are, notably Ted Cruz, the Trump family, Paul Ryan, and many others. If you ever voted for any of these politicians, or anyone who agrees with them, Schur wants you to know that you're probably a dumb or at least immoral person. He even manages to squeeze in an entire section haranguing Americans who have the audacity to question Covid mask mandates and the governments that prohibited them. He also admits that he has only read the first 200 pages of Atlas Shrugged, rendering his ham-handed attack against Ayn Rand and Objectivism even more bewildering. If a serious writer wants to truly dismantle an opponent's argument, shouldn't he at least read to the end of the book? It makes me wonder what other shortcuts and elisions are baked into Schur's summaries of other philosophers.

I'm sure there are a ton of philosophy books on Audible that you can try - if you're not in the "cool kids club" of liberal Hollywood blue check mark Twitter, skip this one.

12 people found this helpful

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The Good Place Reunion

I purchased an Audible subscription specifically so I could download this audio book and listen to the wonderful people of "The Good Place" while learning more about ethics and philosophy. Is it morally wrong for me to give it a 5 star review before I've actually listened? I guess I will find out soon enough.

9 people found this helpful

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Too Politically Correct

I started out really enjoying the concept of this book; however, it degenerated quickly into political correctness. He could have used much better examples of the concepts than beating us over the head with current political blather. I loved the "Good Place" but this was just too much. Also, the humor is very forced and too consciously attempting to be clever. I traded it in and got my credit back.

7 people found this helpful

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Footnotes make it unlistenable

This book could’ve been a 10 out of 10 but there’s so many foot notes to break up the flow of the book that it’s unlistenable.

It’s a shame that this much amazing production went into it and nobody in a focus group picked up on this.

Please produce a new version without the footnotes

4 people found this helpful

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Love it!

I teach a high school philosophy class and really enjoyed The Good Place, so I grabbed this book and I am so happy I did. I hope to incorporate the humor in my philosophy class, making the great ideas accessible and enjoyable for high school students.

3 people found this helpful

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absolutely fantastic

I couldn't stop listening! the material is tough for an average person, but this book makes moral philosophy so relatable. it's witty, insightful, and just a joy to listen to

3 people found this helpful

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Michael Schur is a Dizzy Squirrel

If you're a fan of Michael Schur and The Good Place and have a layman's education on philosophy then this book is great. It is amusing, engaging, and educational. This book is perfect for people like you, so if that is an accurate description, then enjoy it and don't read further.

If you've spent some time studying philosophy, and consider yourself moderately educated then this book might frustrate you as it did me. Michael Schur aspires to be a good person and to that end he seeks out knowledge from philosophers of the past in order to build a sort of rule book to guide the reader into moral action. He admits in the biographical portions that he is a stubborn rule follower, to the point where he sometimes works against his own best interest. I believe that he gets so wrapped up in the guidelines for morality that he loses sight of the question.

Like the squirrel facing the man who circles nearby in the analogy he uses to describe perspective, Schur is so busy keeping his eye on the shifting variables in his equations that he misses something fundamental. Goodness and Truth are defined by context. Through most of the book Schur lists various contexts against moral situations to the point where he suffers moral exhaustion, when the truth is looking him right in the eye.

Consciousness is not bound by context, as it is able to understand many perspectives through imagination and empathy. The one simple guideline one must know in order to live a good life is that every contextual situation may be faced with love or fear. If we embrace our situation then we can rise to our highest self because the only thing shaping our context is our own beliefs.

Reading this book after reading Iain McGilchrist's The Master and his Emissary reveals that Schur's mode of thinking is extremely left brain in its perspective, one of legalism, reason and language. Right brain perspective is all encompassing, holistic, systemic, and non-judgmental. The right brain sends a signal in response to every idea that flashes through our conscious and subconscious mind that amounts to Harmony or Discord. that is the moral compass which Schur alludes to at the end of his book. That is all you need if you can drop the rationalizations and ego stories that prevent you from listening.

3 people found this helpful