Moralistic Meandering: Book Review

A few months ago, I read Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex,and Business and wrote a review for a website. The website didn’t run it for reasons I’ll simply describe as conflict of interest related.

I did some further research on this book and found a number of positive features. These articles interviewed the author or ran an article by the author as a tie in to the book or featured this book on a “best of” list.

And I don’t get it.

I don’t think those other sources read the same book I did. As you will see below, I think the book has some serious issues that, if left to be some kind of touchstone for morality in the modern age, could be pretty damaging. This got me thinking, how do books run press? How does the review/book press determine what is actually a good book? How many of us, when using the internet to direct us to our next read, think critically about the motivations of the sources of the recommendations?

These are questions I am exploring on my own. For now, here’s the review.


an unimpressed reader


By Eden Collinsworth

Morality is as complicated a subject as it is relevant. The reasoning that creates arbitrary rules about intimate partnerships is the same reasoning that ensures communities condemn theft and murder. The creed that aligns an individual’s life with what they believe is right is also the same creed that elects officials and causes widespread fear. The topic of morality is incredibly nuanced and has been discussed by philosophers, theologians, and psychologists at length. In an age where discussions on morality are growing thornier, thinkers on the subject have their work cut out for them.

Morality is the subject of Eden Collinsworth’s new book, BEHAVING BADLY: THE NEW MORALITY IN POLITICS, SEX, AND BUSINESS. Following her success instructing Chinese businessmen in Western manners, Collinsworth attempts to construct a rulebook of modern morality through interviews and anecdotes.

The book begins with an attempt to define the word. For one rambling chapter, Collinsworth leads us through her move to London, her reservations about covering such a broad topic, and a conversation with a convicted murderer. The pages in this chapter fly by because Collinsworth’s conversational style is easy to read and because there is a promise that at some point the slippery subject of morality will be somewhat pinned down. However, the promise is never satisfyingly fulfilled.

The rest of the book follows this pattern. Collinsworth’s stories are engaging and her self-deprecating humor colors the page. The subjects chosen for interviews are colorful themselves and vary from the founder of Ashely to Cadence Bushenell, author of Sex and the City, to a female combat veteran. Collinsworth gives readers vivid depictions of her interviewees lives and demeanors and does justice to their opinions on her subject. These interviews prove her incredible resourcefulness and determination to answer her central question: what is the relevance of morality today.

But the question is never answered, nor is it really engaged. Collinsworth ends where she began, with her own staunch opinions about the state of morality in modern culture. From title to last page, Collinsworth argues that these times are unsettling because we have lost a hold on the rulebook of morality. From the loss of the importance of monogamy to the acceptance of gay culture, Collinsworth treks through a complicated thicket of thought with a bulldozer. It is not an open engagement with the idea of morality, as her prologue promises, but an unrelenting condemnation of the current culture.

Collinsworth’s tangents, the most enjoyable part of the book, don’t lead to any increase in understanding the subject of morality and instead read as an attempt to string together a years worth of inconclusive research. Morality and manners differ significantly. What perhaps should have been a pivoting of target audiences from Chinese businessmen to broader English-speaking readers has turned a degree too far. What was a noble undertaking twists into a pearl-clutching lecture. Collinsworth provides yet another resource for those looking for reassurance that we can make something great again or at least condemn those who we feel made it bad in the first place.


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