Strangers Drowning Book Summary By Larissa MacFarquhar

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Strangers Drowning is an impressive 2015 book that covers the incredible stories of people who decided to devote their lives to helping others.

This book paints a powerful portrait of what it means to live a life of altruism, selflessness and what sort of cost one needs to pay in order to make a difference in the world.

It's truly thought-provoking and inspiring for those looking for new ways to be more giving and do more good.

Strangers Drowning Book

Book Name: Strangers Drowning (Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help)

Author(s): Larissa MacFarquhar

Rating: 3.8/5

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Categories: Motivation & Inspiration

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Author Bio

Larissa Macfarquhar is an established editor and writer who has been adding her thought-provoking work to The New Yorker since 1998.

She has conducted extensive interviews with many major personalities in the entertainment, fashion and other fields, including Quentin Tarantino and Diane von Furstenberg.

A multi-cultural daughter of diplomats, Larissa lives in New York City and Strangers Drowing is her first book - a masterpiece that reveals her writing prowess that has earned her innumerable accolades over the years.

Why Altruism Is So Selfless: Discovering What It Means To Help Others Without Worrying About Yourself


If you want to know if you have what it takes to become an altruist, Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar offers an exploration into the psychology and motivations of never-ending compassionate acts.

The book highlights the often overlooked reality that despite the good intentions behind these acts, they also require strength and selflessness – taking away from yourself in order to give to others.

You’ll read about real-life stories of people who have gone out of their way to help strangers and learn that family isn’t always first when it comes to altruism, as well as how this powerful drive can save someone in danger.

You’ll explore why altruism is seen by many as selfish, even though it requires immense sacrifice, and gain insight into what being a true altruist takes.

By reading Strangers Drowning, you can discern whether or not you have the selfless capacity to join those ranks – helping everyone but yourself.

Altruism Is More Than Just Helping An Old Lady Cross The Street: Dorothy Granada’S Selfless Act Of Healing Her Enemy Saved Her Life

Altruism means that you should help others without any expectation of reward, even if it is difficult or risky.

Dorothy Granada, an 80-year-old nurse in Nicaragua, is an example of this kind of altruism.

She opened a clinic that provided care to members of both the Sandinista and Contra rebel forces even though there was still conflict between them.

Her willingness to provide care for all people regardless of their affiliation could have put her and her staff at risk but she did it anyway out of a sense of duty to herd humanity.

It turns out that practicing indiscriminate altruism was beneficial for Granada as well: one day, a Contra rebel who had been known for torturing and killing came to Dorothy’s clinic looking for help with a bullet lodged in his head, and since no other medical facility was nearby, he only had access to Dorothy’s clinic.

Thankfully, after treating the rebel, his gratefulness prevented the Contras from attacking the clinic.

It can be hard to practice indiscriminate altruism because of possible risks and inherent biases we may have towards those we want to help, but doing so can lead to immense amounts of personal growth while also potentially benefitting you in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Dorothy Granada’s story serves as an important reminder that being altruistic can be immensely rewarding and truly transform lives – including yours.

The Problem With Utilitarianism: How Does Binge Shopping Make You A Bad Person?

Utilitarianism is a morality system that advocates for the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Thus, when it comes to deciding between spending our money on expenditure not related to necessity or towards bettering the lives of those in need, utilitarian philosophy has a strict moral code – with no exceptions allowed for even our loved ones.

This was made clear using Peter Singer’s example of three people drowning in a pond – one of whom is your spouse.

According to utilitarianism, one should always try and save as many lives as possible.

No matter how much you love your partner, saving two strangers would still be viewed as morally superior than only saving one person you know and love.

In a nutshell, this philosophy encourages us all to consider human virtue over self-interest in order to achieve greater overall happiness.

The Meaning Of Altruism: Learning To Put Others First And Find Balance In Life

Balance In Life

One of the most satisfying pursuits in life is finding work that has meaning and purpose – but it can be difficult to do this while also seeking financial security.

Studies have shown that more people are opting for meaningful work over a well-paid and comfortable job.

Altruistic work offers many the chance to find their true calling – however, it usually requires sacrifices in terms of wealth and social status.

An example of this is the story of Baba, an Indian man who left his wealthy and respected lawyer lifestyle to open a leper clinic in a small town.

Though it meant taking care of ulcers, bandaging wounds and dealing with decomposing bodies, he nonetheless found joy in it as he was helping others.

However, Baba had to face a difficult situation when his wife Indu fell ill and had to take their infant son Prakash away for treatment: naturally, she needed help but Baba felt his 65 patients were more important.

Fortunately Indu was similarly altruistic and understood Baba’s decision; she eventually recovered and rejoined him at the clinic.

Seeking work with an altruistic purpose can certainly help some people find their vocation – but often at great cost as it could require them to make multiple sacrifices.”

Altruism In The Face Of Emotional Conflict: The Story Of Paul’S Life-Saving Donation

Altruists don’t shy away from helping others, even when it means putting their own health and emotional well-being at risk.

Take Paul for example.

He was a 40-year-old business manager from Philidelphia who answered an advertisement from in search of people looking for kidney transplants.

The profile he opened involved an elderly woman, Gail Tomas, and Paul immediately decided he wanted to help her by donating a kidney.

His surgeon was moved to tears at the sheer selflessness of his decision.

Paul’s family and loved ones were not happy with his decision and they tried to talk him out of it, but he refused to be dissuaded.

He fell into a mild depression after the donation process as he lacked a sense of purpose in life, but despite this he stayed positive about his decision and eventually formed a friendship with Gail.

This highlights how altruists are willing to assist those in need even if it puts their own health and emotional well-being in jeopardy: they still take the leap because they understand the importance of helping strangers who might otherwise have no one else providing them care or assistance.

The Risks Of Altruism: How Doing Too Much For Others Can Risk One’S Health And Life

When it comes to helping others, it’s important to choose the right cause and use the right methods.

Nemoto, a Japanese Buddhist monk, wanted to help those who were suicidal and created a website dedicated to this cause.

Unfortunately, he was soon overwhelmed by the despair of those people he was counseling due to the fact that in Japanese culture it’s uncommon for people to talk about their troubles or difficulties.

Nemoto had to learn the difficult lesson that even if you find your passion and purpose in altruism, sometimes you have to limit your efforts in order to protect yourself.

After experiencing breathing problems he decided to limit his volunteering and retreat to a remote temple where he only counseled those who actually sought him out for help.

He felt this way he could be more effective and not become exhausted from helping so many people at once.

No matter how strong your urge is to help others, it will not do them any good if you push yourself too hard and become sick in the process.

It is essential that No matter how strong our altruism is we must stay conscious of our limits in order for us truly be as helpful as we can be.

How Codependency And Altruism Can Be Intertwined: The Story Of Bill And Lois Wilson

Bill And Lois Wilson

Sometimes, our desire to help those we love can turn into a pathological form of altruism.

The story of Bill Wilson and his wife Lois is one of the most well-known examples of this phenomenon.

When they first met, he wasn’t drinking, but as they got married and started a family, he began drinking heavily.

Although she was desperate to rescue him from alcohol, there was something else going on – her feelings of superiority over Bill fed her need to remain in control.

Research has shown that this pattern is common for people with an altruistic desire to help their partners struggling with addiction – many come from families with a history of substance abuse and use the addict’s condition as a way to avoid dealing with their own issues.

This results in unhealthy codependency on the part of the helper, who requires their partner’s alcohol abuse for their own sense of self-worth.

Even though there are people out there who have a pathological desire to be altruistic, it is important to remember that these individuals often end up being misunderstood or labeled as ‘bad.’ It is important to remember that most do-gooders are just trying to help even when it comes at a cost.

The Ridicule Of The Do-Gooder: Why Heroes Who Sacrifice For Others Are Often Portrayed Unfairly

Popular fiction has created an unflattering portrait of altruism and altruists.

In novels such as The Plague by Albert Camus and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the lead characters are portrayed as rejecting any notion of heroism.

They underscore that their actions should not be interpreted as heroic or saintly – they simply do what is needed of them.

In Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom, the character Walter sacrifices himself for his loved ones but is eventually left with a feeling of frustration and loneliness.

This serves to highlight that good deeds can have unexpected consequences, celebrating no-one in particular but immersing the reader in thought-provoking ideas about human nature and morality.

All in all, popular fiction has painted an antiheroic (sometimes even ridiculous) version of the selfless act – turning away from its potential for glory, instead encouraging us to focus on the complexities and nuances behind selflessness.

Is Altruism Truly Selfless Or Are We Just Being Selfish In Disguise?


For a long time, altruism has been viewed as intrinsically selfish—it seemed to be nothing more than an act of self-interest.

People would help others in the hopes of being benefited in return.

Charles Darwin even believed that evolution was based on an individual’s selfish struggle for survival, so it didn’t make sense why anyone would go out of their way to benefit someone else.

Thankfully, this perception is now changing.

In 1990, sociologist Samuel Oliner published a ground-breaking article on non-Jewish people who had worked to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust; his work showed that true altruism does not have to be motivated by selfish reasons.

It may simply stem from an innate desire to help those in need without expecting anything in return.

This shift in thinking has highlighted the importance of altruistic behavior, as it can be immensely beneficial for society regardless of any material reward or recognition.

Wrap Up

The important takeaway of Strangers Drowning is that true altruism doesn’t always have to be driven by hidden motives.

It can just be a sign of us caring for others more easily and inspiring those around us to do the same.

To help promote this type of behavior in your own life, it’s recommended that you make small altruistic gestures as often as you can – from something as simple as giving directions without being asked or holding a door open for someone with their hands full.

It’s all about helping people who need it without expecting anything in return!

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Arturo Miller

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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