September 15, 2020

Michael J. Sandel

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes world-renowned philosopher MICHAEL J. SANDEL—author of the internationally bestselling What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?—for a discussion of his latest book, The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good?. He will be joined in conversation by PREET BHARARA, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and author of Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law.


These are dangerous times for democracy. We live in an age of winners and losers, where the odds are stacked in favor of the already fortunate. Stalled social mobility and entrenched inequality give the lie to the American credo that "you can make it if you try." The consequence is a brew of anger and frustration that has fueled populist protest and extreme polarization, and led to deep distrust of both government and our fellow citizens—leaving us morally unprepared to face the profound challenges of our time.

World-renowned philosopher Michael J. Sandel argues that to overcome the crises that are upending our world, we must rethink the attitudes toward success and failure that have accompanied globalization and rising inequality. Sandel shows the hubris a meritocracy generates among the winners and the harsh judgement it imposes on those left behind, and traces the dire consequences across a wide swath of American life. He offers an alternative way of thinking about success—more attentive to the role of luck in human affairs, more conducive to an ethic of humility and solidarity, and more affirming of the dignity of work. The Tyranny of Merit points us toward a hopeful vision of a new politics of the common good.

About Author(s)

Thomas Levenson is a professor of science writing at MIT. He is the author of several books, including The Hunt for VulcanEinstein in Berlin, and Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist. He has also made ten feature-length documentaries (including a two-hour Nova program on Einstein) for which he has won numerous awards.

David Dobbs is the author of My Mother’s Lover and of books describing vicious fights over trees, fish, and Darwin’s reefs. His features and essays for National Geographic, the New York TimesThe New York Times Book ReviewSlatePacific Standard and other publications regularly win awards and spots in annual “Best of” anthologies. He is currently working on projects about blindness, madness, transplants, autopsies, and how we get lost and found.