Cover image for Ethical ambition : living a life of meaning and worth
Ethical ambition : living a life of meaning and worth
Bell, Derrick, 1930-2011.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury, [2002]

Physical Description:
183 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BJ1611.2 .B34 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From the New York Times bestselling author Derrick Bell, a profound meditation on achieving success with integrity.

As one of the country's most influential law professors, Derrick Bell has spent a lifetime helping students struggling to maintain a sense of integrity in the face of an overwhelming pressure to succeed at any price. Frequently asked how he managed to be so extraordinarily successful while never giving up the fight for justice and equality, Bell decided to spend his seventieth year writing a book of insight and guidance. The result, Ethical Ambition , is a deeply affecting, uplifting, and brilliant series of meditations that not only challenges us to face some of the most difficult questions that life presents, but dares to offer some solutions.

Using incidents from his own life, Bell also looks to literature, history, and other contemporary figures who have refused to compromise their beliefs. In chapters that explore passion, faith courage, inspiration, humility, and relationships, Ethical Ambition address the most fundamental issues of life.

Author Notes

Derrick Bell is an internationally recognized legal scholar, civil rights activist, and writer. He currently teaches at New York University School of Law, and is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestseller Faces at the Bottom of the Well.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Bell, law professor and former civil rights lawyer, has repeatedly shown himself a model of principle and conscience. The first black tenured professor in the Harvard Law School, he endured personal sacrifice and criticism after taking a voluntary unpaid leave of absence to protest the school's failure to secure a woman of color in a tenured-track position. Bell provides substantial insight into his struggle to meet what he calls an ethical standard. He admits that an obsession with ambition, even in an altruistic sense, may violate the ethical obligations owed to family. He explores the conflicts of issues in his own religious traditions that he negotiates to reach a higher spiritual awareness often lost in traditional religions. Bell also cites examples of widely known ethically principled individuals--W. E. B. DuBois and Martin L. King Jr., among others--who often strove for higher ethical standards, alone and at great personal cost. His book offers great insight into how an individual seeks to live by the highest of personal standards and ideals. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this little guidebook, the controversial Bell shares his experiences of living an ethical life in the crucible of conflict, discrimination and protest. Bell notably walked away from a tenured position at Harvard Law School to protest the lack of minority women faculty members (he is now a visiting professor at NYU). When many asked how he could give up such a successful position, Bell responded that material success could not satisfy his desire to succeed ethically by pointing out the inequities of the system. Bell contends that religious faith and his religious community have provided the foundations for his desire to live an ethical life, and he urges those who would live with moral integrity to explore a variety of faiths. He stresses the importance of commitment in relationships, as well as the necessity of humility in serving others. Finally, he discusses a series of "ethical inspirations" ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. and Paul Robeson to Medgar Evers and Daniel Ellsberg. Bell's noble aspirations to lead a life of ethical ambition may inspire others. Yet his story overflows with such success, both ethical and professional, that he appears to live a charmed existence. Has he ever struggled with his own shortcomings and failures? Has he ever failed? Bell's schemes for living ethically seem more idealistic than realistic. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

These three books take different approaches to the basic question, How can we live a meaningful life? To find an answer, Vanier (Becoming Human) turns to Aristotle, offering a detailed account of his views on the virtues. Vanier shows that Aristotle based his ethics on a cultivation of individual excellence that did not exclude the values of friendship and life in society. Vanier does not, however, wholly embrace Aristotle, arguing that his system was elitist and needs to be corrected by Christian compassion. Like Vanier, Kekes (The Examined Life) emphasizes the virtues, but his approach to the good life is pluralistic rather than Aristotelian. Arguing that no formalist doctrine such as Kant's can provide universally valid rules for leading a moral life, he instead maintains that the study of admirable individuals furnishes the guidelines we need. Among those Kekes finds worthy of emulation are Montaigne and Thomas More, who balanced public responsibilities with private commitments. Kekes offers a close analysis of their conduct, thereby hoping to convey a sense of how choosing a personal ideal is influenced by general moral constraints. Bell suggests a more personal way of addressing life's meaning, discussing incidents in his own life that may help others find an answer to this question. In particular, he stresses his need to subordinate personal ambition to the Civil Rights Movement. His principled stand involved him in several crucial conflicts, one of which led to his resignation from the faculty of Harvard Law School. (He is now a visiting professor at NYU.) Bell also presents insights on his friendship with women and on religion, again from a personal perspective. These three books are highly recommended for all public libraries.-David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.