Two months after the al-Qaida attacks on the World Trade Center, Michael Dirda, editor of The Washington Post’s “Book World,” wrote to ask a number of writers, including me, to write about our favorite “comfort” books — ones we returned to in times of stress, “if only for the balm of the familiar and beloved.” I was glad to accept the invitation, not least because of that word “balm.” In the wake of the devastation, I had gone back to Michel de Montaigne’s Essays; the contrast they offered, I noted in my journal, had felt like “balm for the soul.”
Although moral philosophy has an important place in life, it is often overlooked.
People ask legal questions and political questions, but they do not always ask moral questions, said Sissela Bok, author of Exploring Happiness, during Tuesday’s morning lecture series in the Amphitheater.
“It’s so important for people to ask moral questions with respect to, for example, our president and what political candidates are doing,” she said.
Sissela and Derek Bok were scheduled to give Thursday’s morning lecture but instead replaced Jules Feiffer, award-winning cartoonist and author, who was originally slated to appear Tuesday but whose flight had been canceled.
The question of what makes us happy, says Derek Bok, is just about as old as the human race — but we may not be much closer to understanding it now than we were in the Stone Age.
Dr. Bok and his wife, Dr. Sissela Bok, will speak with Roger Rosenblatt at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater. Last year, the Boks published books in tandem about the definition and pursuit of happiness.
Sissela, a philosopher, ethicist and senior visiting fellow at the Harvard Center for Population Studies, wrote Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science. Her book is an expansive and lucid overview of the many disciplines that study happiness, including philosophy, psychology, theology and economics, and also personal narratives.
Roger Rosenblatt is running out of friends.
Joined by his colleagues and confidants at 10:45 a.m. each weekday in the Amphitheater, Rosenblatt will lead discussions on the literary arts ranging from cartoons to television to children’s literature. This is his third year playing the role of host — the series began in 2008 and recurred in 2010. And because each week requires a minimum of five friends, he joked that his resources are wearing thin.
“I also wanted to make sure that everyone in the group was older than me,” Rosenblatt said, “but that’s getting more and more difficult.”