In 2016, former Office writer and Parks and Rec co-creator Michael Schur launched his newest television show, The Good Place. The Good Place follows a group of people who due to a clerical error, after dying, end up in “the good place”. Rather than be shipped off to “the bad place”, the four characters attempt to become better people in hopes to earn their spots in paradise.
During the development of the show and over the course of fifty episodes, Schur and The Good Place writing staff would examine the endlessly contradictory scope of moral and ethical philosophy. Through this journey, Schur found the time to write a book about his research. With HOW TO BE PERFECT, he attempts to provide the correct answer to every moral question.
How do I even review this one? There is a lot of information here detailing various philosophers throughout history and their own unique viewpoint on how to live a moral and ethical life. To be honest, much of it just kind of washed over me. That’s not to say it wasn’t valuable information or that it didn’t entertain me from beginning to end, it’s just.. a lot. Schur knows this and tries his best to condense everything into concise chapters with questions like:
Should I punch my friend in the face for no reason?
Should I tell my friend their shirt is ugly before their big job interview?
Should I take three pieces of cheese from this cheese tray that Is clearly marked one per customer?
Can I still enjoy art if it is made by terrible people?
These questions are then broken down and viewed through the lens of philosophers like Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Albert Camus and many others. Schur notes that attempting to work through all the correct ways to react to every question and situation would most likely lead to a phrase he’s coined as “moral exhaustion.” It is difficult enough to try and do what is right most times, especially when the other option is usually much easier and far lazier. If you try and do the right thing 100% of the time, it is likely that you’ll end up like the TV show’s titular character Chidi Anagonye, hopelessly paralyzed and unable to make even the simplest decision. What this book does is allows you to make not only moral decisions but those that you can live with.
I am a big, big fan of The Good Place and consider it in terms of consistency one of the best TV shows from start to finish. It is hilarious, heartwarming, heartbreaking and hopeful. So even though I was already excited to read it, my interest increased tenfold when I saw that Schur brought in the show’s cast to help him narrate the audiobook. Interspersed between chapters and subjects is The Good Place’s delightful score which in turn adds another enjoyable layer to an already engaging listen.
Micheal Schur isn’t pretending to be an expert on the subject of moral philosophy (he shudders to think of the reactions of true philosophical scholars), but what he produced here I believe is good enough for the average person. Although the subject matter does get bogged down at times, it isn’t long until Schur comes up for air with a joke or hilarious anecdote. Definitely pick this one up and please consider the audiobook. I can’t imagine reading the book alone will provide as rich an experience.