The Quest for a Moral Compass

In this groundbreaking book, Kenan Malik tells the remarkable story of moral thought as it has developed over three millennia—from Homer’s Greece to Mao’s China, and from ancient India to modern America.

Unlike previous histories of the topic, Malik emphasizes the full scope of the world’s traditions, extending beyond the West to include chapters on Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, as well as studies of the Chinese masters Confucius, Mo Tzu, and their contemporary heirs. He also delights in the crossbreeding of disparate traditions, including the fertilization of the monotheistic religions with ideas from Greek philosophy.

Throughout The Quest for a Moral Compass, Malik vividly conjures the moral landscapes behind history’s most influential thinkers and breathes new life into nearly forgotten ethical debates from throughout the ages. He also challenges many of religion and philosophy’s most cherished ideas with provocative arguments from our own time.

The Quest for a Moral Compass confronts some of humanity’s deepest questions and lucidly brings morality down to earth, showing how social needs and political desires have shaped moral thinking over the ages. It is a history of the world told through the history of moral thought, and a history of moral thought that casts new light on global history.

KENAN MALIK is a writer, lecturer, and broadcaster. He is a presenter of The Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 (UK). He has taught at universities in Britain, Europe, Australia and the USA, presented many TV documentaries and writes regularly for newspapers across the world including as a columnist for the International New York Times. His books include Man, Beast and ZombieStrange Fruit; and From Fatwa to Jihad (Melville House, 2010), which was shortlisted for the 2010 Orwell Book Prize.

“Malik is admirably evenhanded in considering the history of ethical thought. An excellent survey for intermediate students of philosophy and a fine course in self-education for general readers.” —Kirkus Reviews

“What I love about Kenan Malik’s book is its unashamed, unabashed ambition: he wants to write the history of moral thought, not just in the Western tradition, but of all the traditions that make up the global argument about the direction that the human moral compass should point. The result is a tour de force of lucidity and narrative skill.” —Michael Ignatieff

“An absolute tour de force. I can imagine it replacing Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy on many a bookshelf—certainly mine.” —Tom Holland, author of In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire

“This is an extraordinarily rewarding investigation of the most striking, and contested, aspect of our humanity . . . To read it is not only to be better informed but also to be more alert to the assumptions that have guided human beings in the past, and to our capacity for goodness and wickedness.” —Raymond Tallis, author of The Kingdom of Infinite Space