The book: We may think that we are pretty good people. Despite not being in the upper echelons of morality, most of us think that we are above average. The Character Gap (Oxford University Press) uses recent psychological research to show readers otherwise. We are certainly not as good as we think we are — we all have serious faults that we are totally oblivious to, but most of us are not cruel either. Christian B. Miller ’99 uses psychological research and philosophy to help us understand the gap between who we are and who we think we are. Once that is understood, Miller shows how to use this knowledge to become the moral people we want to be.

The author: Christian B. Miller ’99 is a philosophy professor at Wake Forest University and is the author of Moral Character: An Empirical Theory and Character and Moral Psychology.

Opening lines: The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, can bring out the worst in our characters, and the year 2012 was no exception. The scene was a local Target store in South Charleston, West Virginia, just after midnight. One of the shoppers was Walter Vance, 61, a pharmacist who lived his entire life in the area was admired by his friends as a generous and kind person. He was busy looking for some new Christmas decorations. As a coworker said, “He was so excited about Christmas this year, he wanted everyone to enjoy the holiday he loved so much.”

            But Vance had struggled with heart problems for many years, and suddenly he collapsed to the floor.

            Imagine you are shopping at Target and happened to turn down a crowded aisle where you encounter a man in distress. What would you do? Help him in some way, of course. Wouldn’t everyone?

            Well, it turns out that many of the shoppers did nothing at all. They walked around his body. Some even stepped over his body! It was only later that several nurses administered CPR. But it was too late. Walter Vance died that night in the hospital.

            We might immediately think — surely those were awful, cruel, and heartless people, the dregs of society, the worst of the worst. Unlike ourselves and the people we know, the shoppers were the exceptions, the “bad people.”

            However, we need to be cautious. For as we will see in this book, there is a good reason to think that many of us would have done the same thing if we had been in a similar situation. We have characters that can lead us to neglect a person’s obvious and immediate needs.

            “Where is the good Samaritan side of people?” said Vance’s coworker. “How could you not notice someone was in trouble?”

            These are important questions. This book will begin to answer them.

Reviews: “This is a very valuable book at a moment when our society could use a dose of openness and a sense of forgiveness.” — E.J. Donne Jr., Georgetown University