Ambition: For What by Deborah L. Rhode (Professor of Law, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School)
An engaging account of ambition, the forces that drive and constrain it, and whether it serves our deepest needs. Ambition is a dominant force in for human civilization, driving its greatest achievements and most horrific abuses. Our striving has brought art, airplanes, and antibiotics, as well as wars, genocide, and despotism. This mixed record raises obvious concerns about how we can channel ambition in the most productive directions. In Ambition, Deborah L. Rhode offers a comprehensive and engaging survey of the topic that focuses in particular on the nature of ambition in contemporary American life. To do this, she first explores three central focuses of ambition-recognition, power, and money-and argues that an excessive preoccupation with these external markers for success can be self-defeating for individuals and toxic for society. She then shifts to discussing the obstacles to constructive ambition and the consequences when ambitions are skewed or blocked by inequality and identity-related characteristics such as gender, race, class, and national origin. Rhode further addresses the ways that families, schools, and colleges might play a more effective role in developing positive ambition. Finally, she examines what sorts of ambitions contribute to sustained well-being, such as building relationships and contributing to society, rather than chasing extrinsic rewards such as wealth, power, and fame. Drawing upon leading thinkers on the topic and contemporary social science research while laying out an agenda for how ambition can be better developed, Ambition will force us reconsider the factors that shape our ambitions, and whether those ambitions meet our deepest needs and highest aspirations.