Skip to main content


The Vexing Virtue

Eric Felten


List Price: 25.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (4/17/2012)


A witty, provocative, story-filled inquiry into the indispensable virtue of loyalty—a tricky ideal that gets tangled and compromised when loyalties collide (as they inevitably do), but a virtue the author, a prizewinning columnist for The Wall Street Journal, says is as essential as it is impossible. Felten illustrates the push and pull of loyalties— from the ancient Greeks to Facebook—with stories and scenarios in which conflicting would-be moral trump cards trap the unlucky in painful ethical dilemmas. The foundation of our greatest satisfactions in life, loyalty also proves to be the root of much misery. Can we escape the excruciating predicaments when loyalties are at loggerheads? Can we avoid betraying and being betrayed?

When looking for love and friendship—the things that make life worthwhile—we are looking for loyalty. Who can we count on? And who can count on us? These are the essential (and uncomfortable) questions loyalty poses.

Loyalty and betrayal are the stuff of the great stories that move us: Agamemnon, Huck Finn, Brutus, Antigone, Judas. When is loyalty right, and when does the virtue become a vice?

As Felten writes in his thoughtful and entertaining book, loyalty is vexing. It forces us to choose who and what counts most in our lives—from siding with one friend over another to favoring our own children over others. It forces us to confront the conflicting claims of fidelity to country, community, company, church, and even ourselves. Loyalty demands we make decisions that define who we are.

Praise For Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue

“In an extraordinary meditation, Eric Felten begins with a seemingly simple subject--loyalty--and then carefully peels back all of its myriad layers of complexity. It is a work that is both erudite and readable, and teaches you something.”
Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man and The Origins of Political Order

“The year is still young – or not yet middle-aged – but I doubt I’ll read a better new book in 2011 than Eric Felten’s Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue. I’d say this even if I weren’t bound by loyalty to my friend Felten. He’s done something that’s hard to describe, since I’ve never read a book quite like it. It’s a moral exploration, a collection of poignant and funny stories, a brief sociological history, and a primer on how to think ethically and carefully and honestly. Every page has at least one witty insight that will make you stop reading and look briefly into the middle distance. And it’s a page-turner…”
—Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard

“This is a delightful book, written with style and wit, and Felten…has produced something truly unusual – a book that is at once sophisticated, entertaining, educational, and challenging….immensely enjoyable.”

“What's perhaps most intriguing about the book is that [Felten] increasingly moves beyond simply framing the dilemmas of loyalty and takes positions that are all the more arresting because of their nuanced, self-aware character. Felten understands the power of passion and the insistent waywardness of the human heart, which in effect has a mind of its own.”
—History News Network,

“With wit and insight, Felten illustrates the push and pull of loyalties-- from the ancient Greeks to Facebook-- with stories and scenarios in which conflicting would-be trump cards trap the unlucky in painful ethical dilemmas. Even though loyalty can be one of our greatest satisfactions in life, it can also be the root of much misery.”
—Tucson Citizen / Shelf Life

Simon & Schuster, 9781439176863, 320pp.

Publication Date: April 26, 2011