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The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty Hardcover – March 3, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Part plea, part manifesto, part handbook, this short and surprisingly compelling book sets out to answer two difficult questions: why people in affluent countries should donate money to fight global poverty and how much each should give. Singer (Animal Liberation) dismantles the justifications people make for not giving and highlights the successes of such efforts as microfinance in Bangladesh, GiveWells charitable giving and the 50% League, where members donate more than half their wealth. Singer alternately cajoles and scolds: he pillories Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who has given less than his former partner, Bill Gates, and lives far more extravagantly: His toys include a large collection of vintage military aircraft and a 413-foot oceangoing yacht called Octopus that cost him over $200 million and has a permanent crew of sixty. Singer contrasts Allens immoderation with the work of Paul Farmer (a cofounder of the international social justice organization Partners in Health) and the cost of basic health services in Haiti ($3,500 per life saved), or malaria nets ($623–$2,367 per life saved). Singer doesnt ask readers to choose between asceticism and self-indulgence; his solution can be found in the middle, and it is reasonable and rewarding for all. (Mar.)
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Review

Advance praise for The Life You Can Save

“Part plea, part manifesto, part handbook, this short and surprisingly compelling book sets out to answer two difficult questions: why people in affluent countries should donate money to fight global poverty and how much each should give. . . . Singer doesn’t ask readers to choose between asceticism and self-indulgence; his solution can be found in the middle, and it is reasonable and rewarding for all.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“If you think you can’t afford to give money to the needy, I urge you to read this book. If you think you’re already giving enough, and to the right places, still I urge you to read this book. In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer makes a strong case–logical and factual, but also emotional–for why each of us should be doing more for the world’s impoverished. This book will challenge you to be a better person.”
–Holden Karnofsky, co-founder, GiveWell


“In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer challenges each of us to ask: Am I willing to make poverty history? Skillfully weaving together parable, philosophy, and hard statistics, he tackles the most familiar moral, ethical, and ideological obstacles to building a global culture of philanthropy, and sets the bar for how we as citizens might do our part to empower the world’s poor.”
–Raymond C. Offenheiser, president, Oxfam America
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1St Edition edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400067103
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067107
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nicholas Soucy on March 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In high school philosophy, we read Singer's brief article that has been called the "Singer Solution to Poverty," (actually entitled "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"). I first read it in 2001 but he authored it in 1971. It changed the way I think of poverty.

"The Life You Can Save" is an extrapolation of the above-mentioned argument, and a response to the critics who dismissed his 1971 argument as unfair, unrealistic or simply unnecessary.

His credentials: Singer has been lecturing, writing and researching world poverty for more than 30 years, and, as with his 30-year study and defense of animal rights, Singer is able to convince most any reasonable critic that his positions have unassailable merit.

You can simplify this book's thesis by saying that if you fail to share the part of your income that is beyond what you need for a comfortable life, then that failure to share is a moral wrongdoing. In other words, if you can meet all of your shelter, food, education, transportation and other practical needs with $200 weekly, then any additional dollars you make above $200 should be given to responsible charities like Oxfam or to low-interest micro-lending institutions like Yunus's Grameen Bank.

So, whom do you share your money with? With what Singer calls the "extreme poor"-- those with little access to food or clean water, health care, education, protection from guerrilla warfare, etc. (Check out sites like Give Well and Charity Navigator to help determine which groups make the most of your money.) This is in contrast to Europe's and North America's "relative poor" who are hard-off, but still usually have shelter and clean water/food.

One way I like to describe his thesis is as a `redefinition of luxury.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this relatively short book, Professor Singer makes an extremely compelling case for why it is morally obligatory for capable individuals to aid beings that suffer. Those that are familiar with his previous work will recognize his basic arguments on poverty, which he has been expanding upon for over three decades. For those who are unfamiliar with Peter Singer, the argument he expands upon in this book is quoted as follows...

1.) "Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad."
2.) "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so."
3.) "By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Conclusion - "Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong."

This argument is valid, and I think sound, so if one is to reject the conclusion, one MUST reject one (or more) of the premises. If they accept the premises, then they MUST accept the conclusion.

Professor Singer's logic is solid throughout. His writing is both lucid and entertaining, making this work accessible, absorbing and crucially important to philosophers and philosophical novices alike. This is simply a must read for everyone.
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Format: Paperback
In this relatively short book, Professor Singer makes an extremely compelling case for why it is morally obligatory for capable individuals to aid beings that suffer. Those that are familiar with his previous work will recognize his basic arguments on poverty, which he has been expanding upon for over three decades. For those who are unfamiliar with Peter Singer, the argument he expands upon in this book is quoted as follows...

1.) "Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad."
2.) "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so."
3.) "By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Conclusion - "Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong."

This argument is valid, and I think sound, so if one is to reject the conclusion, one MUST reject one (or more) of the premises. If they accept the premises, then they MUST accept the conclusion.

Professor Singer's logic is solid throughout. His writing is both lucid and entertaining, making this work accessible, absorbing and crucially important to philosophers and philosophical novices alike. This is simply a must read for everyone.
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Format: Paperback
In "The Life You can Save" Peter Singer adopts his trademark utilitarian approach and consequentialist calculus to ethical issues that present themselves in globalization. The simplicity of his arguments and the conversationalist tone he employs make it very accessible to the widest audience possible. That is not to say that he is not engaged in current ethical debates, and that is not to imply that his metaethical foundations are not up-to-date. At times he seems to be reproaching the status quo and the comfort we rationalize, whereas often enough he makes all of us complicitous for those dying of hunger a world away. It is often contested that he lacks common sense, or that the demands he proposes as morally sanctioned purport sacrifices that are excessive; it is often stated that he is too simplistic or naive. What needs to be emphasized, however, is that Singer recognizes that the way we live now is irrational, incoherent and selfish. Perhaps that's what humans are but we should not try to apologize for how we live, rather accept his criticism, and acknowledge that we simply don't care that much. Albeit we should be honest enough to own up to the consequences that are spawned from the way we prioritize and compartmentalize. There is much one may disagree with; there are many ways to circumvent his thesis; there are alternatives that construct less demanding ethical standards; and there are details that may be contested or refuted as either utopian or too rigid. Truth be told Singer speaks the voice of reason, and his arguments need to be somehow dismissed otherwise we'd feel a sense of guilt overcome us... We'll find a way to not listen to him!!! This book is not specifically intended for an academic audience: it is intended for thinking, feeling human beings who wish to somehow stop the madness...
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