I love the concept of what this family is trying to do. I think it's a great idea and wish there's more people thinking like this. I just wish the book was written a lot better. Hopefully, the final/edited version will be a bit more polished than the ARC that I got.
I love the idea of downsizing into a smaller house, donating half of the real estate proceeds to a charity that actually practiced what it preaches and trying to make a difference in the world. I love the idea of the family coming together to communicate about how to make a difference even if it is just a couple of villages in a faraway country ... hopefully, those two villages will pass the kindness and the lessons onto other villages until more and more people are not subsisting on just a dollar a day.
I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a lot throughout this book ... I know the author means well, but his writing style comes across so pretentious that it's hard to take his message so seriously. Not only that, it makes me wonder if some corporations are sponsoring him because he keeps dropping product names throughout the book (such as peeling the label off of Deer Park water bottle or the sweat soaking his Land's End polo shirt ... who really cares?). Those details may be minor in comparison to the message that the Salwens are trying to share, but they are annoying.
The Salwens are a family of four, a husband and wife along with two children, who decided as a family to give up half of what they own to support a village in Africa. That's the simplest version of this book. The book goes into details about how Hannah, the oldest child, who is also the first one to dream of this project, found out about a jarringly different world outside her priviledged life. It started with a volunteer project at school where the classmates went downtown to Atlanta to help serve the homeless. Instead of seeing them as faceless people, Hannah began to realize that these same people have feelings and dreams as she has ... and the more she talked about it, the more her family realized that they needed to do something to make a difference.
This is their story and while it is tedious to read in places and can use some serious editing/polishing, it is a thoughtful story of a family who came together to make a difference in the world. If I was to read this again, I would start with the last chapter. The last chapter was the chapter that convinced me that this book was a worthwhile read. My recommendation? Read that chapter first (not the Epilogue) because it will tell you where the family is at now and it ties up everything as well as providing a depth to the family story that needed to be told.
on January 28, 2010
While I enjoyed this book at the beginning, after a while the tone began to wear on me. To hear the authors speak of their "hardship" of giving up a massive house for a "much smaller" one of 3000+ feet over and over again got very old. They tried to make it sound like they were sacrificing. While giving any money to charity is noble, doing so while lauding one's own imagined hardships is a careful line to walk. This book fails in that respect. The authors try to make it sound like they are doing a major undertaking. Yes, moving houses is hard. Then we find out the wife is a founder a hugely successful company-one where each founder made hundreds of millions. So we're expected to feel empathy for this family giving $800k?
Don't get me wrong, I love their idea. I've acted on what I read here. I just think they missed the boat by trying to sound average. Their wealth is so far above what most people dream of that they come off as patronizing. The book really came across as: give half if you happen to be very rich. If you're middle class, donate clothes to a homeless shelter. There wasn't any middle ground.
Good concept, great idea, poorly laid out, and very thin on other charitable ideas.
It is a well- established fact that Americans like to consume. We like our adult toys, both for the personal enjoyment they bring and for their use as a symbol of our status. Very few Americans are willing to give up their massages, expensive automobiles, designer clothing, oversized homes, or anything else, but the Salwen family decided that enough was enough. Inspired by daughter Hannah, the Salwens agreed, as a family, to sell their beautiful, spacious home, move into something more reasonable, and take the leftover money from the home sale to donate to a good cause. They didn't want to just write a check, however. They wanted to find a specific cause and support it directly. They end up working among the people of Ghana, helping them find solutions to some of their many problems.
The Power of Half is an interesting concept for a book and what the Salwen's did was certainly noteworthy and inspiring. Not many Americans would be willing to give up their toys for any reason. But the Salwens agreed as a family that this was the right thing to do. Daughter Hannah got the ball rolling and the others eventually came around, agreeing that they did not need so many material possessions and that their time and money would be better utilized if spent in the service of the needy.
The Power of Half is an interesting book for several different reasons. I like the family communication and the open discussions that take place between parents and children. I also like the sacrifices that the Salwens make. Sure, they are already very well- off financially so making the sacrifice wasn't as difficult as it might be for others, but I still commend them for having the guts to go through with such a drastic, life- changing event. However, I do have a few problems with this book that prevent me from rating it much better than average. First, the family patriarch, Kevin, is a bit on the pretentious side. Kevin and Hannah Salwen composed the book and along the way, Kevin seems to pat himself on the back at every opportunity. There is nothing wrong with a little family pride, but Kevin takes this a little too far. Second, I was annoyed that this book didn't have more to say about specific people in Ghana. You don't really get to know the Ghana natives at all. There are no anecdotes, no success stories from an individual or family from Ghana who was directly influenced by the Salwen's charitable works. I'm sure that some success stories exist, but the book doesn't include any. Also, the book dwells a little too much on the sale of the Salwen's home and the decision- making process that led them to Ghana. It would have been better to devote more pages to the actual African experience.
Yet another problem I have with The Power of Half is that the immersion experience only goes halfway. The Salwen's stay in hotels and eat well. They don't live among the people and develop a feel for their lifestyle. They avoid true immersion, and this takes a little away from the story and it will leave some readers disappointed. I have read other, similar books about individuals immersing themselves in the local culture and it adds tremendously to their understanding of the culture and lifestyle of the native people. But the Salwen's apparently felt that total immersion would be too much shock to the system. Giving up the family mansion was bad enough.
I like that The Power of Half encourages similar charitable thinking in other people, but the book's advice and recommendation that everyone find a way to get by with half, in some aspect of their lives, might be a little unrealistic. The Salwen family's sacrifice is noteworthy, but one must realize that the Salwen's come from a privileged, upper class background. Not to downplay what the Salwen's did, because it is still admirable, but cutting your home in half is much more viable when you own a 5,000 square foot home than when you own a 2,000 square foot home. True, there are other ways/areas to downsize by half, but regardless of the targeted area, cutting something by fifty percent will not be as easy for some families as it is for others.
Americans live in a consumer- oriented society and most of us could get by with less. The basic concept of Power of Half is good, for it encourages charitable activity and the stripping away of our consumer excesses. The Salwen's deserve respect for sacrificing the way they did, in service to their fellow human beings. But the book's lack of anecdotes, the self- absorbed writing, and other problems lead to an average rating overall. I love the concept, but much like the book's title, I felt only half- satisfied when I finished reading.
When I saw that the author's live in the Atlanta area and this was a book about their daughter and family's journey into sacrificing to help others I knew this was a book I had to read. I was primed to really like this family and be moved by their story.
The book turned out to be more a story of project-management (which they may be successful at...the book ends without us knowing whether there is any real fruit being harvested by those they planned to help) and parenting responsible, decent children (which they are definitely successful at.)
Because I live near Atlanta I know that the Salwen's are upper "class" folks living in an upscale neighborhood with children attending schools that cost $20+k per year to attend (per child.) I begrudge them none of this. However, knowing that the only thing they appear to have cut in half is their home's "value" leaves me knowing that while they have done a great thing in donating sizable financial resources to alleviate poverty in Africa, they really haven't given anything that cost them dearly. They still live well, have substantial savings and investments that allow them to live well with two expensive homes and still write an $80k check, attend private schools and experienced no change in lifestyle, etc.
While I think their children have learned good critical thinking skills, how to make a commitment and stick with it, I was left with a sad feeling at the end of the book. In the end this felt like a very clinical, business-like approach to "managing" the ugly reality of poverty. Hannah and her family will still be seeing the homeless men (in growing numbers right now) in Atlanta poised beside the BMW/Mercedes crowd. Nothing appears to have changed either for the man that inspired Hannah's idea or for Hannah herself.
In the event that the family reads this review, I hope this and other reviews like it do not discourage you from continuing to give. I don't think that is the point of any of the reviewers (or myself.) I think we are hoping that you take another huge leap and share your successes and growth with us.
I'd like to ask Hannah a question (in a truly loving manner, Hannah, because I think you are fine young woman with incredible potential): How do you feel now when you continue to drive by the growing number homeless men, women and little children next to the BMWs and Mercedes on the streets of Atlanta? Should you encounter one of these people as you leave your $20k/year school grounds, are you conscious of the fact that between school, housing, transportation, food, utilities, clothing and entertainment, your family spends hundreds of dollars a day to maintain just your own individual lifestyle? You may not have considered this before, but I promise you if you do the math it is literally hundreds a day. Perhaps enough in a day to pay for a single mom to go back to school to learn a trade, or day care for a month so she can get a start in her new job, or rehab for the addicted veteran, or six monthly Marta passes for minimum-wage workers trying to get ahead. You've been given incredible privileges (rich in finances and family and education). To whom much has been given, much is required. I'm glad you serve with our local social service groups to help others. You have the time, talent and treasure to do radically more than that. I hope you are able to channel those blessings into serving in an administrative capacity (which may require working for a fraction of what you are "worth" but surprise you with the joy of being rich in other ways) for a group or organization that captures your heart.
I think this family is a good family with very good intentions. I am happy that this experience tightened their bonds as a family at a time when families are completely disintegrating. I just can't imagine this book inspiring many people. It would have helped a great deal if the Salwens had waited to write the book a couple of years from now when they could have included the successes and failures they encountered in their journey and had time to see what kind of changes it made in their individual and collective lives as well as the lives of those they intended to help. Would they have seen their contributions changing things so much that they continued to cut more and more of their lives in "half?"
Would they have found that just contributing money wasn't creating the change they wanted to see so they committed to giving more of their time and their hearts and talents through personal involvment? Would Hannah have agreed to leave the Atlanta Girls School and settle for a $10k/year school and provide a $10k/year scholarship to another girl so she could have the same privilege? Would the Salwen's forego a family vacation and give that money to the parents of a terminally ill child to take one last trip with that child?
I would love to have read something like this: "When we started on our journey we used to reward ourselves for serving others by going out to eat (this is in the book). Now we celebrate our ability to give and serve by inviting our newfound homeless friends out for a fine meal at our favorite restaurant (this is not in the book)." Oh, how I WISH this was in the book.
on January 13, 2010
I liked the premise of this book a lot, but I'm still a little torn at the end on how I feel about where they took it. Usually, when I accept a copy of a book for review, while I'm reading it I have a pretty good sense of how well its doing what it set out to do and whether I could tell other people it's worth reading, but here I'm really not sure.
In a way it's always inspiring when someone decides to do something really big. For just about anyone, selling your house and giving away half the proceeds is a big thing to do. I also really do like that they spent a lot of time thinking deeply about what to do with that money, and giving some insight into the fact that it's not just making an effort for others that's important, you should also try to make sure that you focus on somewhere that you can have a real impact.
I very much agree with the theme of social engagement and the dangers of getting too caught up in consumer culture. On the other hand, I think in a way it seems very explicitly intended to inspire us to give 'half' in some way ourselves and I guess I feel like they may be underestimating what that sacrifice would represent to other people. They were starting from a particularly privileged position financially that made something like this more viable. They do mention the possibility of giving up half in other areas of your life, but in general I suppose it just feels like they're setting the bar so high that they're less likely to really inspire action on the scale they're trying to recommend than to just leave readers thinking "Well some people can do that, but it's not going to work in MY life..."
I suppose in the end I like the theme and the conscious message a lot, but it felt like they were trying too hard, giving the impression everyone else would have to try too hard, and generally sounding too much like the whole thing was a book in the making from the beginning. I still think it's a decent book and it has the potential to be a source of enlightenment and inspiration, it's just not quite what it could have been.
on March 10, 2010
What I liked:
1. I really liked the portions contributed by Hannah Salwen, daughter of the primary storyteller and driver of the family's inspiration to do more for the world. Her "Hannah's Take" sections could easily be used in school curriculum to teach kids how they can make a difference in others' lives as well as their own. Each of her pieces speak to her experiences and provide concrete activities that can be done by families or individuals. She raises excellent questions in a thought-provoking way.
2. I enjoyed the 3rd of the book dedicated to the family's travel to Ghana. Kevin Salwen (the father and main narrator of the book) describes the trip from a reporter's perspective as well as from a father's. What I like best was being able to read about Hannah and her brother Joseph's growth as altruistic people. It was especially interesting to read about their awakenings to the always essential "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime" proverb.
3. I was inspired by the lessons these kids learned about follow-through, assertiveness, charity, and good works.
What I disliked:
1. The first half of the book (with the exception of Hannah's parts) dragged. It's a short book to start, and my guess is that an editor told Salwen to stretch it out. It could have been much more succinctly told. For instance, the story was mired in the decision-making process of the family (which seemed to take a year).
2. I found it hard to understand how the family was able to pay two large mortgages and other expenses on what seemed to be limited resources. Given that I had an advance reading copy to review, perhaps this issue was addressed by printing.
3. The ending was very weak. It would have been interesting to hear about what happened after the house was finally sold, how the money was used in Ghana, etc.
4. The writing of Kevin Salwen's portions was uneven. At points it was inspiring and peppered with effective imagery. Then, as I mentioned earlier, it seemed packed with filler. That was especially disappointing for such an inspiring and motivating story.
Overall, the message seemed to be that if you are enormously wealthy (as were the Salwens), you should be doing more with less so that those who have much less can use your resources to improve their lives and communities in very big ways.
I think I would rather have seen an entire book by Hannah Salwen. I expect that this will not be the last readers see of her.
on January 2, 2013
I enjoyed this book and it made me appreciate what I have and how I may share my blessings with us. I do believe we are blessed to be a blessing to others. It wasn't until near the end of the book that it explained that giving half away was not giving away half of everything you have but selecting one item that you can share half of with others. The book was repetitive and the information could have been given in a shorter amount of pages and time and still have gotten the point across that if we would give up some of our material things then others could possibly live a better life. I also believe we need to be careful how we help people so that they are receiving a "hand up" and not a "hand out". The poor need to be an active part of the solution to changing their situation in life.
I wanted to love this book. I saw the news story on the family a few years ago (probably the one they discuss that was on the Today show in the book), and remembered it quite distinctly when I read the description of the book. So I felt like I started off with a great outlook on this book. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed with the whole book and the Salwen adults.
The family's idea to sell their home and give half of the proceeds away to help people less fortunate then themselves is admirable. The seed is planted by their 14 year old daughter, who sees a homeless man next to a Mercedes in Atlanta and is bothered by that contrast and haves and have-nots.
The book (written by Kevin Salwen, the patriarch) attempts to chronicle the Salwen's family's efforts to sell their palatial showcase of a home in an upscale Atlanta neighborhood, and give half the money to charity. This also forces them to re-assess their copious belongings and priorities in their lives, as a suburban and well to do family of four. While they truly are a very kind and compassionate family, often helping at soup kitchens and shelters in the Atlanta area and giving a generous part of their annual income to charity as well, something about the story didn't quite sit right with me.
While they are clearly a privileged family, they kept wanting to downplay their materialism and one can understand that completely. But when so many people in this country are living right at the poverty level, but aren't homeless either, it made it hard to feel like the "sacrifices" the Salwen family was making were very meaningful. For one thing, the family buys a new, smaller house before they ever sell the mansion they live in. Okay, but when the first $80,000 donation to the charity they chose to spend their money in Africa, they had yet to sell their home, and with the blessing of Hannah and Joseph, use the childrens' college funds to make the payment(which I found to be a questionable move, yet maybe less so when you realize the family must be very solvent, and will definitely benefit from this giant tax write off). Throughout the book, Kevin Salwen talks about the lessons and togetherness their family is suddenly sharing. While he seems committed to his family and this project, he seems removed from them at the same time. The family continues to send their children to private schools and take expensive vacations, etc. So while they have given up their fancy home and moved to a more "modest" home (practically in the same neighborhood and still nicer than where I currently live, I can assure you!), they still seem to be living the same exact life style.
The family's trip to Africa, where they admittedly do nothing to really "help" anyone there, except support the somewhat skewed philosophy of the Hunger Project (the charitable group they chose to give their large donation to) seemed to me to be just another vacation. More exotic locales of course, and, Kevin Salwen admits, the family would not have done well staying in a mud hut in one of the villages (they stay in "hotels" along the way, where the children swim in indoor pools and eat dessert every night). But why was the family even there? Couldn't this money be spent on what seems like a costly trip be given to charity itself? And why the need to travel to Ghana anyway? I am still a little miffed at their philosophy of the need to help outside the US, when the impetus for Hannah's need to give came from seeing a homeless person in Atlanta. Why not use the $800,000 to help less wealthy families nearby in their community (the Atlanta area) save their homes from foreclosure, while those parents are unemployed? And Kevin talks often about the impact of this amount of money on so many people, making a real difference--well, it isn't making any difference at all to people who are chronically hungry/"underclothed"/illiterate/unemployed in the Atlanta area.
The writing was not great. The story rambled and roamed. The story was dull. I was not interested in the minutiae of this family's life. I dreaded picking the book up, in fact. Though a short book, less than 300 pages, it took me a few weeks to plow through. Some stories are made for memoirs, and some stories are made for 5, or even 30 minute television shows. This book was one of the latter, I am to sorry to say--tv show fodder. I will let my 14 year old read it, because she is interested in it and in service to others and has been, through our church and through Girl Scouts.
Kevin comments that Hannah quit the Girl Scouts when she "grew tired of cookie sales". As if the Girls Scouts are not character buidling and philanthropic at all. My daughters have been Girl Scouts for years and have done many service projects in our area, including feeding the homeless and working at shelters in the area. Service is an integral part of Girl Scouting, and my daughters are proud of the work they have done in that capacity. Girl Scouts are not just about selling cookies.
I was also disturbed by Hannah's reaction to the video they watched on the laptop (poor things) while waiting for their flight to NYC--Hannah becomes enraged "at the disgusting image. 'What's wrong with these people? Can't they wipe that fly away from the poor kid's face? Oh my God, please, just wave the fly away, then go back to filming. Please' she fumed. 'I can't watch anymore of this' and she left to get a drink of water.' Well, I think that is the exact response the filmmakers are trying to elicit; disgust at the inability for these weak people to speak for themselves, even do for themselves, which is why the filmmakers do not interfere with the child's pain and discomfort, which I felt was greatly contrasted by the ability of sweet Hannah to walk across the airport to get a drink of water. The parents fail to use this opportunity to teach a lesson here, also.
When the family arrives in NYC to go to an important event with the Hunger Project organization, Joseph announces he has no shoes and no dress shirt, prompting trips to Filene's Basement and the local shoe store (New York City? Barney's perhaps?). Too easy, is there no planning, no reaction? No upset-ness from these parents at the lack of packing ability, responsibility, or lack of checking up by the parents at least! Who expects their adolescent son to pack appropriately for a fancy dress dinner in NYC?
I hate to be so negative about this book, but the more I write in this review, the more annoyed by the book I become. I just feel so much of the family's decisions were misguided, and I wonder what will happen to the kids' college funds? Did they pay themselves back after the sale of the house? Did Kevin get another business started, or is writing now his new gig? Will the profits from this book go to charity? So many unanswered questions...
Salwen family, I know you read comments and will probably be reading reviews of this book. Hannah and Joseph seem like great kids, but I question this whole thing: What's the rest of the story?
I was reading "The Power of Half" when earthquakes struck Haiti. It was strange to read a book in which the main message was "most of the time, giving money is not enough" while volunteers supplying aid in a third-world country were describing the situation as a "logistical nightmare." Tribute songs ensued.
An Atlanta family, at the urging of the teenage daughter, decide they want to get their hands dirty and actually contribute time and efforts to a charity, rather than cutting checks. They attempt to sell their house and give half the sale to a hunger charity in Africa. "The Power of Half" charts their progress straight from the beginning. Not only does the reader learn a few ins and outs about charitable giving, but gets a glimpse into the growth of the family as well. The parent-child playing field is leveled, which is nice, and their decisions all seem to be democratically motivated.
Father Kevin Salwen wrote a bulk of the book, and the angle from which he starts is that of a reasonably affluent family that didn't take time to stop and realize that they were just buying things for no other reason than that's what you're supposed to do as an American family. Salwen doesn't try to convince you to follow in their footsteps of cutting possessions/assets in half, but you can tell that he is doing his best to sell the idea of weaning oneself from the practice of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. Since I think keeping-up-with-the-Joneses is rather stupid anyway, I didn't need any further convincing.
An important point made again and again in the book is the "teach a man to fish" adage. It gets hammered in a bit too much now and then, but I'm guessing that's because without it, there would be no lesson to learn. After much research, the Salwen family zeroed in on a charity that helps African tribes become empowered and self-sufficient. They don't believe in throwing money at the problem. If you throw money at the problem, you might miss it. At best, it's a band-aid. The family reminds themselves of this as they travel to Ghana to see their money in action. All they can do it sit back and watch the villagers learn how to take care of themselves. It's a strange place in which to end up when teenage daughter Hannah wanted her family to do more than just cut checks.
But "The Power of Half" edifies you about these things. Giving money away is one thing. Giving away half of what you own is another. Teaching people to be empowered is something different altogether. Sacrificing time and energy can fall into all, none, or some of these categories. This is a family that did all of those things.
Daughter Hannah writes a handful of interjecting blurbs to balance out the father's narrative. They are mostly tips on how to get your family started on a similar "project." And I gotta tell you, with no hint of condescension in my words, they are things that could only come from an optimistic, idealistic teenager. Some people her age would jump all over these suggestions while others would scoff at their easier-said-than-done nature. Is it refreshing or just naive? Either way you look at it, "The Power of Half" gives you plenty to think about.
on March 17, 2014
The book is a good reminder of the value of extending beyond one's self. However, the family's ability to extend themselves financially and time wise is beyond the norm thus can be difficult to relate their 'predicaments' . Pleasant story, anyway and a good reminder as to the value of service which can exist in many forms but should always teach and support self sufficiency.