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The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty Paperback – September 14, 2010


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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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


From the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812981561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812981568
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 55 people found the following review helpful 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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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Travis M. Timmerman on March 11, 2009
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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Travis M. Timmerman on September 22, 2010
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.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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46 of 59 people found the following review helpful By JRG on June 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book has a lot of misdirected energy. For the majority of the book, the author makes the philosophical argument that as citizens of wealthy nations, we have the ethical responsibility to live ascetically and give all of our disposable income to charity. He then proceeds to explain our resistance to that idea as a function of "human nature", but comes off sounding like his knowledge of human nature is derived from the analysis of clinical studies more than from interactions with actual humans. He sounds petty and self-righteous at times, listing (to a weird degree of detail) the luxury items that certain uber-wealthy individuals have purchased, the cost of which could have saved countless lives. He derides parents who send their children to expensive private schools, but teaches at Princeton and tells *his* students (when they ask if it's morally wrong for their parents to be paying $44,000 a year to send them there) that the cost is justified because their Princeton education will open doors to lucrative jobs that will then allow them to donate more money to charity. He ultimately acknowledges that expecting people to give away all of their disposable income, while ethically obligatory, is unrealistic (even he doesn't do it), and closes by asking people to give a reasonable percentage of their income... so why not devote the book to that instead of alienating readers with a theoretical argument that even he can't abide? Beyond those issues, his approach for ending poverty - through generous donations of individuals to charities - address the symptoms of poverty, not the systemic causes.

If this book encourages people to give, or give more, that's great. And it seems, from all the positive reviews, that it's having that effect.
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The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty
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