Top critical review
26 of 32 people found this helpful
on August 30, 2009
The author's primary focus is on philanthropy, which is not surprising given his job as senior philanthropic advisor to Harvard University which has the largest endowment of any university. Much of the book is concerned with how to manage trust funds within families, in particular, intergenerational transfer of leadership and training the next generation. So, unless you have a few million in a trust fund, there are other books much better at teaching your children about financial matters.
If you want some benchmarks, the lowest net worth he deals with at one point is $15-30 million where he advocates giving your children $1-2 million (although also suggesting that some families lean towards $3-5 million) If you have greater net worth, he advocates a higher number ($10-15 million per child if your net worth is over $100 million) - but there is no real justification for any of the numbers - nor any suggestions for people with lower net worth.
However, even if you do have significant wealth to pass on to your heirs (and society), this book is probably not the right starting point. Mr. Collier does not have much of his own thought to share as much of the book consists of long quotes from others and interviews with a variety of other authors and experts. It all comes off a bit disjointed, with many ideas not fully developed.
An example: midway through the second chapter, Mr. Collier redefines wealth into four different categories: human, intellectual, social, and financial (the latter is what people typically think of when the word "wealth" is used. Expanding on these could be a major theme of the book but instead, after this brief mention, Mr. Collier drops the topic until chapter 5 (where he erroneously references chapter 1 as the place where he introduced the topic). In chapter 5 his expanded definitions he seems to conflate the definitions of human capital and intellectual capital.
While throughout the remainder of the book he touches on the themes raised by these four different "wealths," there is no organizing principle behind the structure. The reader must provide the links so that when the author is discussing family meetings, you know he's referring to "intellectual capital." Why, you ask? Because the definition of intellectual capital includes communication and conflict resolution - not an obvious connection with that term.
For all families, his suggestions about the importance of telling and re-telling "family stories" resonated with me. This is an important way to pass on shared values to the next generation, It helps define what is important to your family. I will be looking for more stories to share with my family at our next reunion.