The Life You Can Save

The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part  to End World Poverty, by Peter Singer.  Random House, 2009.  Watch video and learn more: thelifeyoucansave.com.

Would you save the life of a dying child if it didn’t require very much of you to do so?  No risk to your life, no long period of time, no special skills, no great expense?  Nearly everyone says that they would.  Yet we have that opportunity constantly, and few of us respond.

Peter Singer is familiar to most vegetarians as the author of Animal Liberation, the ground-breaking book that launched the modern animal rights movement over 35 years ago.  His latest is a must-read if you’re seriously committed to bringing your beliefs and everyday actions into harmony.  Here he shows how powerful it would be if those of us in the middle class or above would commit to giving even 5% of our income to reputable organizations working to alleviate poverty and disease worldwide.  Currently, although many Americans do make charitable contributions, the majority of that giving is to support churches, educational institutions or cultural organizations here at home.  The amount of U.S. private philanthropy for foreign aid amounts to only 7 cents on every $100 of earned income (!), and the U.S. government budget allocates less than 1%, far less than most people think.

Singer provides background on giving patterns, examines each of the common objections to giving, and discusses how to evaluate whether aid organizations are effective.  He analyzes how little it costs to save or vastly improve a life in the poorest countries; for example, only $50 for a cataract operation that enables a blind person to see.  He takes a look at how we waste money on unnecessary expenditures; for example, we could make coffee for pennies at home but instead buy lattes for $3, and we buy clothing and gadgets that we do not need and may not even use.

As in previous writings, Singer doesn’t shy away from engaging controversy head-on, with calm, careful, and compelling reasoning, and a writing style of astounding clarity.  I dare you to read this book and remain unchanged.

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