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The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  355 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
In 1988 Forbes Magazine hailed Chuck Feeney as the twenty-third richest American alive. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a blue-collar Irish-American family during the Depression, a veteran of the Korean War, he had made a fortune as co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world's largest duty-free retail chain. But secretly, Feeney had already transferred all his wealth to ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 25th 2007 by PublicAffairs (first published September 23rd 2007)
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Mar 11, 2009 Peggy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book thinking I would read about a man who through entreprenurism made a fortune and then gave it all away. I wanted to be inspired by Chuck Feeney's story: a young man with nothing to his name makes good and does good with what he made. Instead, the story was so bogged down in details that I gave up on the book before the inspiring part could be read. I am impressed by Chuck's story but not by the way it was written. I would recommend this book to people who like to be bogged ...more
Jan 25, 2016 Tasha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not usually into detail-laden biographies or billionaires' business ventures but after meeting Chuck and Helga for lunch in SF I was intrigued by his life story - a conscious path of frugality and "giving while living" anonymously. Chuck's lifestyle choices - flying coach, wearing a cheap timex watch, and abhorring the fame and exorbitant excess that usually accompanies billionaires - is more than admirable. Just some quotes:

On the keys to his success

"He had an uncanny quality, a perception,
Janet Eshenroder
Lucky for the world that Charles Feeney fashioned himself after Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie felt the duty of a man of wealth was to set an example of modest, ostentatious living, provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him, and after doing so "to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds which he is called upon to administer . . . to produce the most beneficial results for the community."
The book left some uncomfortable feelings. I give kudo
Jul 05, 2008 Casey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was given to me by a Boston philanthropist who said he had been so inspired by Chuck Feeney's story that he ahd purchased two dozen copies and was giving them to anyone who was interested...

The story itself is compelling. Feeney, a renaissance man who founded the "Duty Free Shops" concept and built a business empire in the aftermath of WWII, secretly gave away billions of dollars, supported peace in Northern Ireland and education around the world.

The book itself chronicles Feeney's lif
Dec 31, 2008 loafingcactus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2008
Wow, wow, wow!!! An intense page-turner as the businesses develop from real boots-on-ground gumption to insane levels of cash generation. An inspiration for philanthropic giving. Of course Feeney has an opportunity to provide funding that most people can't, but there is one bone thrown at the average giver where he says that a burn patient doesn't care if their treatment came from a billionaire or a $200 donor. What Obama could do with less than $50 per donor and the Salvation Army does with spa ...more
Dec 21, 2015 Loni rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, I didn't actually FINISH the book. It gets so bogged down in details that it lost its appeal for me. Honestly, it sounded like a compelling story before I began it, but the more I read, the more I couldn't follow what was happening and it became less and less interesting. I'm thinking a very short story of how he got started and what he eventually did, would be adequate for this story. Sorry, but, I'm not recommending it to anyone, except Chuck Feeney's mother.
Apr 08, 2011 Cristobal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A fascinating read about an extraordinary businessman and how he built a retailing empire, while later turning those same skills to give away his fortune with amazing results. Chuck Feeney is an extraordinary individual, from whom we can learn a lot about the true importance of wealth. This should be distributed to all billionaires (and any other so called "high net worth individual"), if only to have them think deeply about what it is they can do with their money.
Kristin Harvey
May 07, 2012 Kristin Harvey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fundraising
Loved this book, it's a must read if you're interested in development and fundraising. As a detailed look into Chuck Feeney's background, education, army experience, business savvy, you see his philanthropic efforts run throughout. Seems fitting to Chuck's character to have this type of thorough biography, and I'm glad we have record of his journey. I'm inspired by the generosity and thankful for the perspective to think big.
Gary Gray
Mar 03, 2013 Gary Gray rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who knew!
André Bueno
Feb 04, 2015 André Bueno rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
Great read and very inspiring. It's great to see how much good Chuck Feeney did to the world.
Mar 05, 2015 Erwin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite, business
Excellent. Chuck Feeney (the billionaire who wasn't) founded DFS (Duty Free Stores) and gave his fortune to charity while still quite young. He hated paying taxes, and tried to do everything tax free.

He was action oriented, an excellent entrepreneur, and an excellent father. Eventually, he also became an excellent entrepreneur with his focus on "giving while living", and "spending out of existence".

"I had one idea that never changed in my mind—that you should use your wealth to help people. I tr
Jul 08, 2009 Nathanael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of Chuck Feeney intrigued me. What would drive someone to build a billion dollar business, and then work feverishly to unbuild its wealth?

When I first started reading this, the narrative moved so quickly and had so many details, that I thought the second half of the book would be non-stop analysis. It turns out, however, that the author was suck a journalist, that he couldn't help but keep the pace up. Curiously, he didn't create a strong meta-narrative. That Feeney did this is clear,
Matt Austin
I recently saw this book as recommended reading on the Stanford Business School newsletter. After reading a quick synopsis on Amazon, I was eager to read about Mr. Feeney. The book started off as a fun and entertaining story, beginning with details surrounding Mr. Feeney's childhood, a humble beginning, nonetheless, and continuing into his early days as a entrepreneur. The first 1/3 of the book was excellent, but after that, the momentum was lost. The author spent too much time describing the de ...more
Charles Roberts
Feb 13, 2013 Charles Roberts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps the greatest philanthropist ever, who operated in anonymity for nearly 50 years, Chuck Feeney's story is awe-inspiring.
The book chronicles Feeney's meteoric rise from working class beginnings in Elizabeth, New Jersey to the CEO of Duty Free Shopping, capturing one of first truly global markets. I was most impressed with his emulation of Andrew Carnegie, and his near-obsessive preoccupation with personal divestment.
Getting a rare inside look into the business model, and relationships made
Jun 09, 2008 Delight rated it really liked it
Chuck Feeney is one of the founders of the Duty Free Stores you find in the airports and at border crossings. He quietly made a billion dollars, and then just as quietly gave it all away. I loved reading about his frugality (only flew coach until he turned 75), generosity to others (happily gave 100 million to his ex-wife), and desire to do good in the world. It's a shame that Feeney's desire to give away his money rather than accumulate things makes him such an odd fascination. A fun and inspir ...more
Jun 19, 2016 Abhishek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A heart warming insight into the life of a great man. Author has captured not only the details of the person but also of his style of engaging in business quite deftly. The book reads like a piece of fiction at times. It is also a good education in building successful businesses. More than anything Chuck points to the potential inherent in an individual as well as how much good a determined individual can bring about to the world. The scale and extent of his contributions is paralleled only by h ...more
Aliko Ban
Nov 16, 2012 Aliko Ban rated it it was amazing
By being such an extreme business success, and then an extreme philanthropist, Feeney is a memorable character. His down to earth humility, despite having so much success and wealth, are inspiring and admirable. Although I got to my current similar beliefs about frugality and giving in a more roundabout way than Feeney, I'm proud to see shades of like mindedness with thus great role model. The biographer's storytelling style is brisk, well organized, and fascinating as the story unfolds.
Feb 28, 2008 Pete rated it liked it
Very interesting story. I know the subject somewhat as I worked for his company for about four years. This is a really good story, poorly told. It gets pretty boring in spots.

Chuck Feeney is a very unique individual. We need many more like him in the business world, instead of the Nardelli's and that ilk.
Oct 31, 2009 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating inside look at a remarkable man and the inner workings of the duty free world and the state of philanthropy across the globe. Great mix of personal and business stories. At times the author strayed too far into the minutiae on deal structures and other aspects of the business side and not enough on the personal side, but overall was an inspiring and uplifting read.
Enoch Chhabra
Love it! Insightful details on the building of Chuck Fenney's Business. The tension between business partners that seem to arise more so when they become extremely profitable then when they were first fighting to keep the business afloat. Chuck's view on philanthropy, of giving it all away while he is still alive is enlightening.
Fred R.
Oct 14, 2008 Fred R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written book about a great person. I was one of the fortunate ones to work for Mr. Chuck Feeney in the 1980's while at DFS and got a good feel for his humanity while working for his company. The author does a nice job of covering the high growth period of Japanese overseas tourism and the way in which Mr. Feeney was able to capitalize on future opportunities that he was able to foresee.
Feb 24, 2011 Penelope rated it really liked it
Fascinating story of the evolution of one of today's most influential philanthropists. I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because I thought it was overly positive and flattering of Chuck Feeney. It's understandable given the kind of access the author was given, but it was still a bit annoying.
Vidura Barrios
Mar 18, 2015 Vidura Barrios rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, business
Being a hefty book, it took me a while to read the whole thing. Reading it because quite a journey of inspiration. If all the billionaires of the world behaved the same way as him, this world would be a very different place. Bravo Chuck Fenney!
Sep 22, 2012 Kuen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can say much about the writing but the subject topic is worth every read if you are interested in non-fiction and one of the very understated philanthropic person/ organization of our time. thumbs up!
Laura Gardner
Nov 08, 2007 Laura Gardner rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfic
I say it was OK only b/c I think the subject is interesting. The author can't write and the editors didn't do their job. I muddled through this for about three weeks and now I'm giving up. I wish someone else had written this book!!
Aug 10, 2016 Quinn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very detailed account of Chuck Feeney's rise to riches followed by his systematically giving it all away. I absolutely love his philosophy on money. I didn't really find this an easy read and struggled to get through it. As with many books it would be better if you cut 100 pages.
Jan 16, 2016 Jb added it
Secret. Enterprising. Inspiring. And a Billionaire. He smelled biz. Moved fast and got b in just 20yrs. And the genius understood the importance of promoting education. Also, see the video at youtube.
Meredith Williams
This book completely changed the way I view capitalism and philanthropy. And, it's a great story too!
Jan 02, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book about a great man. Truly an inspirational human being. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
Jim Buschmeier
Great story about a great man but became bogged down with unnecessary detail. Had to force myself to finish the last several chapters.
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