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The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty

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4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  2,208 Ratings  ·  330 Reviews
For the first time in history, eradicating world poverty is within our reach. Yet around the world, a billion people struggle to live each day on less than many of us pay for bottled water. InThe Life You Can Save, Peter Singer uses ethical arguments, illuminating examples, and case studies of charitable giving to show that our current response to world poverty is not only ...more
ebook, 224 pages
Published March 3rd 2009 by Random House (first published January 1st 2009)
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Amanda
Sep 08, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blog
I chose to read Singer's book because I've often wanted to do more for the world's poor, but I want to do so in an informed way and see to it that my money is going to be used in a meaningful way that does not have politically or religiously motivated strings attached. I've tried to research charities before, but quickly became frustrated with the the lack of solid evidence as to their efficacy that even the most well-known charities couldn't (or wouldn't) provide. So I was already sold on the i ...more
howl of minerva
You are walking past a shallow pond and you see a small child has fallen in. No-one else is around. The child is in obvious distress and will drown without your immediate help. You are however, wearing a gorgeous set of clothes you have lusted over for months and have just managed to purchase. You are also running late for work. Do you wade in to help the child, ruining your clothes and being late for work, or do you walk on by?

This is the thought-experiment with which Peter Singer, a Professor
...more
Vegantrav
Mar 29, 2009 Vegantrav rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book underscores why Peter Singer is the most influential philosopher living today. He takes his utilitarianism very seriously, and the implications of this philosophy, if followed, would radically change our world for the better. In this book, Singer lays out the case for why those of us in affluent nations should be giving to charity to help the poor worldwide. What is actually most surprising to me is the final section in which he lays out the numbers: if the richest 10% of those in the ...more
Larry Bassett
Sep 22, 2013 Larry Bassett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to make the world a better place
The World Bank defines extreme poverty as not having enough income to meet the most basic human needs for adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, health care, and education. Many people are familiar with the statistic that 1 billion people are living on less than one dollar per day. That was the World Bank’s poverty line until 2008, when better data on international price comparisons enabled it to make a more accurate calculation of the amount people need to meet their basic needs.
...more
Casey
Feb 19, 2013 Casey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
Although this book provides a heart-felt argument on why you should donate 5-10% of your total income to the world's poorest people, it is sensationalized writing at best and lacks the depth of analysis on:

1. Why the global poor are poor
2. What organizations are currently doing
3. What organizations lack the capability to do
4. What goes wrong with in NGOs
5. Where your money will go if you do donate...

As a student of international development I will be the first to tell you that if you are donati
...more
Rory
Jul 06, 2011 Rory rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure what I expected out of this book. Probably an articulate, super-strong inspiration to give money to charity...and instruction on how and where to give it so that my meager offerings would do the most "good." But instead I just felt guilty and shamed after reading the first few chapters, and frustrated after skimming the rest.

That's actually how Singer wants you to feel, believes everyone should feel--that it's a basic measure of humanity to give a significant portion of your dispos
...more
Ugh
Apr 08, 2010 Ugh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not part of the target audience for this book, and neither, I suspect, are you. I'll come to why later...

I do like the way Singer approaches his books - he starts out by telling you where you're going to end up, and then proceeds to take you to your destination in a clear and concise manner, dealing with likely objections before they arise as he goes - but reading this I thought for a while that we were heading squarely for a two-star rating, partly because of that target audience problem I
...more
Worthless Bum
Apr 22, 2009 Worthless Bum rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, ethics
This most recent work by my favorite philosopher is something of an expanded and up to date version of the ideas expressed in his seminal 1972 essay "Famine, Affluence, and Morality". The idea being, people in wealthy countries give pitifully small amounts of money to those in abject poverty in the third world - people who are so poor that their lives are in jeopardy - and thus they should give much more generously. Singer employs the familiar "Pond" thought experiment in adducing his argument, ...more
bethany
Feb 11, 2015 bethany rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A summary: "You spent money to read this book and you probably drink soda or water occasionally, so you're murdering children. Now I'm going to throw a million statistics in your face to show you that I'm right and you're living your life wrong. Here's how much you need to donate. Do it or you're a bad person (did I mention you murder children?).The end."

Really don't understand why this got so many positive reviews when the entire book was literally demanding people donate more money. I think ev
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Hadrian
A very utilitarian view of charity. If you can do something to help out others and save lives, you must. Those who live in the first world can, efficient charities can do good, therefore one must donate. He even suggests percentile values based on your income. Those with more can afford to give away more.

Some statistical analysis is necessary to make sure that the methods you donate to and the charity itself are worth your money.

Singer may be controversial for other reasons, but this book make
...more
Dave Golombek
Mar 26, 2009 Dave Golombek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is perhaps Singer's simplest book, in that he adresses a much narrower subject than he frequently tackles, but in doing so, her creates his most persuasive work (amongst those I've read), and the one with the broadest appeal. This book covers the moral and ethical imperative to donate to charity, in particular those charities helping the poorest in the world.

The book starts with a few simple examples, such as finding a child drowning in a pond or stuck on railroad tracks and briefly discuss
...more
Lisa
Jan 06, 2011 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful book that can change your life and make you feel at last that you can do something about the tragedies we see on TV all the time.

In a nutshell, Singer asks us why if we would not hesitate to jump into a pond to save the life of a drowning child, we do not have the same impulse to save the lives of children who are dying of preventable disease and malnutrition in developing countries. He says that if we are choosing to spend money on bottled water, for example, when tap water
...more
7jane
Apr 08, 2015 7jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about charity and at the end, how much one should then give (taking into account how much one earns and life circumstances like mortgages and loans etc.). This is how the book goes:

- Common objections and answers to them (some objections occur later on in the book)
- Why we don't give more, and what prompts us to give (and give more)... here is also a point made that having only altruistic reasons (and no self-interest) is not a bad thing to admit. Self-interest being there is not a bad th
...more
Margarida Sá
His argument - that it would be unethical to avoid giving and helping if we have te means to do it- is ok. I agree that we should always do the best we can. However, I wonder if we -the people, the 99%- should be given such big responsibility as to save the poorest people in the world. I don't believe that charity would be the most effective way and I was expecting that he would give the big piture, like why some countries are poorer and how governments fail to help them.

Edward Sullivan
I read this after I saw the author interviewed on the Stephen Colbert Report. Singer, an ethicist and philosopher offers compelling arguments and humbling challenges for changing our lifestyles in very reasonable ways that could have a tremendous impact upon the poorest of the poor in the world.
Xing
Jun 23, 2010 Xing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who earns a decent income
Wonderful, wonderful book in so many ways.
Peter Singer draws on a wealth of experience and information, and takes a mature, evaluative look at the gap between rich and poor.

He summarises basic statistics regarding this disparity (earning power, standards of living, extent of charitable giving, in different parts of the world), but this is not the main focus of the book. (I recommend The World Food Problem: Tackling the Causes of Undernutrition in the Third World, for that.)

Essentially, it asks:
...more
Cappy
Jul 24, 2009 Cappy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
An excellent, accessible presentation of a distressingly unheeded argument.

"Do you have a bottle of water or a can of soda on the table beside you as you read this book? If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spend on things you don't really need." (pg. xi)

"South Asia is still the region with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, a total of 600 million, including 455 million in India." (pg. 7)

"Fashion designer D
...more
Patrick
Nov 19, 2016 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"On your way to work, you pass a small pond. On hot days, children sometimes play in the pond, which is only about knee-deep. The weather’s cool today, though, and the hour is early, so you are surprised to see a child splashing about in the pond. As you get closer, you see that it is a very young child, just a toddler, who is flailing about, unable to stay upright or walk out of the pond. You look for the parents or babysitter, but there is no one else around. The child is unable to keep his he ...more
Tonya
Nov 16, 2011 Tonya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I DARE YOU TO READ THIS BOOK! It will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge any claims you make that you are already generous. It might even make you mad. But you should still read it because it will change you in good ways.

Dylan and I come from book-people, and are book-people ourselves. There are more books in our parents' homes than in many rural libraries, I am sure...and I am grateful for that! One of my favorite Christmas treats is the pile of books that Hal and JeNeal wrap up each ye
...more
Jessica
Jun 11, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Years ago, I'd read an article by Peter Singer in the New York Times Magazine about poverty, and I'd been struck at how much he demanded people do in order to act ethically in a world where people (and children in particular) are dying from preventable causes. This was an old article -- a web search suggests he wrote another in 2008 on the same theme -- that posed a hypothetical question about whether one should flip the switch to prevent a racing train from crushing a child, if doing so would e ...more
Brenda Pike
I feel bad giving this only three stars, because Peter Singer is my idol. And when I read the article it's based on in the NY Times, I was deeply affected by it. It prompted Jason and I to decide to increase our donations from 1% to 5% of our income once we pay off our student loans this year. But I don't think the book adds that much to the article, except length. Certainly not clarity. I was looking forward to a discussion of the most effective ways to improve the lives of the world's poor, an ...more
Jennie
Jun 02, 2011 Jennie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 human ...more
Sarah
Aug 21, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book relies upon parallel reasoning from Singer, using one of his older and oft-cited examples of walking by a person drowning that you could or could not save. Other than getting wet, a mild inconvenience, it would not cost you anything to save said person, so to not do it would be unethical.

Likewise, Singer sets up his thesis for the rest of the book:
(1)[Just as death by drowning is bad, so too is death by lack of basic essentials:]
Death due to lack of food, basic medical care and shelt
...more
Olivia
May 12, 2009 Olivia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book should (not to say can) change your life. I'm still working out how I feel about it and, more importantly, what I'm going to do about it. But this much I can say--we as a country and I, individually, am not doing nearly enough to help the poorest people in the world. Your conscience will be pricked, and your mind will be opened by Dr. Singer's arguments and the facts he presents in this book. At the very least, it should make a fundamental reevaluation of our own blessings and our own ...more
Stephen
Aug 24, 2012 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book extremely moving. I read it in 2010 as I was ready to take up working to end world poverty/hunger.

Singer makes a powerful case that we can and should do what we can to help those who suffer deprivation. He describes many organizations that save lives and urges us to weigh our needs against global needs. If we can save a life for a few dollars or a few hundred dollars and giving that will not cause us the kind of suffering that it can stop, how can we do less. His book is powerf
...more
Colleen McClowry
WONDERFUL book that challenged me to think in a whole new way. Singer clearly demonstrates the extent of extreme poverty around the globe using concrete data. In so doing, he proves not just that we should give, but we MUST give. Prepare to feel both guilty and inspired the whole way through ;)

"Do you have a bottle of water or a can of soda on the table beside you as you read this book? If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spen
...more
Mary Jo
May 08, 2009 Mary Jo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book makes a case for how we can end world poverty by changing our views about what is a reasonable amount to give and what organizations do the best job of alleviating hunger and misery among the most severely affected people worldwide (chiefly in Africa and India. I found the ethical arguments given as responses to common reasons people offer for not giving to be really interesting. There's also a website, www.thelifeyoucansave.com where you can figure your fair giving share and see a lis ...more
Joshua
Nov 14, 2015 Joshua rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Convincing, yet damning, Singer lays out the ethical arguments for addressing poverty and why those rich enough to help often fail to do so. The books insights are appalling, even if the narrative does sometimes lapse into a slog of numbers and logistics. After reading, you'll seriously rethink the way you handle money in light of the ethical responsibility - and feasibility of helping - the worlds poorest populations.
Dean
Jan 10, 2012 Dean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is awesome. Its an easy read and puts forward an amazing ethical challenge.
I think it should be compulsory reading for all millionaires/billionaires..in fact..everybody!
Ya'll should read it.
Jill Ratzan
I read this for a book discussion that I didn't wind up going to, because the organizers viewed it as a serious book...whereas I assumed it had to be satirical. It *is* supposed to be satire, right? Right? Because the alternative would be way scary.
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Peter Albert David Singer is an Australian philosopher. He is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), University of Melbourne. He specializes in applied ethics, approaching ethical issues from a secular preference utilitarian perspective.

He has served, on two occasions, as chair of phil
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“Hebrew word for "charity" tzedakah, simply means "justice" and as this suggests, for Jews, giving to the poor is no optional extra but an essential part of living a just life.” 53 likes
“Extreme poverty is not only a condition of unsatisfied material needs. It is often accompanied by a degrading state of powerlessness. ” 24 likes
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