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Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference

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4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,995 ratings  ·  356 reviews
Most of us want to make a difference. We donate our time and money to charities and causes we deem worthy, choose careers we consider meaningful, and patronize businesses and buy products we believe make the world a better place. Unfortunately, we often base these decisions on assumptions and emotions rather than facts. As a result, even our best intentions often lead to i ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published July 28th 2015 by Avery
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Zack Yes, all three–author is a vegetarian (staunchly opposed to factory farming) and believes climate change to be a pressing issue.
Zack The main takeaways:
- It's important to use evidence and reason when evaluating the impact you can do, both in terms of donations and using your…more
The main takeaways:
- It's important to use evidence and reason when evaluating the impact you can do, both in terms of donations and using your career to make a difference
- The most effective interventions are the most surprising. For instance, the author claims that it is more effective to work in e.g. management consulting early in your career (donating the huge salary you're making) than to work for a non-profit.
- It's important to be pragmatic about doing good–keeping yourself surrounded with like-minded people, doing a job you enjoy, etc.

All in all, it's a unique viewpoint on doing good in the world–very different from a lot of other arguments.(less)

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Sophie Patrikios
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy to read, well researched, only didn't give it 5* because it proved my husband has been right about everything he's been saying for years. Very annoying.
Kony
Mar 31, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Doing Good Better" is a misnomer. A more accurate title would be "Alleviating First-World Guilt With More Mathematical Rigor (and Enjoying the Delusion that Cost-Efficiency Translates to Moral Superiority)."

On the plus side, the book is well-intentioned and well-written. I appreciate the author's desire to discourage wasteful, counterproductive "charity," and to promote rigorous reflection about how best to deploy one's privilege. He does us all a service by pushing us to rise above emotion an
...more
Caroline
Sep 01, 2015 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Hil
Shelves: miscellaneous


Read a fair amount of this book, but did not finish it...

I really wanted to be bowled over by it - but I wasn't. There was just too much statistical analysis for me to follow it comfortably. The first few chapters are fine, but as MacAskill continues with his arguments of convoluted logic - I was lost.

This doesn't mean this isn't a great book - it just means it isn't a great book for my aged brain. Because of this I am not going to award it any stars. I'm in no position t
...more
Kat Steiner
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Thinking of giving more to charity? Read this book. My personal favourite book on effective altruism so far. (I have also read The Life You Can Save and The Most Good You Can Do).

Will is clear and engaging. The book is structured well, with the first half including examples, personal stories, and analogies (for example to triage doctors) to argue gently towards the basic tenets of effective altruism. The second half discusses practical problems (choosing a career, deciding between very different causes
...more
Andy
Sep 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
There is a desperate need for plain English sources of information that accurately describe what works and what doesn't. This book presents a scale for determining the effectiveness of charities, but something on the scale smells awfully fishy.

When the author gets to what you should donate to, he and his allies at GiveWell highlight Give Directly. Okay fine. Except that I looked up the evaluation paper and I also looked up the online supplement for the results: http://www.princeton.edu/~joha/public.... If you slog your way
...more
Robert Wechsler
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
MacAskill convinced me that effective altruism is not the way to go. He does make some good points, but his utilitarian philosophical approach is so narrow, it seems like something only Mr. Spock would consider appropriate. Charity is not just about doing the most good in terms of saving lives. There are so many different reasons to give money and one’s time. And even MacAskill’s idea of doing the most good is too narrow, in that he rejects the idea of giving to an organization that is taking va ...more
Hil
Jul 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you're at all like me, you know how important it is to do your part by contributing your money and time to worthy causes, but the decision-making involved can be exhausting. Whenever you read statistics about global health crises and the number of people living in grinding poverty, it is easy to wind up feeling overwhelmed and guilty, like your efforts would be just a drop in the bucket. It can seem much easier to donate to domestic programs where you feel like you may identify with the recip ...more
Coleen
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is not a 'fast' read so much as it is a book that is so fascinating that one wants to keep going. And I certainly did, with many stops to take notes, jot things down, and look up names and references. I anticipated in advance that the author would be a liberal do-gooder, and of course, he is. But that did not diminish my respect for him and his writing. His photo makes him appear to be a young man, but he is one very smart young man.

Pay attention to what he writes because h
...more
Simon Eskildsen
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reread
Upon closing this book, I immediately changed the charities I support and increased my donations. It left me with the empowering feeling that donating can be a very real alternative to doing good in the 'traditional ways', e.g. working directly for those in need or humanitarian organizations. For every $3,600 donated to protect people from malaria with bed nets, you (statistically) save a life. For every $100 you donate to the rainforest, you save an acre or 260 tons of CO2 (the average North Am ...more
Lark Benobi
I enjoyed reading this short book.The author tended to anticipate my objections to his arguments almost as I was in the act of first thinking them, and to provide me with reasons why I was wrong to think the way I did. His outlook is utilitarian. His thinking would feel right to John Stuart Mill.

I would have liked the book even more if MacAskill had acknowledged that his is not the only way of measuring the value of altruistic acts. MacAskill is a great leveler--he believes that, because we in
...more
Kamila
Aug 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
If everyone read this book and took its message truly to heart, we could live in a very different world.

The two main takeaway points: (1) If you live in the developed world and make over $52,000 a year, you are in the global top 1%. No joke. You, me, we all are fabulously wealthy, and what's just a few dollars to us can make a huge difference in the lives of people in poor countries; (2) "The extremity of global poverty is almost unimaginable." This is why sweatshops are actually sought-after j
...more
Amy
Oct 06, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
As someone who works in the social profit (also known as the nonprofit) sector, I picked up Doing Good Better because the topic is endlessly interesting to me and because of his apparent emphasis on evidence-based programming. Unfortunately, this book was an all-around disappointment. Here's a short summary of my issues with this book:

1) MacAskill's apparent misunderstanding of programs and causes. CAUSES are things that individuals and organizations want to do. PROGRAMS are the mean
...more
SP
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, economics
This is the sort of nonfiction book that you really, really want to find. This is the best of all possible worlds: a thought-provoking nonfiction book that doesn't require an advanced science degree to understand.

MacAskill's ultimate goal is to help us find the most efficient ways to help others, and he applies empirical research to the task. Almost every chapter contains the sort of information and thoughtful discussion that made Freakonomics so popular. What sorts of charities give the maximum
...more
Sören Mind
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Now this book is the kind of thing that can change your thinking radically - yet its conclusions are so evident that you wonder why nobody thinks about the topic this way.

Doing Good Better is well-written and well-researched. For people familiar with the subject matter there will be some repetition. However, I was positively surprised that compared to Peter Singer's 'The Most Good You Can Do', MacAskill's book is really full of new information and new ways of thinking about things. ...more
William Kiely
May 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Doing Good Better is a great introduction to effective altruism and the sort of rational, evidence-based reasoning that is extremely helpful to making sure that what we do in our lives actually effectively fulfills our values.

Without explicitly asking ourselves MacAskill's Second Key Question of Effective Altruism, "Is this the most effective thing you can do?" we may end up having a "merely very good" impact with our lives, which surprisingly is nowhere near as good as the best impa
...more
Kat
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm blown away. Finally someone has anticipated all of the competing priorities in my head and provided one possibility of how to tackle them. This book asked me some tough questions about balancing the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good with the reality of what that good means. It tackled my fears of accidentally ignoring something for the sake of another. It talked ethical food, charity donations, career choices and more.

Importantly for me, it didn't state that there was one perfect way to live
...more
Mark Harnett
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating look at how to prioritize your money and work life to do the most good in the world.
It takes a very dispassionate look at exactly where you can have the most bang for your effort in terms of quality of life and life expectancy. One of my favorite charities, Give Directly, is prominently featured. Worth a read.
Malin Friess
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
5 stars. Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism can help you make a difference has been and will be my Goodreads Favorite book for 2016.

We all want to make a difference. But how can we make the biggest difference for the greatest number of people with limited money and time and resources? This is the question Macaskill seeks to answer; we can do good, but how can we do good even better?

5 key questions
1) How many people benefit and by how much? This can be measured in a soci
...more
Stephen
Persuasive and also frustrating. I think this deserves 5 stars for the first half's argument *that effective altruism is worthwhile*, and 3 stars for the second half's implied philosophy of *how to be an effective altruist*. Part of it is that the how-to strategies don't seem generalizable; at what point *does* "become an ER doctor" become the best course of action for someone considering their future career? Career comparison, moreover, is rather hard for paths that require a lot of invested ef ...more
Emil Salageanu
Nov 21, 2016 rated it liked it
When scientific methods are used to evaluate the effectiveness of charity programs, the results show that some charities can be up to 100 times more effective than others.
A relatively small donation from a citizen of a rich country to an effective charity can do a lot of good.
The book develops this idea, shows how charity programs are evaluated, and provides advice on how one could maximize his own impact on the world.
The book starts by presenting a very ineffective altruistic progra
...more
Sunjay Hauntingston
Dec 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I'm not a real utilitarian because I care more about my family and friends than strangers.

This book is extremely useful to its target audience (namely, white folks in WENA who are currently in elite universities or recently graduated who want to make a positive impact), and I think applying an Effective Altruism framework to how you go about choosing a career if you're one of those folks can have an incredible impact for good. It also helps if you're looking to donate things to prov
...more
Tara
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Doing Good Better provides a well reasoned introduction to effective altruism, the new social movement sweeping to globe. In this book, MacAskill provides a solid grounding in the major tenets of effective altruism and responds to many of the common retorts about charity. Is charity even effective? Should we support those close to us or those far from home? How should we evaluate new causes or charities? The simple manner in which he lays out the arguments makes this book accessible to all, prov ...more
Thore Husfeldt
Nov 04, 2016 rated it liked it
An interesting attempt at a completely rational, utilitarian perspective in charity, well grounded in moral philosophy and economics. Cute idea; we ought to attack more problems with this mindset. The perspective is welcome, but also very narrow—it seems to me that there are other (also entirely neglected) disciplines such as moral psychology and political philosophy that should also be brought to the table. The body text is very easy to read, maybe too easy, but end notes contain some useful (a ...more
howl of minerva
Sep 18, 2015 marked it as to-read
Brilliant review of this by Amia Srinivasan in the LRB: "Stop the Robot Apocalypse".

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n18/amia-sri...
Zachary
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the best summary/introduction to effective altruism I could find. It's well-written and clear.
Kyle van Oosterum
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Effectively the bible on effective altruism. An excellent read, deeply informative and highly inspirational. Thoroughly, thoroughly recommend.
Jonathan Lu
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding book that has really made me rethink how I consider altruism, which as simple as it sounds, I had never framed in terms of economic principles of comparison as I do my other finances. The concept of "effective altruism" is now ingrained in my head considering the benefit that each dollar I donate has in terms of saving a life, with a QALY as the most quantifiable means of comparison. For someone who thinks as an analytical engineer, this is even difficult for myself to consider th ...more
Kirsten
Apr 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: male, nonfiction
An evidence-based, concrete, and measurable approach (big fan!) to deciding how to spend our resources - time and money - to have the biggest impact on the world, that is, to do good better. Turns out to be quite a narrow window - healthcare in the poorest African nations, although he does also include topics like consumption and climate change.

Presents counterintuitive cases for things like how boycotting sweatshop goods and switching to fair-trade products may do more harm than good. Tries to
...more
nicky
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
review to come once i have sorted through my thoughts ...
Alex Linschoten
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thought-provoking guide to 'doing good' in the world. MacAskill convincingly shows how many of the ways we often think about how best to donate money or help others may have logical flaws to them. My only quibble with the book was the underlying assumption / premise, that we should be trying to help the maximum number of people / things. (Why?) Well worth your time, as well as taking a moment to look over at his online offerings at 80000hours.org and effective-altruism.com.
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I'm Will MacAskill, an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Lincoln College, Oxford, and author of Doing Good Better (Gotham Books, 2015). I've also cofounded two non-profits: 80,000 Hours, which provides research and advice on how you can best make a difference through your career, and Giving What We Can, which encourages people to commit to give at least 10% of their income to the most effective cha ...more
“One additional unit of income can do a hundred times as much to the benefit the extreme poor as it can to benefit you or I [earning the typical US wage of $28,000 or ‎£18,000 per year]. [I]t's not often you have two options, one of which is a hundred times better than the other. Imagine a happy hour where you could either buy yourself a beet for $5 or buy someone else a beer for 5¢. If that were the case, we'd probably be pretty generous – next round's on me! But that's effectively the situation we're in all the time. It's like a 99% off sale, or buy one, get ninety-nine free. It might be the most amazing deal you'll see in your life.” 7 likes
“The challenge for us is this: How can we ensure that, when we try to help others, we do so as effectively as possible?” 6 likes
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