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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  631 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Chuck Feeney was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a blue-collar Irish-American family during the Depression. After service in the Korean War, he made a fortune as founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world’s largest duty-free retail chain. By 1988, he was hailed by Forbes Magazine as the twenty-fourth richest American alive. But secretly Feeney had already transferred all h ...more
Paperback, 341 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by PublicAffairs (first published September 23rd 2007)
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Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
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 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
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,
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
A (perhaps appropriately) fawning account of Chuck Feeney. Well-written biography, if a bit drawn out. Quite an extraordinary businessman-philanthropist life.
Janet Eshenroder
Mar 25, 2013 rated it liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
Oct 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book. Chuck Feeney is an incredibly modest, humble and low-key "billionaire" who gave it all away so he could watch his wealth be put to good use during his lifetime. His is an inspirational rags to riches (and back to rags, almost) story about an Irish Catholic from Elizabeth NJ who went on to conquer the world. It's very well written, and at times you have to pause because it almost reads like fiction. He is one of the biggest donors to universities in the entire world, and ...more
Jingwei Shi
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This biography is incredibly insightful and interesting. It reveals the life and personality of one of the most secretive billionaires in the world. I could draw many similarities throughout the book with Sam Walton, the founder of Wal Mart. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in philanthropy and retailing.
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved this. Yes the writing could have been better but the life lessons I've taken away from this are invaluable. I really walked away with admiration of Chuck's determination to change the world and people's lives. He really did achieve his goals.
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it
The story of an interesting and inspirational man but v dryly written and too long
Jan 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing subject for a book, businessman Chuck Feeney, who cofounded Duty Free Shops and became a billionaire - except by the time the real money rolled in it was deposited in a secret charitable foundation. He was influenced by Andrew Carnegie's "Wealth" which described his philosophy toward money and philanthropy.

The story of Feeney's early life and especially building the business was excellent - the first 100 pages of the book are fantastic. Feeney returned from his Korean War service in Arm
Jun 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 03, 2015 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.
Kristin Harvey
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
BuenoBomb aka Andre Bueno
Great read and very inspiring. It's great to see how much good Chuck Feeney did to the world.
Gary Gray
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Who knew!
Jonathan Lu
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Bold, audacious, has own moral compass. Ok with ethical gray areas such as tax evasion and screwing over big companies, but not people. Cares about the person, able to overlook the people. Filled with a spirit of adventure and wanderlust.

Was not strategic at early life, just chasing adventure and relying on his wits - put himself out there with immense chances to become lucky and he eventually did. His entire fortune was built on exploiting arbitrage which began when he chose to exploit a roulet
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: biographyhistory
I enjoyed the early parts a lot more, where the book covers Feeney's early life and how he built up his business.

The later sections get a bit bogged down with the details of his philanthropy and some of the legal wrangling with his partners.

What I found interesting was how "out of the box" Feeney was/is as far as structuring his life and his company in a way that would make him happy. He didn't fall into the trap of thinking that he had to do the same thing as everybody else.

But I also see a cau
Simone Bocedi
An uninspiring long Wikipedia page. No teachings, no emotions, nothing for the 99,9% of people who do
not have billions. Nothing also in the way of what moved Ferber to give it all away. Very poorly written, with too many details about very uninteresting situations. Such a pity for what could have certainly be a great story.
Bill Gartner
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a truly amazing story of a man who went from rags to riches, built one of the most profitable private businesses in history, earning billions for himself. He then proceeded to give it all away, and did so anonymously. It is an inspiring story of a true American hero who touched the lives of millions who will never know.
Ke Lun
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Book splits between early stage entrepreneurship and mid/late stage of philanthropy.

Personally found the early stage entrepreneurship more interesting than the latter part purely from a roller-coaster trying to keep the business floating perspective.

Must admit that Feeney's interest in keeping all his philanthropy under the radar pretty admirable.
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really liked this one. You don't heard about Chuck Feeney..which is a shame. He's the guy that inspired Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, etc etc to do good with their money while alive. Rare breed.

The book was detail heavy around the business and philanthropy which I enjoyed and light on the family side.
Joe Spoto
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it
It was a good story about a good person, however there were too many financial details for me. A person with a business degree, or international business degree might find those parts easier, but for science types like me, it was a little tough in some areas.
Nov 26, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Fantastic story however a poor delivery focusing too much on the minutiae
Lareg Enid
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Detailed and sometimes dragging yet still impressed on how Chuck Feeney was an example on how we (people) can have a different set of contentment in life. Lessons learned..
Chris Holland
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Chuck’s story sets an example for all entrepreneurs
Tom McGovern
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The most incredibly inspiring human being, thank you Chuck Feeney.
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017, business, nonfiction
An inspiring decision but the details are less interesting.
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