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The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  352 ratings  ·  48 reviews
An inside look at the secretive world of elite philanthropists--and how they're quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.

While media attention focuses on famous philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Charles Koch, thousands of donors are at work below the radar promoting a wide range of causes. David Callahan charts the rise of thes
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 11th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Mal Warwick
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Few Americans appreciate the extraordinary scope and depth of philanthropy in our country. In 2015, the most recent year for which reliable estimates are available, Americans contributed a total of $373 billion to what is loosely called “charity.” That amounts to 2% of the nation’s GDP of just under $18 trillion that year—a proportion that has remained steady for at least seven decades.

Where does all the money come from?

Although most people imagine that the lion’s share of this money comes from
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
I think that Callahan did a decent job describing how the very rich approach philanthropy. However, there were a couple of items that knocked this book down to two stars for me.

One, Callahan spends a lot of time describing "philanthropy" being used for lobbying and policy change. While I appreciate that this money is going to non-profits, and everyone has a right to support whatever cause they want, this is not true philanthropy. True philanthropy is giving to a charity to support their mission
May 27, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wishy washy examination of current "givers" (Gates, Zuckerberg, Koch, etc.). The attraction of this book is that Callahan is an expert in this area with insider perspectives, but he seems hopelessly naive, and doesn't even attempt an objective scientific examination of the outcomes achieved by the givers.

These people make a big show of being scientific in their giving, but it's basically a lie. They don’t care about looking at the evidence to see what works. The GiveWell backers pour money into
Mary Anne
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The book flap says it best: “An inside look at the hidden world of elite philanthropists – and how they’re quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.

The book cover has an appropriate illustration: A private jet doing a flyover, leaving a trail of money for those below.

This book does an excellent job of pointing out that even though many of the wealthiest people have signed the Giving Pledge (Google it), and pledge to give away most of their wealth while th
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book had the potential to be great but really fell short. It reads like a never ending list of rich people and their pet causes. There’s little analysis, and what is there is pretty shallow. I do not recommend this.
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it
In a world where government spending on education, basic services, and our cities is shrinking, the vacuum is being filled by a small number of the super wealthy and their philanthropy. But as Callahan asks, who are these people, why are they giving, and what do they want in return?
This book exhaustively explores the first question. It is filled with short 2-3 page biographies of wealthy people on the right and left who donate large sums of money to causes they believe in. What the reader does
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is much too long. The author has a tendency to ramble. Unfortunately, this means some useful points are going to be missed. I couldn't read it all -- life is way too short. For those of you in a similar boat, here are a few key takeaways:
1. Philanthropy needs to be more transparent. We should be able to know (easily) who is funding what.
2. Too much policy guidance is masquerading as philanthropy. We should be able to know the agendas behind nonprofits.
3. Philanthropy needs better ove
Ryan Vrana
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author gets around to making reasonable policy suggestions in the epilogue, but most of the rest of the book is just a rambling series of anecdotes of how a few dozen ultra wealthy individuals choose to use their philanthropic dollars (sometimes in ways that it's questionable whether the term philanthropy should apply). ...more
Rachel Hutchisson
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book about elite philanthropists, how they made their money, how they invest it...and where philanthropy is headed.
Sterling Hardaway
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must read for anyone interested in philanthropy and social impact.
Alan Mills
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating look at the landscape of philanthropy, and how the new generation of ultra wealthy people are changing the way people give (and get) money.

The amounts are staggering. Soros pledged to give away his entire fortune of several billion dollars in his lifetime. He transferred most of his wealth to the Open Society Foundation, but then within a decade had tripled the share he kept for himself (and the amount in the foundation), and then multiplied it again. He is making money faster than h
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Callahan misses the point here. I suppose I agree that philanthropy by the wealthy should be scrutinized, but you know what? All those rich people could have just bought another super yacht. Callahan seems to argue that philanthropy working to influence public policy is ipso facto a bad thing, and I just can't agree with this.

Let's look at health policy, for example. In the US, the biggest creators of health policy are insurance companies and the people who deliver health care. Neither of them a
Daniel Hageman
I think that this book delivers what it claims to. It’s a largely informative overview of the philanthropic landscape, highlighting the need for vigilance and improved regulation in a time where power is localized among the wealthy, yet also recognizing that many of the world’s major improvements stem directly from such laudable philanthropic pursuits. As a start, transparency with respect to donor-advised funds seems like a no-brainer. Overall, I like the future forward purview of the book, rec ...more
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Long winded but comprehensive.
361.740973 CAL

Bookshelf pick.

Good with philanthropy and philanthropic freedom:
1. New philanthropists could finance bold experiments and take risks. invest directly, show the way forward. Then government could scale them up.
2. anonymity of philanthropy could forward bold culture change, such as LGBT movement, but also could lead to promote hate ideas.

Trouble with philanthropy:
1. Tax-exempt donation (or Tax break).
No tax, No money lead to decline of government role on promoting public welf
May 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
The book tries to be even-handed about large donors who give in different ways and in different causes, but it ends up being not nearly critical enough of harm done. I think this is not only due to misunderstanding fairness, but also being somewhat enamored of the givers in question.

I found the resulting superficiality so frustrating that I was tempted to abandon the book, but since I am reading two related books coming up, I thought it might add some balance. It is a shame that all of the rese
Phyllis Chang
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a new immigrant built roots in the Silicon Valley, this book offered some very fascinating insights of how some of the elite Americans (old money and new money) make their marks in the American social and economical landscape. I read through the whole book in 3 hours sittings in the famed Labyrinth Bookstore on the Nassau Street of Princeton downtown. I never finished a book in such a speed so you can tell how much I have immersed myself into many of the hard to know cases collected in this b ...more
Mark Walker
Feb 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book provides an inside look at the secret world of elite philanthropists whose wealth has increased over the years and how they’re wielding increased power to influence American life in ways both positive and negative. My friend, Peter Nagle, the President of Carlton & Company where I’ve been a V.P. and Senior Counsel for many years, sent me the book because it “has a lot to tell us about major gifts, what is going on in the present day and where the big-time philanthropy might be headed i ...more
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Albeit a bit repetitive, this book gives an eye-opening account of the ways that modern philanthropists are changing the social and political landscape of America. Callahan's research reveals that while many uber-wealthy donors are enthusiastic about giving their money to causes they care about, such donations (and the nature that they are tax-deductible) deplete the coffers of the U.S. Treasury and ultimately enable the rich to become even richer. Perhaps even worse, they often give these billi ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The vast inequality in the US that has characterized the past several decades has often inspired the moniker of a "New Gilded Age." The wealthiest Americans--whether coming from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, old money, or elsewhere--have inconceivably large sums of money. And, as the saying goes, money is power.

David Callahan analyzes this relationship between money and power in the world of philanthropy. Philanthropy is often treated as an unadulterated good, but, as Callahan explains, large-sc

Robert S
Apr 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, economics
The Givers is a comprehensive look at the rise of the modern philanthropist and the impact its having on our society.

Callahan has some really excellent (as well as terrifying) examples in this book about what can be done by some individuals in this country with the equivalent of what is sofa change for them.

Callahan also takes the time to examine some of the more positive giving done in recent years (an understandable tack) but I feel that ultimately undercuts one of the major basic points made
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
’m very glad I read this book. It is, in many ways, an insiders book. The author gives an intense and up close look at both long time philanthropists and the new crop of tech philanthropists. He does a good job of giving us a clear picture of some of the clear strands of philanthropy that are going on around the country (and world) right now. It helps make sense of a lot of things. I liked this book a lot. I would have liked for the author to have spent a bit more time than he does (at just the ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
A thorough but at times repetitious look at the state of philanthropy in our country. I was surprised at the huge amounts and the variety of donations, but I never thought of the downside: that a small part of our population is stepping in to fill areas where are government used to play a hand such as education, medical research, etc. but are doing so selectively and as such making decisions which affect all Americans. For instance, hospitals on the upper East end of New York City are heavily en ...more
May 27, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A disturbing look at the growing number of billionaires who largely report to nobody, yet wield outsized influence on the changemaking scene-- throwing money at problems in the interest of creating disruptive change seems fairly benign until you start to realize how much these wealthy givers are setting the agenda for our country-- without any of the civic engagement, democratic process, or sustained participation of the communities so many of these efforts are meant to serve. This was a bit of ...more
Leanne Ellis
Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it
A bit repetitive but the most disturbing part is the cuts in government funding make everyone more dependent on the "kind generosity" of billionaires. We shouldn't have our policies and laws attached to the political views and whims of the super-rich! Will agencies have to make a case for everything in the future? And many of their donations to the arts and education, while welcome, benefit the wealthy more than the poor. Even medical research may rest on the hope that some uber-wealthy narcissi ...more
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Givers is a list of billionaire philanthropists and their charities. The author, David Callahan, includes political causes and think tanks as causes within the charitable realm, which is fair enough. But he doesn’t dig deeply enough into what drives these people, or makes them give, and to what. It is a list rather than insight. And he repetitively criticizes the system which rewards them for giving, whether psychically, with increased social status or most often by giving them income or est ...more
Jane Comer
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is another of this "everyone needs to know but wish you didn't need to know". In the areas where I agreed with the giving I was awed by the power of all the millions of dollars given by philanthropists; however, there were other scary areas that make one worry. Then, there is the billions of dollars in taxes that are lost in all the giving so that those who are so marginalized by the governments continued cut in services are forced to suffer even more so that the government can deploy my tr ...more
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Revealing how big philanthropy impacts every part of our world, including skewing public policies & influencing legislation. In our naivete, most of us would applaud philanthropy as a purely generous act, however, it is also a tax-deductible vehicle for hijacking public policy such as education that our democratically-elected representatives have been charged with making.

The author's crisp, clear prose, combined with compelling subject matter, make this a pleasure to read. Despite this,several t
Blaine Morrow
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017-books
Callahan provides a panoramic view of how people who literally have more money than they can spend give their money away. He has a point, which he makes gently: when so much wealth and power are concentrated on social or political causes, without public oversight, there's a danger that the wealthy will shape the world the rest of us must live in. Perhaps one reason this point is understated is that there's little evidence that the wealthy can agree on what the world should look like, and their g ...more
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