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

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4.16  ·  Rating details ·  5,412 ratings  ·  709 reviews
It is 2021 and the world has experienced unimaginable suffering, death and despair. The pandemic has had a devastating effect on global extreme poverty and harrowing scenes from around the world continue to leave us shocked. As the pandemic rages on, it’s natural to ask: how can I help? Peter Singer – often considered to be the world’s most influential living philosopher– ...more
Hardcover, 206 pages
Published March 10th 2009 by Random House (NY) (first published 2009)
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Emily The book addresses that question (check out chapter 7, "Improving Aid.") Between 1993 and 2013, the proportion of the world's population living in ext…moreThe book addresses that question (check out chapter 7, "Improving Aid.") Between 1993 and 2013, the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty decreased from 34% to 11%. We are making progress. But this book is not necessarily about decreasing the number of poor people; it is about saving the lives and decreasing the suffering of the poor people who already exist. Conveniently, lifting people out of poverty also results in them having fewer children, because they can be more confident their children will survive.(less)

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Amanda
Nov 21, 2011 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
Alex J. O'Connor
Like most of Singer's writings, this has ruined my life all over again, but in the best way possible.

I have been spending a considerable amount of time carefully navigating the implications of this book and considering what moral obligation requires me to give. I have not found (and do not expect to find) a precise answer to this concern, yet, after reading The Life You Can Save, concluding that I should be doing and giving more to help the world's most vulnerable was one of the easiest developm
...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
Casey
Feb 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Mikaellyng
Mar 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
Probably one of the worst works of Peter Singer. In this book he proposes that we should all donate 5% of out annual income (if we can) or more to organizations such as UNICEF and Oxfam to help with poverty relief. By stressing the individuals social responsibility of ending poverty he essentially totally misses any reasons for why there exists poverty in the first place by granting global capitalism legitimacy. Singer shows the typical data about millions being lifted out of extreme poverty the ...more
Vegantrav
Mar 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Ugh
Apr 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Larry Bassett
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sheri
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I heard an interview with Singer on the Ezra Klein show and liked the premise and the idea of a free book so I grabbed it. It is certainly a very easy, quick read and worth the time and thought. I really like his moral position about why people should give more. However, as I've been recently reading so much stuff on race and class in America I'm not as convinced about saving the world's population.

Yes, America is a wealthy country and yes we built this wealth in large part by shitting on und
...more
Susan
Mar 30, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book will likely make you feel crappy for not donating more to charities, but it’s definitely worth bearing it because if it sparks you to take an action, you could save lives. It introduced me to many charitable causes I hadn’t considered before, and even better, told me about GiveWell, which is pretty convenient!
Zarina
Aug 04, 2019 added it
Why is this over 4 stars??????????????????????????? It was fine, mostly because Singer put himself in a position where I don't have much to disagree with and not because it changed my life in any way. The whole theme of the book was "Please if you are rich then give like 5% of your money to poor people. Please! You will help people and feel good about it and it won't even affect you that much because you already have so much money!", said in a hundred different ways, supported by some mildly int ...more
Rory
May 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
bethany
Feb 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
...more
Caroline
Nov 11, 2020 rated it liked it
made some good points that i ... sorta already learned from NBC’s the good place oop. perhaps that is why i found it... a little recursive???

ALSO i found myself repeatedly a little put off by the palpable eurocentrism running through the book. i understand its intellectual goal—that we should work to level wealth inequality across the world—but I found that this consideration of global poverty missed colonialism completely (the underlying cause of much poverty) and instead affirmed white savior
...more
Worthless Bum
Mar 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ethics, philosophy
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
Sarah
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was the book I needed to read after my trip to Ecuador. Raises difficult ethical questions and prompts one to pay attention of the effectiveness of their donations. "I recommend that instead of worrying about how much you would have to do in order to live a fully ethical life, you do something that is significantly more than you have been doing so far. Then see how that feels. You may find it more rewarding than you imagined possible." ...more
Josh Foord
Sep 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book. Thought provoking and many brilliant arguments. Peter Singer and the team at The Life You Can Save do incredible goods for the world. Makes me proud to be someone taking “The Pledge” and donating monthly to the 90/10 LYCS fund.
Richa Jajoo
Apr 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Let's start with the child in the pond argument. You're walking across a pond, in which you see a child in distress. It will most certainly drown if you do not immediately help it. However, you are running late for work. You have also purchased and happen to be wearing a set of very expensive clothes at the moment.

Most people, when they come across this argument, will agree that an innocent child's life is worth more than possibly running late for an important meeting or any expensive clothes. A
...more
Nick Klagge
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very quick read and a compelling argument. Singer argues that middle-to-upper-class people in developed countries (and upper class people in developing countries) have a moral obligation to give significantly more than we do to help the poorest people in the developing world. Although it is easy (and fair) to argue over exactly how much should be required of us, Singer pretty convincingly argues that, using any reasonable standard, the number should be much higher than it currently is. Singer' ...more
Kirsten Angeles
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I just binged this both through the audiobook and the e-book and I have to say that this might be one of my favorite books of 2020, if not all time. Singer really magnified giving, why we ought to give, and how we can do so most effectively. I’m already acquainted with the ideas of effective altruism, so I really didn’t expect how much I would still grapple with the ideas Singer presented. He presented everything with a clear logical flow, and it really ties up the idea of EA being a pair of the ...more
Brenda Pike
Jul 23, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Sallie Dunn
This is a hard book to “rate”. It’s basically an appeal to open your heart (and your wallet) to the plight of the world’s most economically disadvantaged people. One story after another of people who are living on under $2 a day. They are hungry, they are malnourished, they are dying of malaria, and their prospects for a better life are bleak. We, the citizens of first world countries, are not doing out share to lift these people out of their disheartening circumstances. I found the appendix at ...more
Becky Caiger
Jul 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am holding out so much faith for Charlie white here because this book became so tedious at time I thought my eyeballs were gonna turn inside out
But it would be stupid to say there isn’t enough philosophy in here because it’s literally full of lots of weird questions about how we behave towards one another, it’s just frustrating how sometimes Peter just doesn’t follow through with much explanation of the philosophical debate but it’s fine I’ll be fine
Iman Shabani
One of the best books I've read in 2020. The topic might seem too common and repetitive, but the content, not so much. You might want to give this one a read. ...more
Abel Johannes Grage Jakobsen
In this illuminating book, moral philosopher Peter Singer examines the responsibility that people living in affluent nations have to act to end the hunger, decease and extreme poverty that still exists in parts of the world today. Rather than presenting us with haunting images of starving children or long descriptions of the evils of poverty, Singer makes use of provocative thought experiments and philosophical reasoning to develop a rational argument that we ought to give more, significantly mo ...more
Kevin Doherty
Nov 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting one that shaped a lot of my moral philosophy and made me very annoying to family and friends for a couple years. The core is this: if you can save a stranger from drowning by going into a lake, ruining your clothes but saving their life, would you do it? Of course. Now what if that person lives across the world. Would you figuratively ruin your clothes (spend $100) to save their life?

Singer raises the standard of what it means to be a good person. When you spend money on a n
...more
Solo
Aug 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-reading
ok Peter listen here

I completely approve of the work your doing and I understand the value of such an argument but please stop being such a statistics bro.

I enjoyed the fact he scrutinised some weaknesses of charity in terms of its application but I felt he disregarded huge issues that face charity and aid right now (such as elite capture, notions around post-colonialism, etc.). Although he made a very coherent and convincing argument for the donating of income and assets to an extent that it’s
...more
Bianca A.
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: speed-read, 2020
A powerful and informative work designed to build awareness and inspire action.
This book will make you think twice about what it means to live an ethical life.

I've grown an interest over 2020 for books that cover activism for causes such as world hunger and social and racial inequality, animal cruelty and extinction, climate change and other very relevant components of our modern reality.
There are many forms of activism: with a gun, with a street protest, or with literature and information. I'
...more
Shwetha Macheri
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the most influential book of all time. This book gives a practical attitude and a quantifiable effort to combat global poverty and provide "basic needs" for everyone. I had watched Peter singer's interviews which motivated me to go vegan and contribute 1% of my salary to effective charity. Now I am determined to do more. A must read book for everyone. ...more
Anatoly Kaverin
Dec 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I planned to read this book for quite a while and Goodreads notified me of free 10 year anniversary edition, which I ended up listening.
Book raises interesting moral and ethical questions: do citizens of wealthy countries have obligations to help those in poorest ones? How do you know where your funds go?
Concept of effective charities I learned from one of podcasts, the book explains it in great detail.
As a result I’ve changed my list of charitable organizations and working on incremental appro
...more
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Peter Singer is sometimes called "the world’s most influential living philosopher" although he thinks that if that is true, it doesn't say much for all the other living philosophers around today. He has also been called the father (or grandfather?) of the modern animal rights movement, even though he doesn't base his philosophical views on rights, either for humans or for animals.


In 2005 Time mag
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