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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  4,538 ratings  ·  606 reviews
Using ethical arguments, provocative thought experiments, illuminating examples, and case studies of charitable giving, philosopher Peter Singer shows that our current response to world poverty is not only insufficient but ethically indefensible.

Singer contends that we need to change our views of what is involved in living an ethical life. To help us play our part in bring

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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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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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
Timothy Mikulski
Nov 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Singer's entire work challenged me, personally, in ways that I have never before experienced with a book. Singer challenges each and every one of us, through sound philosophical and moral reasoning, to be better people and to truly care for each other. An intensely emotional and inspriational book, very well written, and one that I consistently think about almost daily since having read it a few months back. ...more
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
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very confronting book. Must read.
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book because it made me uncomfortable. It caused me to face myself point blank and honestly ask difficult questions about my willingness to give to the poor. I have asked myself how much I would really be willing to sacrifice if it meant saving the life of people across the world that I had never met.

I like the way it changed me. I completely agree that those in better positions of life with better income ought to be obligated to help those less fortunate. Heaven knows in the
Jan 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference, and The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically back to back, so this is a sort of comparative/roundup review of all three.

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.

This one isn't technically about Effective Altruis
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘We must act’ - assessing the facts and ethical arguments about poverty

Australian author Peter Singer earned his degrees from the University of Melbourne and University of Oxford, has been an educator in England, the United States, and Australia, and serves as Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Professor Laureate at University of Melbourne. The initial edition of this book –THE LIFE YOU CAN SAVE – was published in 2009 and served as the impetus to his founding of the non-profit o
Feb 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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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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  Mateo Askaripour is a Brooklyn-based writer whose bestselling debut novel, Black Buck, was published in January. It's been a Read with Jenna...
55 likes · 8 comments
“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.” 77 likes
“Extreme poverty is not only a condition of unsatisfied material needs. It is often accompanied by a degrading state of powerlessness. ” 29 likes
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