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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  3,514 ratings  ·  462 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

Hardcover, 206 pages
Published March 10th 2009 by Random House (NY) (first published 2009)
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Rennie I will look for the write-up on that but having been donating to charity for over 30 years, I despair of the pleas for help ever diminishing. Lately,…moreI will look for the write-up on that but having been donating to charity for over 30 years, I despair of the pleas for help ever diminishing. Lately, in addition to local United Way, Red Cross and MSF, I have begun to look for charities focusing on family planning and education for girls as those two drivers may lead to meaningful progress.(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 ...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
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
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
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
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
Worthless Bum
Mar 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, ethics
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
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
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."
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. ...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
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 ...more
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
Dave Golombek
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps Singer's simplest book, in that he adresses a much narrower subject than he frequently tackles, but in doing so, her creates his most persuasive work (amongst those I've read), and the one with the broadest appeal. This book covers the moral and ethical imperative to donate to charity, in particular those charities helping the poorest in the world.

The book starts with a few simple examples, such as finding a child drowning in a pond or stuck on railroad tracks and briefly
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, ...more
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about charity and at the end, how much one should then give (taking into account how much one earns and life circumstances like mortgages and loans etc.). This is how the book goes:

- Common objections and answers to them (some objections occur later on in the book)
- Why we don't give more, and what prompts us to give (and give more)... here is also a point made that having only altruistic reasons (and no self-interest) is not a bad thing to admit. Self-interest being there is not a bad
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful book that can change your life and make you feel at last that you can do something about the tragedies we see on TV all the time.

In a nutshell, Singer asks us why if we would not hesitate to jump into a pond to save the life of a drowning child, we do not have the same impulse to save the lives of children who are dying of preventable disease and malnutrition in developing countries. He says that if we are choosing to spend money on bottled water, for example, when tap water
Mary Varn
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book challenges us to think about how we can easily and cheaply alleviate human suffering and even save lives.

We just have to:
- Value the lives and well-being of those living in extreme poverty.
- Part with a small percent of our income, after taking care of our own needs.
- Give to charities that have been proven to be effective.

I recommend this book to everyone. There's a new introduction by Michael Schur, creator of The Good Place, and the audiobook is read by several celebrities.
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very compelling case to share part of your income (even a very small part) with people who really need it through highly effective charities. One of the things that got me reading this 10th-anniversary edition -actually, listening to it, as I got the audiobook version- was that it was freely shared. It's not that I wouldn't buy it, but I just loved the generous act of offering the book/audiobook for free to help spread the message of generosity. It makes a lot of sense :)

If you're interested,
Margarida Sá
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
His argument - that it would be unethical to avoid giving and helping if we have te means to do it- is ok. I agree that we should always do the best we can. However, I wonder if we -the people, the 99%- should be given such big responsibility as to save the poorest people in the world. I don't believe that charity would be the most effective way and I was expecting that he would give the big piture, like why some countries are poorer and how governments fail to help them.

Edward Sullivan
Jul 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I read this after I saw the author interviewed on the Stephen Colbert Report. Singer, an ethicist and philosopher offers compelling arguments and humbling challenges for changing our lifestyles in very reasonable ways that could have a tremendous impact upon the poorest of the poor in the world.
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: human beings
Effective altruism works for me like veganism: by assuming a few rather uncontroversial ethical axioms, trusting science and reason, and following a handful of simple logical deductions, it seems to me that one cannot but arrive at effective altruism and veganism in the end.

The axioms are such as [my interpretations]: “if there is something that is ‘bad’ in the universe, it is suffering”; “ethics is by definition independent of the point of view of the observer”, “there are gradations of ‘evil’
Xing Chen
Jun 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who earns a decent income
Wonderful, wonderful book in so many ways.
Peter Singer draws on a wealth of experience and information, and takes a mature, evaluative look at the gap between rich and poor.

He summarises basic statistics regarding this disparity (earning power, standards of living, extent of charitable giving, in different parts of the world), but this is not the main focus of the book. (I recommend The World Food Problem: Tackling the Causes of Undernutrition in the Third World, for that.)

Essentially, it asks:
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, development, 2020
I listened to the tenth anniversary audio edition of this book. It was fun to hear actors whom I love from the Good Place (Kristen Bell!) read a few chapters. You can get a free copy of this audio book from The Life You Can Save nonprofit organization. (Just google it.)

This book has greatly influenced my personal ethics as well as my own charitable giving / volunteering. It’s possible this book has influenced me more than any other book I have ever read. I took the giving pledge in 2015 and have
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book because I was early for a doctor's appointment and wanted something to pass the time. Clearly I'm not poverty stricken, financially or physically, but possibly intellectually as I'm finding it hard to formulate a response to the arguments in the book.

Peter Singer starts the book by describing an event where one man selflessly rescues another man who has fallen onto train tracks, a real event where both men were safe after the train passed over them. Singer then goes on to
Jul 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
An excellent, accessible presentation of a distressingly unheeded argument.

"Do you have a bottle of water or a can of soda on the table beside you as you read this book? 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." (pg. xi)

"South Asia is still the region with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, a total of 600 million, including 455 million in India." (pg. 7)

"Fashion designer
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
I was already closely following the Effective Altruism movement, but hadn't read this book that the movement is largely founded on until this updated anniversary version was recently released and its audiobook version was made available as a free download. Very glad to have finally read it. I am moved and convicted, but also energized.

Peter Singer is the authority on philosophy and ethics in regard to the world's poorest inhabitants, and his philosophies are not without controversy (he concedes
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Peter Albert David Singer is an Australian philosopher. He is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), University of Melbourne. He specializes in applied ethics, approaching ethical issues from a secular preference utilitarian perspective.

He has served, on two occasions, as chair of
“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.” 70 likes
“Extreme poverty is not only a condition of unsatisfied material needs. It is often accompanied by a degrading state of powerlessness. ” 28 likes
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