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The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back
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The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

3.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,322 ratings  ·  324 reviews
It all started when fourteen-year old Hannah Salwen had a“eurekaâ moment. Seeing a homeless man in her neighborhood at the precise second a glistening Mercedes coupe pulled up, she said “You know, Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal.â

Until that day, the Salwens had been caught up like so many of us in the classic American dream—
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published February 10th 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2010)
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Average rating 3.26  · 
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 ·  1,322 ratings  ·  324 reviews

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Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: simple-life
Just to start off, I want to be clear that I think the idea of a family moving into a less expensive home and using half the money from the sale of the larger house to do good in impoverished areas of Africa is a great idea. Really. I think it's a wonderful thing. That's why I picked up the book at the library.

However ... oh man. This book ... it just turned my stomach. Why? Because they were so eager (read: wanted instant gratification) to go out and do good, flying to Africa and showing these
Oct 29, 2010 rated it liked it
This book was a mixed bag for me. On one hand I admire the family for taking the initiative at the behest of their 14-year old daughter to attempt to make a difference in the world. On the other hand, the tone of sacrifice was annoying. The Salwens made the decision to leave behind their 6,500 sf, 2 million dollar house for a "smaller", "non-descript" house. In doing a little research I discovered that this new home was valued at nearly 1 million dollars with nearly 3,000 sf., and I don't know ...more
May 29, 2010 rated it did not like it
I think you get all you need to get out of this book by reading the summary on the inside if the book jacket.
WIth a 15-year-old daughter as the instigator, a wealthy Atlanta family decides to sell their mansion and downgrade to a house half the size (at 3500 sq. ft. still twice the size of any place I ever lived) and donate half the selling price to charity. This ends up being an $800k pledge to The Hunger Project.

Big surprise: they realize they don't miss the bigger house at all. 800k is a
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: financial-peace
On the one hand, it is hard to criticize this book. I mean, a family selling their 2 million dollar house to help their 14-year-old goal of funding schools in Africa? Yay! I'm not heartless.
But on the other hand, this book got seriously irritating. I think it is the author's journalist writing style. He thinks we care that in one random meeting while journaling his daughter uses a blue pen, and then a black pen when that one runs out. Scintillating details. In fact, these odd details glitter
Nov 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Mixed feelings. On one hand, it's an incredible story of an epiphany that a family of four has together to give away a full 50% of all the family's assets - and they agree to act on it. A rare event and uncommon tale. They share the details of their logical and critical approach, resistance, struggle, serendipity, adjustment, and the very real growth that they go through individually and collectively. It's a marvelous story! Fantastic! Inspiring! It's a hugely important message- that now is ...more
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
I recently found this book on an airplane.

Years ago I read a book about a sickness called "Affluenza," which is basically a consumer's disease--they just can't stop buying and consuming. I identified with it right away as I abhor stuff, perhaps because I have moved eleven times in the past twenty years and also because I'd rather spend my money on travel, which creates memories, than stuff, which only collects dust.

I thought this book would be in a similar vein, but it really wasn't.

An affluent
Jan 18, 2010 rated it liked it
While on the whole I thought that this was a worthwhile book with an important message, there were things in it that didn't sit well with me. Maybe I am being overly critical, which is more than likely, but the order of events in the story of the Salwen's adventure to make a difference in the world seem backward to me.

I admire this family for what they set out to do but for some reason it's difficult for me to understand why they did it the way they did. They decided to sell their two million
Mar 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
This motivational tale of a family who, spurred on by their teen daughter Hannah's altruistic desires, sold their McMansion in Atlanta GA and donated half of the proceeds to the Hunger Project is meant to demonstrate a relatable way to make a difference: choose a number, like 50%, and commit to donating or cutting that amount from your life. There are going to be some who just can't relate to what the Salwens were are to sacrifice, or having generous neighbors who agree to slash the price on a ...more
Jack Granath
Aug 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
The inspiring story of a family who sells their house, moves into one that's half as expensive, and gives the entire difference to a charitable project in Africa. The book documents the family's decision-making process and the many unlooked-for, positive transformations that resulted.

Why do so many people recoil when they hear this story? The authors assume that others feel criticized in the face of such a generous act, and I'm sure that's part of it. Readers gasp at the lavishly appointed
Melissa Lee-Tammeus
Oct 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: borrowed
I read the first 30 pages of this book before going to bed and went to bed pissed off. This morning I figured out why. This book is ridiculous. I can't even take it seriously nor can I finish it. This author and his family are so out of touch with what is happening under their very noses. I literally had to read twice how they were going to sacrifice their 6000 square foot home for something half that and that they pledged to spend 800,000 dollars on work for someone else. Are you fricking ...more
Jul 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
I'm a firm believer of "if you're not enjoying the book that you're reading, stop reading it." I read about half of this book and decided it wasn't worth my time or energy to continue reading it.

I think it's great that this family was willing to change their lifestyle in order to help others, but they really annoyed me. Kevin, the author and father of the family, was always referring to poor people as "these people," which for some reason I find really offensive and it seems like they're unable
Mar 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
I liked the idea of this book more than I liked actually reading the book. The family made a dramatic and admirable choice, but the book itself fell flat and the style of the writing wasn't appealing to me. Both father and daughter use at least one inspirational quote per chapter with the same construction: "As Joe Schmoe said, 'Inspirational quote here.'" Surely at least the father, an experienced journalist, could do a little better than that. Still, kudos to the Salwens for committing ...more
Jen Knapp
Jul 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
What can I say? I powered through this one. Aside from the cheesiness, the writing style was very contrived. Lots of useless details--Hemingway would have ripped it apart.
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should be titled great parenting skills 101.

Mr. and Mrs. Salweh, both from humble backgrounds have become affluent business people/teachers/journalists. They live in a $2 million home, and buy their son a new $200 bat each baseball season. But they also work with Habitat for Humanity and donate a small % of their income to charity each year, and they're happy with that. That is until their teen daughter, Hannah, decides that their family needs to do more to help heal some of the inequality she
Jul 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I feel responsible for encouraging all of you to pick up this book!! I expected an unrealistic, preaching story about a wealthy family that gave up everything they had to live in a tent with little food and no electronics. But it wasn't. They worked hard for their money and they like nice things. They continued a realistic lifestyle while giving more. Their example is totally doable for me and for anyone - to whatever extent you want. (Volunteer, donate, research causes, put down devices at ...more
Jan 19, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: inspirational
I loved the concept of the book, and the process this family went through. It is challenging to think about and apply in your own life. The reason I didn't give it a higher rating was twofold--although inspirational, the family's plan comes off as not very well thought out when they commit money they don't have (the house doesn't sell initially), which feels irresponsible. The other irritant throughout the book is the constant name-brand-dropping--mentioning food brands, clothing brands, car ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
SUMMARY: It all started when fourteen-year old Hannah Salwen had a “eureka” moment. Seeing a homeless man in her neighborhood at the precise second a glistening Mercedes coupe pulled up, she said “You know, Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal.”

Until that day, the Salwens had been caught up like so many of us in the classic American dream—providing a good life for their children, accumulating more and more stuff, doing their part but not really feeling it. So
Thomas Holbrook
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What happens to a family when one member has a “Eureka Moment” so bold and so loud that it causes the family to live up to its own definition? For the Salwen’s of Atlanta, GA, when the daughter connected the dots between “what I have” and “what is needed,” it caused them to sell their historic, 6500 square-foot, multi-million dollar home and strive to give half of the proceeds to a project that could cause a long-lasting change in a small part of the world.
Kevin and Joan Salwen were
Nov 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people concerned about oversupply & hunger
I'm amazed at some of the negative reactions to this book. I certainly am part of the 99% and am pinching my pennies to manage my retirement within a few years, but I struggle, on my income, with many of the same feelings that this rather wealthy family in Atlanta have about how to deal with their own acquisitiveness and how to make good decisions about donations to charity. They are human beings, even though they did own a mansion on Peachtree Street. Reading this book is a good way to get a ...more
Jul 11, 2016 rated it liked it
My husband and I are reading this together. We want to be more intentional with our time and resources when it comes to giving back, and I thought this would be a good way to get the ball rolling. I found that the authors were sincere and ambitious with their own family project. A young teen's observation about seeing a Mercedes and a homeless man on the same street corner kicks off a family's journey to sell their McMansion in order to help a community in Ghana become more empowered and ...more
Alex Serafini
Dec 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 06, 2011 rated it liked it
I liked the premise of this book (family making a huge effort to do something good in the world) but for some reason big chunks of this book just bugged me. (Don't take it personally, Kathleen, I still like many of your suggestions!!) :) I think it is because their project is so unattainable for most people that it is hard to relate to this project or the process they go through. The "small" house they move into, after all, is still bigger (at 3,000+ sq. feet) than most peoples' homes... and ...more
Jess Gill
Feb 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
the story of a family who sold their home, downsized and gave half the profit of the sale to The Hunger Project. while the family who authored this book had significantly more money than the vast majority of the rest of the world, the concept is still applicable to the lives of others - taking half of what you have - be it time spent watching TV, playing computer games, money spent on hobbies, etc..., and donating that to a cause(s) you feel are worthwhile. i really enjoyed reading about their ...more
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
An easy read, not especially well-written, that oozes the self-satisfaction of the author. Initially, I thought the premise was an inspiring idea: a family sells their home to donate half its value to a charitable cause. I still think the idea is inspiring but the tone and particulars of this book disgust me. This family typifies the scourge of American culture, i.e. blithe over-consumption, until they try to assuage their guilt by doing something less typical However, even this step, what would ...more
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was very moved by this book, and found it successful in what it set out to do--explain a family's decision to sell their house and donate half to the Hunger Project. The tone was appropriate, not self-serving but honest. It's not the whole picture, one assumes, but no memoir of this sort ever is, and I found what was included--the description of decision points and attitudes to be open and sincere. I'm not surprised that many of the ratings for this book focus on the family's wealth, but most ...more
Apr 21, 2010 rated it liked it
(I listened to the audio book, which I recommend) Cool that the family is from Atlanta. Amusing that they consider a 3,000 square foot house to be small and nondescript. True that they did majorly downsize, so to them it did seem small (to me, however, I would stress about cleaning something that big). Motivating that they as a family got involved in charity, and they emphasized the fact that you DON'T have to give half to make an impact. Interesting that I don't think theirs was a completely ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Aug 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: simplicity
Now I must decide: Shall I review this book by looking at it as Half Full or Half Empty?

That's easy for me. I'm a Half Full kind of gal.

Half Full it is then.

You probably already know the story. Fourteen-year-old Hannah Salwen saw a homeless man and a shiny Mercedes and had an idea which she shared with her family. If her family would sell their enormous house, they could give half the money from the house to the poor and would make the world a better place. The family decided to do what
Apr 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: families, classes, schools and companies- a read aloud that runs a little long.
When Kevin's daughter Hannah challenged her (already philanthropic) family to do something really meaningful for the disadvantaged and needy- Kevin and Joan came back with a challenge of their own, "Do you care enough to sell your house, trade down and give away the difference?"
Hannah's response kicks off the adventure that is relayed in this book. It is crisp non fiction writing displaying skills that Kevin honed at the Wall Street Journal interspersed with Hannah's thoughts about giving.
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Ok - so I saw this family on CBS Sunday morning, and immediately downloaded the book. Why? Because they are a seemingly "normal" (we'll come back to that) family who is doing something awesome.

And the book lived up to its promise. The family went to Africa, did good, came home, and learned some wonderful life lessons.

Similar to "Nickel and Dimed" - I wonder - is it really possible for ALL of us to do something like this? And, again, the answer is Yes and No. Most of us aren't blessed with the
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
I really like the message behind the story, however the writing could have been more interesting and a bit tighter. I really enjoyed the motivational quotes, facts, and resources provided by Hannah to encourage readers to start making a difference. However I felt that the family set out to sacrifice in the name of charity by selling their home and downsizing, but I don't think they really "got" sacrificing. Moving from a million dollar mansion to a half million dollar house isn't exactly ...more
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Kevin Salwen was a reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal for more than eighteen years. He has served on the board of Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta and works with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“Everyone has too much of something, whether it’s time, talent or treasure. Everyone does have their own half, you just have to find it.” 7 likes
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