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The Life You Can and Should Save

Peter Singer: The Life You Can Save, How to Play Your Part in Ending World Poverty, Picador, 2009.

Singer’s The Life You Can Save (2009) offers a practical and concrete approach to how each of us can play our part in ending world poverty. The book offers a ‘personal perspective’ on development, which is carefully thought of, argumentatively complete, and hard to challenge.

Singer’s book approaches the difficult and vast issue of world poverty by giving concrete and small examples from our everyday life. These examples of our thinking and behavior are applied to the global level. This approach might seem naïve in the beginning part of the book, but makes perfect sense in the later chapters. Singer’s excellent and concrete examples show how the approach works in real life.

Book’s main argument is that everyone can contribute to the ending of global poverty. Book discusses also human nature; why we don’t give more and how to create a culture of giving in the western world, which has been driven by materialistic values. Facts about aid are presented; main focus is on how to improve it. Book concludes with a new standard of giving, which relies on both relevant concerns; facts concerning development aid and human nature. Even though the argument of the book may appear highly idealistic at first, the book excels in taking the argument to the level of everyday life.

The book includes many great and concrete examples of successful projects both in the developing and the developed nations. It also includes a concrete plan how to give more in a sensible manner. Project examples are interesting to read and they demonstrate well how concrete progress can be achieved, nationally and internationally. The list of examples in the middle part of the book changes the tone of the book from analytical to mainly descriptive. Some might find this change dull, but all of the examples are definitely worth getting to know.

Book is mainly written for anyone interested in NGOs or working for one, but it is understandable to non-experts as well. Singer also presents lots of concrete statistics to demonstrate how little each of us should actually donate in order to for example raise enough money to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The truth behind these estimates is questionable, but the calculations themselves are worth getting to know. Singer does receive high points for taking the argument of the book as far as possible on the concrete level. His approach to the issue is practical, argumentatively solid and what is most delightful, the book has an overall positive tone despite the serious issue under focus.

The main reason why to select this book is that it embodies valid arguments for breaking our norms of ‘aid behaviorism’. Most importantly, author uses statistical data to prove how little it takes to achieve significant change and therefore created hope in the mind of the reader. This book has the needed potential to change the reader’s mindset concerning personal donations of time and money to charities and development assistance. It also convincingly explains how donating to charities improves also the quality of the donor’s life. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in bottom-up change, NGOs, charities or volunteer work.


Minna Mayer