Sunday, December 15, 2019

Book Review: 'The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty: 10th Anniversary Edition' by Peter Singer

The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

‘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 organization of the same name. His many important books address social needs for change, ethics, animal liberation, and significant philosophical issues. 

In this compelling book Peter Singer addresses the global crisis of poverty, and a more timely source of information would be difficult to discover. The grievous and increasingly obvious problem of the homeless forced to live on the streets or in meager tents in the outskirts of neighborhoods is all too apparent as we walk through cities, drive along highways, watch social media and television, and read newspapers - not to mention the tragic conditions of immigrants who cross borders searching for a better life and find sufferable living conditions instead. But as Peter writes, it is not enough to simply be aware and feel compassionate about these conditions and situations: there is something each of us can do to ameliorate the problem. 

The tenor of the message of this exceptional book is set in the Preface, and perhaps sharing a portion of that will encourage reading Peter’s guide – ‘When he saw the man fall onto the subway tracks, Wesley Autry didn’t hesitate. With the lights of the oncoming train visible, Autry, a construction worker, jumped down to the tracks and pushed the man down into a drainage ditch between the rails, covering him with his own body. The train passed over them, leaving a trail of grease on Autry’s cap. Autry, later invited to the State of the Union Address and praised by the president for his bravery, downplayed his actions: “I don’t feel like I did something spectacular. I just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right.” That is the manner in which Peter shares his philosophy – commonsense approaches to changing a global problem.

His goals – to challenge us to think about our obligations to those trapped in extreme poverty, and to convince us to give more of our income to help the poor. The case studies and examples he submits are warmly shared with compassion and with a stern insistence that each of us, no matter our financial situation from billionaires to working class, can contribute money to help eradicate poverty – even small amounts (i.e. 1% of our income!) make a difference. He also suggests reputable charities worthy of contributions. Sage ethical advice from one of our most important philosophers of the day. Very Highly Recommended for all readers.

Editor's note: This book, in audio and written form, is available for free at Its review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.