Book Review: The complex, tricky life of philanthropy

The Philanthropy Reader, edited by Michael Moody and Beth Breeze, includes contributions from 100 authors

philanthropy bookThe premise of this book is that philanthropy - meaning, literally, love of humanity - is as old as humanity itself: societies throughout history have produced examples of people giving away some of what they have to benefit others or the wider community.

The book also contends that philanthropy has been, and continues to be, full of variety, complexity, conflict and creativity; that it has brought great benefits to the world, including the abolition of slavery, but has rarely been simple or uncontroversial.

To shine a light on these multiple facets of philanthropy, the editors have chosen writings by some 100 authors, ranging from Aristotle to Polly Toynbee, from John Wesley to Milton Friedman.

As well as describing and championing philanthropy, the contributions explore the tricky questions it throws up, including the relative benefits and uneasy dynamics between givers and recipients, the controversial interface between philanthropic and public provision, and the unexpected disadvantages that the most enlightened projects can bring.

A reader can move from, say, the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie laying out his belief that the rich should improve society by setting up "ladders upon which the aspiring can rise", to the US grant-making expert Teresa Odendahl arguing that public policy in the US encourages the rich to wield more power over society than the rest of the population.

This 500-page book aims to be a comprehensive, one-stop resource about philanthropy and is aimed at students, people working in trusts and foundations, philanthropists and those who advise them. It's also a useful reference work, and offers insights to anyone with a thoughtful interest in the voluntary sector.

The Philanthropy Reader, edited by Michael Moody and Beth Breeze, Routledge, £110 hardback, £39.99 paperback, £27.99 eBook

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