Doing Good Better by William MacAskill

This thought-provoking call to action deals with some uncomfortable truths, says Susannah Birkwood

Is your charity making the biggest possible impact in the most cost-effective way and in one of the most neglected cause areas? If it isn't, you might actually do more good with your life by securing a highly paid job in finance and donating a chunk of your salary to the most effective causes.

Doing Good Better is replete with counterintuitive arguments such as this. Written by William MacAskill, an associate professor at Oxford University who has pledged to donate everything he earns above £20,000 to charity, the book strongly advocates the concept of "effective altruism" – a movement that aims to get people who want to do good to use the resources at their disposal in the most useful ways possible.

MacAskill wants people to focus on high-priority cause areas – such as global poverty or climate change – rather than causes they have a personal connection with. He argues, for example, that to donate to or work for a charity because you knew someone who died from a specific cause equates to elevating the needs of some people over those of others for emotional rather than moral reasons.

Other claims that fly in the face of conventional wisdom are that charities such as Oxfam and World Vision, which run programmes in several countries, are unlikely to be cost-effective because they do not focus exclusively on the programmes that have been demonstrated to make the biggest impact.

MacAskill also makes well-evidenced and persuasive cases that giving to disaster relief is not the best way to help the poor, that buying Fairtrade goods achieves little and that the best charities do hundreds of times more good than typical charities.

Doing Good Better, MacAskill's first book, is an inspiring, thought-provoking call to action that will challenge anyone who has a social conscience with its uncomfortable truths.

Doing Good Better, by William MacAskill, Guardian Faber, £14.99 paperback

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