What are the best books on philanthropy, or at least, for philanthropists? Sean Stannard-Stockton has published a list of books on his excellent blog, Tactical Philanthropy. Happily, he includes “Philanthrocapitalism” among them.
Sean’s list is a good one, not least in how it ranges outside of the narrow philanthropy universe to take in books such as “Tribes” by Seth Godin and “Consilience” by Edward O Wilson, as well as the inevitable Malcolm Gladwell tomes.
Still, there are some notable omissions from the general philanthropy category, not least Joel Fleishman’s classic, “The Foundation“, Michael Lerner’s profound “A Gift Observed: Reflections on Philanthropy and Civilisation“, and Claire Gaudiani’s “The Greater Good“.
We would also add a couple of excellent reads about particular philanthropists. Ted Turner’s recent autobiography, “Call Me Ted“, reflects unerringly the man who answered Matthew’s question about whether he had acheived much with his $1 billion gift to support the United Nations by telling him, “If you wore a hairpiece you would look ten years younger.” Likewise, Conor O’Clery’s book about Chuck Feeney, “The Billionaire Who Wasn’t“, is warts and all, and yet thoroughly inspiring.
For anyone interested in how philanthropy can transform politics, there is no better book than “A Gift of Freedom“, John Miller’s account of how the John Olin Foundation seeded the conservative movement in America. For those left-wing givers who want to drive similar change today in the opposite direction, this book contains the blue-print.
As for novels, anyone interested in philanthropy should dip into the works of Charles Dickens – who as a sometime philanthropic advisor to one of the leading Victorian donors, knew of what he wrote. If you need inspiration, check out “A Christmas Carol“. If you want to know how easily good intentions can pave the road to hell, how about “Bleak House“, in which Mrs Jellyby and Mrs Pardiggle are guilty of, respectively, “telescopic philanthropy” and “rapacious benevolence”? Or “The Mystery of Edwin Drood“, in which Dickens ridiculed the leading philanthropic organisation of the day, the Charity Organisation Society, or, as critics of its judgemental approach to the poor dubbed it, “Cringe or Starve”.