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The Most Good You Can Do:
How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically

Peter Singer
Yale University Press, 2015


The Most Good You Can Do is a non-fiction book that takes a practical look at the ethical choices that we face when we give to a charity. It focuses strongly on effective altruism, both in giving money and in alternatives forms of charity.

Singer focuses on the idea that, insofar as we have limited resources and lots of problems we want fixed, being ethical also means being rational in our charity. Since we can only give to a limited number of causes, we should spend some time and mental effort in figuring out how we can make our donations do the most good possible. In large part, this means the most good per dollar, but Singer also looks at the value of our time and the opportunity cost of our actions. Singer certainly has opinions on what the best use of your resources is, but he tries not to be too pushy, focusing on the underlying principles of effective altruism, and not working to convince you what the 'One True Way' might be.

The biggest flaw with this book, if it is a flaw, is that it continually pushes boundaries, and argues beyond what most readers will accept. While Singer does not attempt to force any one to extreme solutions, he very clearly states the arguments first for donating one of your kidneys, then treating animals as at least approximately the ethical equivalent of humans, and then on to the consideration of far-future generations over currently living humans. While there are good arguments to be made for all of these, and he makes them as well as they can be in this brief treatment, the idea of effective altruism as applied to everyday causes is already pretty radical for many people, and I suspect that the later chapters may distract many people from the central message.

Overall, this is a good read, and it is likely to motivate you to do more good in the world and give you some new ideas and resources. It may go more into radical ethical ideas than many readers will like, but then, the title is the most good you can do, so it's fair for it to be a bit extreme. Given that it is short (180 pages), well-written, and informative, I would generally recommend the book to pretty much anyone who doesn't immediately feel an overwhelming sense of boredom when they hear the word 'ethics'.

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