11 More Great Books about Philanthropy

It is World Book Day again, so I thought I would do a follow-up to a blog I did last year on “The 11 Best Books on the History of Philanthropy“. Partly because that post proved to be quite popular, and also because I have come across a few more great philanthropy books recently that I’m keen to share with any like-minded readers.



My philanthropy library, updated for 2017.


This time I have broadened my criteria out a bit. I’m still focusing on books about the idea of philanthropy, as opposed to the details of its practice, but this time I’m including a few books that come from a philosophical or scientific point of view as well as well as a historical one.



Before we crack on with the list, don’t forget that you can still get a free copy of the bibliography to my book Public Good by Private Means: How philanthropy shapes Britain, which contains links to a huge array of books, papers and articles about philanthropy. You can also get a sneak peek of the introduction to my book HERE.



Right then, in no particular order here are my next top 11 books on philanthropy:



  • 1) Philanthropy in Democratic Societies

    by Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli & Lucy Bernholz (eds.)


This is THE best book to date on the philosophy and political theory of philanthropy. philanthropy-in-democratic-societiesA collection of chapters by many of the best-known names in philanthropy scholarship covers  a range of fascinating topics, including the role of philanthropy and foundations within a democracy, the historical roots of the distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit and whether donor choice needs to be curbed in order to make philanthropy effective. A very strong recommendation.




  • 2) Giving Well: The ethics of philanthropy

by Patricia Illingworth, Thomas Pogge & Leif Weinar (eds)



This is the other really good book on the philosophy of philanthropy.  giving-wellThis one focuses on ethical questions rather than political theory ones, including whether there is an obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves and whether the inherent power dynamic in philanthropy creates problems. The collection contains Peter Singer’s famous paper “What Should a Billionaire Give – And What Should You?” which has been a major influence on the Effective Altruism movement. It also contains Rob Reich’s paper “Towards a Political Theory of Philanthropy”, which is (to my mind) the best analysis of the justification for tax relief on donations, and one that I have leant heavily on in my own work.




  • 3) The Philanthropy Reader

by Michael Moody and Beth Breeze (eds)



In some ways this one is a bit of a cheat for this list, as it is actually a collection of carefully-chosen readings the-philanthropy-readerabout various aspects of philanthropy taken from lots of other sources. However, it’s my list, so I’ll do what I like! And as a resource to dip into for anyone interested in many of the key questions of philanthropy (e.g. its role in democracy, the influence of religion, whether there is a moral imperative to give, how philanthropy can be made more “effective” etc.) it is absolutely invaluable.




  • 4) Giving Well, Doing Good: Readings for thoughtful philanthropists

by Amy A. Kass (ed.)



As the subtitle would suggest, this is a collection of readings giving-well-doing-goodabout philanthropy along much the same lines as the Moody and Breeze book listed at number 3. However, there is very little crossover between the two books, and this one casts the net a bit wider in looking for readings that are not directly about philanthropy, but have clear relevance to some of the key questions that need to be addressed. A combination of this and the collection listed above would make a pretty good mini-library for anyone who just wants to have some good readings about all the various aspects of philanthropy to call on.




  • 5) Civil Society, Philanthropy and the Fate of the Commons

by Bruce R. Sievers



This book takes a look at the role that philanthropy plays in maintaining a healthy civil society, Sievers Jacket 3.inddand analyses what this tells us about the way in which philanthropy can best work within a liberal democracy. It is an interesting book in its own right, charting the historical development of the notion of civil society and tackling some of the thorny questions about the political theory of philanthropy, but it also seems particularly relevant at the moment given the strain being put on the notion of liberal democracy following the seismic political and cultural events of last year. It is prescient too, as it makes a case for the importance of philanthropic support for a free press, which is something we are now seeing happen in response to the threat of misinformation and “fake news” (as I have explored elsewhere).




  • 6) Charity Law and the Liberal State

by Matthew Harding



This is a must-read for anyone interested in the question of what constitutes an acceptable charitable purpose and why; the justification for tax breaks on donations;charity-law-and-the-liberal-state or the issue of whether charities should be allowed to engage in ‘political’ campaigning. The book is not entirely neutral in its viewpoint, as it deliberately takes a liberal viewpoint centering on the notion of autonomy (which leans heavily on the work of Joseph Raz), but its examination of some of the philosophical questions of charity law and what they tell us about the state’s role in defining the boundaries of philanthropy and civil society are second to none. I would caution that this one should probably be classed as a ‘more challenging read’ – not because it is not well-written, but because it does address conceptual questions of significant depth which require some fairly close reading to get to grips with. It is definitely worth it, though.




  • 7) Does Altruism Exist?

by David Sloan Wilson



This one is a bit different from the other books I have recommended so far: does-altruism-existit is a fairly short, popular science book which looks at what various areas of science (including evolutionary biology, psychology and economics) have to say about the notion of altruism. That means that it is not specifically about philanthropy per se, but it is still a fascinating introduction to the way in which the notion of altruism (which is obviously highly relevant to philanthropy) has posed fairly fundamental challenges to many areas of scientific theory.




  • 8) The Science of Giving: Experimental approaches to the study of charity

by Daniel M. Oppenheimer and Christopher Y. Olivola



If you had your appetite for a scientific perspective on philanthropy whetted by number 6, then this is the book for you.the-science-of-giving It is a collection of academic papers (largely from economics) looking at various aspects of giving behaviour, including whether making donations public encourages people to give more, whether getting people to make commitments prior to donation is an effective way of encouraging more giving, and whether people are more likely to give if there is an “identifiable victim”. You might find yourself a bit lost in a few places where the authors delve into game theoretic equations, but it is isn’t too difficult to get the general gist of all the papers and there are some very interesting results that could give us valuable insights into charitable giving and fundraising.




  • 9) Women and Philanthropy in 19th Century England

by F. K. Prochaska



Right, we’re back on history now. This book takes a look at a fairly specific theme, as its name suggests, women-and-philanthropybut it is a fascinating one that has wider implications for philanthropy and also for questions of equality and the role of women within society. Philanthropy was a vital outlet for women at a time when most avenues for expressing their personal agency (such as voting) were closed to them, and this book strongly makes the case that women were the primary driving force behind the ‘golden age’ of Victorian philanthropy.




  • 10) Philanthropy in America: A History

by Oliver Zunz



This is a cracking book by a top-flight historian, looking at the history of philanthropy in the USA.philanthropy-in-america Zunz details the rise of big-money philanthropy in the form of men like Rockefeller and Carnegie, and their modern-day equivalents like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. He also highlights the concurrent development of mass-market giving, which drive so much if the US’s rich culture of philanthropy. He also takes a fascinating look at the role that philanthropy played in the culture wars of the 1950s and 60s, and the way in which it enabled the export of American ideals abroad. Once again, this is a marvellous book in its own right, but also particularly worth reading at the current time when America’s future is so uncertain and it is possible that US internationalism is going to become a thing of the past.




  • 11) Charity Rediscovered: A study of philanthropic effort in Nineteenth Century Liverpool

by Margaret Simey



A bit of a personal choice this one: obviously I am interested in the history of philanthropy, charity-rediscoveredbut I also moved to Liverpool last year so to find this wonderful book about the development of philanthropy in the city and the role that it played in Liverpool’s enormous growth in the Victorian era was a real treat. But it won’t just be of interest to people in Liverpool, I hasten to add! Whilst the book is focused on this city specifically, Liverpool also acts as a lens through which the author charts wider developments in Victorian philanthropy, so it definitely sits comfortably alongside the other historical volumes on this topic. I only wish I had come across it when I was writing my book, as I would definitely have quoted it liberally!



So that’s this year’s list. I hope at least some of you are motivated to track down any of these books that sound of interest. Let me know if you do, and what you think of them, as there is a unique satisfaction to giving a good book recommendation! Also, do let me know if you know of any philanthropy gems that I have missed.



Rhodri Davies

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