Keeping up the tradition of recommending books to read in the upcoming New Year, here is my list of top twelve books for 2014– all focused on Charity and Philanthropy. For starters, the two words don’t mean the same. Hopefully, by the time you are done with the 12 books, you will know the difference. If you are a slow reader, read a book a month; if you read fast, aim for one a week. The books are not ranked in any order, so feel free to pick up any title you choose. And yes, some of them are online (for free download) at Project Gutenberg or other sites. So, here goes:
- Alexis De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America – Perhaps the most cited (and sometimes cited simply because they have to) this book is a classic. Written by a French Aristocrat, who spent a few years in the U.S. documenting the norms of civil society, Democracy in America is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand how ‘civil association’ came to be so dominant in the U.S., its moral philosophy and political dimensions. Tocqueville does a great job of illustrating the development of legal systems, a relationship of the federal government with the states, among other things. But the genius of the book lies in finding how civil society came about in the U.S. and how it is unique in so many respects. If you don’t have this book, buy it. Today.
- Bishop, M., and Green, M. Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich can save the World – With the discourse of ‘business can save the world’ gaining traction by the day, it is important to be aware of this trend and analysis. While I completely do not agree with the arguments presented here, it is a book worth your time. With Bill Gates and Warren Buffet pledging almost half of their fortunes to philanthropy, will the sector be in a position to transform the lives of millions of poor? Will other HNW individuals follow suit? What are the prospects of this move for philanthropy generally? These are some of the questions Greene and Bishop have dealt with, in this book.
- Robert Wuthnow. Saving America? Faith-based services and the future of Civil Society – I am biased towards Wuthnow. He is my favorite Sociologist of Religion and also the most perceptive one. So, his book makes it among the most important ones to read. In fact, any book written by him is an eye-opener (and there are quite a few to read). At last count, he had authored over 38 books (I counted that many, not sure if I missed a few). Nevertheless, Saving America offers an in-depth analysis of faith-based services and if they should be supported with tax dollars. Both incisive and perceptive, Wuthnow writes with compassion and a sense of duty towards those who are at the receiving end of the social services. He is a kind soul who is sympathetic with the benefits that these organizations provide to the recipients but is also scholarly in his approach.
- Kass Amy, ed., Giving Well, Doing Good: Readings for Thoughtful Philanthropists. This brings together the best of essays from various cultures, thinkers, and ideologies to reflect on charity and philanthropy. There is WEB Dubois, Pope Benedict, Tom Paine, and Rabbi Maimonides, among others. Here is a sample of what is in this book: Eight levels of Giving by Rabbi Maimonides :
There are eight levels of giving:
1. Helping someone find employment or forming partnerships, so they don’t need your help again
2. Giving to the poor, knowing that no one gives to them
Below this, the giver knows to whom he gives and the poor person does not know from whom he takes
4. Below this, the poor person knows from whom he takes, and the giver does not know.
5. Below this, one puts into another’s hand before the latter asks
6. Below this one gives another after the latter asks
7. Below this, one gives another less than is appropriate, in a pleasant manner
8. Below this, one gives begrudgingly
- Kass, Amy. ed., The Perfect Gift: The Philanthropic Imagination in Poetry and Prose – Another interesting book by Amy Kass. This brings together some interesting perspectives on philanthropy from various authors, poets, and thinkers.
- Peter Frumkin’s Strategic Giving – While many people are trying to leave a mark with their philanthropy, they don’t have a blueprint of how to do this. Frumkin, who is at Upenn provides a concise, clear roadmap for those who want to do this. A very well written book, one that is indispensable for those who want to go beyond just writing checks.
- William Jackson. The Wisdom of Generosity: A Reader in American Philanthropy – This is a quintessentially American philanthropy book. Using folklore, stories, parables are drawn from America’s rich past, Jackson offers us an idea of what philanthropy looks and feels like in the U.S. A rich book, that will make you appreciate the richness of American traditions of giving. I realized that between me and the author, there is a small coincidence: that the author spent his youth in Bangalore, working with NGOs’ (my hometown) and I was sitting in Indianapolis at the Philanthropy Library, IUPUI, many years later and reading his book on philanthropy. Small world, indeed.
- Warren Ilchman and Stanley Katz, Philanthropy in the World’s Traditions – This book looks for expressions of philanthropy across various traditions and religions around the world. This again brings together various writers from varying backgrounds to offer us a rich compendium of ideas and perceptions.
- Elayne Clift. Ed. Women, Philanthropy, and Social Change: Visions for a Just Society – As the role of women is being increasingly recognized in our world, works of scholarship are also being produced. This is an interesting book that chronicles the struggles of women who are philanthropists, in everyday life.
- Singer, Amy. Charity in Islamic Societies – This is perhaps the ONLY book-length treatment of charity in Islamic societies. And perhaps the book that spurred me to decide on my dissertation topic. And yes, she writes well. I have a deep respect for historians who do their job well and she does a remarkable job of grounding the norms, aesthetic dimensions, and values of zakat, sadaqa, and Waqf in the Ottoman Empire and brings back the narrative to the current day. A great book that should be in your possession. A review of the book is here.
- David Wagner. What’s Love got to do with it? A Critical Look at American Charity. – This one is for the critical theorists out there. Wagner is not entirely convinced that charity, as we practice it, makes an enormous difference in society. He offers a well-argued, in-depth analysis of why things are as they are. A good read.
- Olivier Zunz. Philanthropy in America: A History. – This book is a historic look at the emergence of philanthropy and makes a case for its use in the public good. Zunz is a historian and brings his skills to fore here. Starting with philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller, and others, the book traces the history of philanthropy in the U.S., offering a great narrative of how public good has come to be associated with giving. A good read and I enjoyed this book.
Alright, if that hasn’t satisfied your curiosity, here are a few more (keeping in tune with what one of my favorite professors does – All his syllabus has three reading lists. Required, Recommended, and Supplementary).
- Robert Wuthnow’s Red State Nation
- Barbara Ibrahim and Dina Sherif, From Charity to Social Change: Trends in Arab Philanthropy
- David Hammack and Steven Heydemann eds., Globalization, Philanthropy and Civil Society
- Helmut Anheier and David Hammack, eds, American Foundations; Roles and Contributions.
- Arnove et al. Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism
If you enjoyed this list, share it with others, and if you find a book that you think I should read, please write to me! Happy holidays!