[eBook, Audiobook] Free - The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer


Updated in 2019 and released for free as both an eBook (mobi, epub or pdf) and an Audiobook (read by a bunch of celebrities). Description from the website:

About the book
10th Anniversary Edition of The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

A Compelling Book That Inspires and Empowers People to Act Now to Address Global Poverty
In 2009, Peter Singer wrote the first edition of The Life You Can Save to demonstrate why we should care about and help those living in global extreme poverty, and how easy it is to improve and even save lives by giving effectively. Peter then founded a nonprofit organization of the same name, The Life You Can Save, to advance the ideas in the book. Together, the book and organization have helped raise millions of dollars for effective charities, supporting work protecting people from diseases, restoring sight, avoiding unwanted pregnancies, ensuring that children get the nutrients they need, and providing opportunities to not only survive but thrive.

In the decade since the first book’s publication, dramatic progress has been made in reducing global extreme poverty. However, millions still live on less than $1.90 a day, and there is yet much to be done.

To address the continuing need, and to build on the success of the first edition, Singer acquired the book rights and updated the content to be current and even more relevant. With mission-aligned celebrity narrators and by giving away the audiobook and e-book for free (in addition to having it available for purchase through traditional e-commerce and retailers), the 10th-anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save aims to inform, inspire and empower as many people as possible to act now and save lives.

Personally, it's no understatement to say that this book changed my life. Its central thesis is deliberately provocative:

  • First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad.
  • Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.
  • Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

Singer spends a lot of the book defending (often valid) arguments against this conclusion, and comes to the practical recommendation that we take the pledge to donate a small percentage of our income to effective charities. Suggested percentages are realistic, starting at:

  • Under AUD$50,000: whatever you feel you can afford without undue hardship.
  • $50,000-$120,000: 1% of your income
  • Over $120,000: 1% of the first $120,000, 5% of the next $90,000, 10% of the $260,000, 15% of the next $$, etc.

No matter your thoughts on effective altruism, the book is a fascinating read that I'd highly recommend giving a go. And it's free!

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  • +3 votes

    Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

    Already disagree. Hard no from me.

    The economic and political/democratic systems globally are fundamentally broken. I won't be supporting the intentional system of privitising profits for the few in power and socialising the losses for everyone else.

    It shouldn't be about us supporting the broken system by donating. If we aren't staying educated on significant issues, being critical of evidence and holding our elected leaders accountable by making our voices heard and taking real action which disrupts the economy/profits, then you are actually doing something wrong.


    • +8 votes

      This is a common objection to giving, and a valid one. I'd encourage you to have a read of the chapter in the book that addresses this objection. Relevant extract:

      "Suppose, however, that after investigating the causes of global poverty and considering what approach is most likely to reduce it, you conclude that the only way to end extreme poverty is a systematic transformation of the global economic order. Does that imply that you should not donate to effective charities working to help people in extreme poverty, and instead should put all your resources into bringing about that systematic transformation? No, it does not, or at least not without first answering some crucial questions. What kind of transformation would you like to see? Not, presumably, the alternatives to capitalism that were tried in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Cambodia, or any of the other 20th century regimes that set out to abolish capitalism, for none of them has worked out well. (China is still nominally communist, but anyone who has spent time there can see that capitalism has been reintroduced and is flourishing.) Next, if you can describe what kind of transformation you would like to see, can you describe a feasible path to it? More important still, is there anything you can do that will make that path more likely to be taken, and the transformation achieved? Only if you can answer these questions affirmatively would it make sense to put your time, energy, and money into organizations promoting the desired transformation to the global economic system. If there is no real chance of achieving the systematic change you are seeking, or no way in which you can make it more likely to happen, then rather than waste your time and resources on grand plans that will prove futile, it is much better to look for a strategy that may not end extreme poverty completely, but will reduce the hardships and suffering experienced by at least some of the people now living in extreme poverty. After all, if you can’t heal the wound, that’s not a reason for refusing a band-aid."

      • +1 vote

        China is still nominally communist, but anyone who has spent time there can see that capitalism has been reintroduced and is flourishing

        Flourishing by what metrics? GDP? CPI? How many of these official metrics which drive our governments and economists actually reflect quality of human life across the population? Has anyone thought about how does aiming for infinite growth in an infinite planet is going to work longterm?

        Why not ask "anyone who lives there" (not "been there") instead about their working conditions and how many are still stuck in extreme poverty as opposed to the facade of "growing middle class of China" in the media.

        If there is no real chance of achieving the systematic change you are seeking, or no way in which you can make it more likely to happen, then rather than waste your time and resources on grand plans that will prove futile,

        Any great cause or revolution in the past would have been considered "futile" or "impossible" but it is because of those courageous people that fought for what is right, that we have the freedoms we have today. With all due respect, the attitude of the author seems to be pushing the opinion if it's too hard, don't bother. Which is exactly how the "system" wants the general population to feel to maintain the status quo. Change really starts with you and your attitude. If not now, in generations to come.

        After all, if you can’t heal the wound, that’s not a reason for refusing a band-aid.

        Yeah there's a bloody good reason for refusing the band-aid. We the people can barely afford a band-aid for ourselves and our own families.
        Wage growth has been stagnant for years while the real costs of living have increased (not talking about the CPI). Central banks globally (who were not elected by us) have been diluting our purchasing power continually so despite your home prices and shares rocketing to the moon, how big are your actual wealth gains? Even then, low income earners don't get to participate in the asset price inflation game.

        There is a time for community and supporting society, and that time is when everyone is in it together and no one is taking immoral advantage of you while you are helping others.

        • +1 vote

          1) China's success (for Singer) has been in lifting people out of extreme poverty (less than $1.90/day in purchasing price parity terms - see wiki). Nothing to do with GDP or CPI, just an ability to afford basic living expenses. Clearly there are significant structural issues and rising inequality in China, but hundreds of millions of people being able to afford food and shelter is surely a good thing.

          2) On the "futile cause" point, you're coming up against Singer's utilitarianism… He's always going to look for the best 'value' use of a donation of time or money. Many effective altruists give significant time and money to solve long-term, structural issues. However, many others consider that their money is most likely to be most 'effective' by supporting a charity with a well-defined, simple goal to improve or save lives (e.g. the Malaria Consortium, which distributes anti-malarial drugs to children in Africa and SE Asia during the high transmission season). Reasonable minds will always differ on the best use of one's time and money - there's nothing wrong with that. But refusing to support simple charities like this because they are part of a "fundamentally broken" system ignores the fact that they do, objectively, save and improve lives.

          3) Your reason for refusing the band-aid is that we can barely afford one for ourselves and our families. If that's legitimately the case, then don't give anything. But just keep in mind that if an Australian family of 3 earns the median Australian household income (~$85k), they're in the richest 6% (PPP) of the global population. A single person earning that much makes it to the top 1% (calculator). To me, the percentages in the giving pledge are achievable without inflicting significant financial hardship on donors. But of course everyone has to assess this on the basis of their own financial situation.


            @mrbooger: What you're failing to understand is that it is entirely possible to be unable to save your child from a terminal illness for lack of funds in Australia. We can have our phones and Xboxes and big screen TVs and expensive cars and STILL be in this situation. It's even worse in America which must be the gold standard for money getting in the way of preventing death.


              @syousef: It is not "entirely possible", it is absolutely impossible, to save anyone from a terminal illness, by definition.


                @OzzyB: Well done on picking me up on the poor wording, but I'm entirely certain you knew what I meant. If for lack of funds you can't afford to treat your child from an illness that may be fatal, it will be fatal. So other than pedantry about my incorrect use of the term "terminal illness" (which I concede) did you actually have a point?


      Why don't you debate Singer and see how you go.

    • +1 vote

      Singer is utilitarian. I am, and you seem to be, quite deontological. The only thing worse than utilitarianism is inactive deontology. If you take your position responsibly you should suggest directly actionable alternatives before you (tell others to?) disagree with him.


    Personally, it's no understatement to say that this book changed my life.

    Yes, you now have less money ;)

  • +2 votes

    My problem with charities is you never see where ALL the money goes.

    • +2 votes

      He actually discusses this in the book.

    • +2 votes

      Almost half the book is about this issue! Effective altruism is particularly concerned about measures of effectiveness (including cost-effectiveness), transparency, and a charity's ability to put additional donations to use. Charity evaluators such as GiveWell produce research on the charities that save or improve lives the most per dollar - Singer recommends starting with their top recommendations.

  • -3 votes

    I guess a free guilt trip is a bargain these days?

    And yeah, give the charities exempt from do not call lists your contact details for the "free" download. What could go wrong?

  • +1 vote

    I can sponsor a child in India through World vision Australia

    For the equivalent price of $48, if I was permitted to, by World vision India I could sponsor three children.

    I understand advertising, promotion local jobs etc but if the main aim is helping the poor, then should I not be able to sponsor three instead of one

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