An insightful analysis of contemporary philanthropy offered by a perceptive, experienced insider.



Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, argues for a new vision of philanthropy informed by the demands of justice in this nonfiction debut.

The author frets that the current age is marked by “historic disruption,” roiled by such pervasive injustice, inequality, and authoritarianism that we are “staring down existential risk.” Walker contends that a traditional interpretation of charity—one that emphasizes generosity toward the downtrodden—is simply insufficient insofar as it neglects the causes of socio-economic inequality. In short, Walker posits that charity must not be abandoned but rather transformed by a new relation to justice, one that strives to attack “systemic issues, not just their symptoms.” To this end, the author recommends the adoption of a “justice mindset,” which carefully takes stock of one’s various privileges, investigates the biases and ignorance that undermine our philanthropic efforts, and ensures that our own egos don’t get in the way. Moreover, he feels that the effective philanthropist must seek out solutions that are empirically rigorous and resist the temptation of “silver bullets” and grand strategies concocted independent of real experience. Walker’s acumen in professional philanthropy is impressively vast, and he covers the field with great expertise and clarity. Also, he includes edifying interviews with other notable philanthropists like Elizabeth Alexander, the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Walker’s discussions can be frustratingly vague—he’s more interested in broadly sketching a general approach to charity than providing immediately actionable counsel—the absence of which he acknowledges. Consequently, the book is filled with platitudinous moral exhortations: “Now is the time for courage. This is our moment to show each other—and the world—that we can rise above the flaws and mistakes of our past, that we are better and stronger than hate, fear, and injustice.” Nevertheless, this remains a thoughtful reflection on the limits and possibilities of philanthropy, one that does not reject capitalism but advocates for a “more inclusive form” of it.

An insightful analysis of contemporary philanthropy offered by a perceptive, experienced insider.

Pub Date: March 28, 2023

ISBN: 9781633310773

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Disruption Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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