A readable account of how philanthropy caught on in the United States more pervasively than any other nation.
Zunz (History/Univ. of Virginia; The Changing Face of Inequality: Urbanization, Industrial Development, and Immigrants in Detroit, 1880–1920, 2000, etc.) mixes case studies, mini-biography and academic theory to demonstrate that both the superwealthy and common folks have invested in giving to the needy as part of an effort to make America a better place. Wealthy industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Sr. might have started a trend that has found its way into the lives of Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, but the author relates how the growth of charitable giving across the 50 states has transcended economic standing. Red Cross and United Way drives are just a couple of thousands of examples. Such giving seems to have become imbued across American society soon after independence from England. Visitors from other nations noticed it and remarked upon it during the early 19th century, and state laws, federal statutes, court decisions and favorable tax rulings built the generosity into the economic and political fabrics of American governance. Even segregationists did not object to philanthropists hoping to upgrade the quality of classroom education specifically and the quality of life generally among former slaves and their descendants. When devout philanthropists decided to affect public policy by working through religious organizations, American philanthropy policy expanded to allow complicated arrangements within a society that supposedly kept church and state separate. Zunz explains why numerous donors and the tax-exempt groups they form bypass helping fellow Americans in favor of helping citizens of other parts of the world. Part of the book's fascination is how the author works through the conundrum of impure motives emanating from generous givers.
A sterling example of how an academic author can combine high-level theory with interesting, important real-world examples.