What America's wealthiest have done, and are doing, with their money.
Dalzell (American History/Williams Coll.; co-author: The House the Rockefeller's Built: A Tale of Money, Taste and Power in Twentieth Century America, 2007, etc.) reaffirms the importance of giving back and shows how philanthropy has always been part of the American way. The author combines studies of four individuals from different times in America's history—Robert Keayne, reputed to have been one of the Massachusetts colony's richest traders in the 17th century; George Washington; Amos and Abbott Lawrence, the brothers who built the textile industry in Massachusetts; and John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil—examining the different ways that wealth accumulation has been accompanied by philanthropy. He also looks at how wealth is perpetuated over generations and how philanthropy is organized. Last wills and testaments provided the principal means by which wealth was transmitted to descendants. Keayne's was disputed through the courts, while Washington's was shaped by his changing views of slavery and by an insistence on equity and fairness for all members of his family. The Lawrence brothers took different paths: Amos just gave away goods during his daily activities, while Abbott contributed to longer-range projects like building up Harvard. Dalzell credits the founder of the Rockefeller dynasty with the elimination of hookworm in the South and the promotion of educational projects such as Spelman College and the University of Chicago. Dalzell also discusses what the richest are doing today, tracing the efforts of a group, headed by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, intent on organizing members of the Forbes 400 to pledge at least half of their assets to philanthropy.
A timely reminder that money is neither good nor evil, but its uses reveal a lot about a person’s choices and values.