There are over 22,000 private foundations in America controlling $50 billion and making grants of almost $4 billion annually. The how and why of these examples of philanthropy are discussed in this intriguing book based on an earlier study. The author concentrates on 36 of these often-mysterious institutions having resources of over $250 million each. Some of the names evoke the panorama of the nation's economic history--Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon, Carnegie--while others are relatively obscure--MacArthur, Keck, Mabee. Yet they all have one thing in common--an enormous concentration of wealth put to a variety of uses by the donors themselves, or more commonly, by hordes of professionals designated to pick and choose those worthy of aid. It is a fascinating story of driven, powerful men who amass fortunes and then decide to give them away to the non-profit sector of our society. Of course, their decision was not entirely selfless, but one that was a complex amalgam of ego, eccentricity, religious beliefs, tax laws and altruism which coalesced to shape this most peculiarly American practice. There have been great benefits and, some would say, equally great problems with these ""Golden Donors."" Is it a creative form of social work or a manifestation of conspicuous consumption? Critics have described it as a kind of avariciousness the equal of that required to amass the original fortunes. The author provides much titillating gossip and a peek at the inner workings of the foundations. These giants have taken as their bailiwicks the economy, social problems, international issues, science, art and government, and represent the political spectrum from liberal to conservative. To many readers unaware of the considerable impact the foundations have had on almost every aspect of our national life, this book is a significant contribution.