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How To Be Great At Doing Good: Why Results Are What Count and How Smart Charity Can Change the World
By Nick Cooney
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
For what it's worth, I went into Nick Cooney's How To Be Great At Doing Good really wanting to like it; it's not only a passionate argument for why all of us should be more regular contributors of time and money to charities, but also a practical guide to figuring out which of two competing charities is more worth our time and money, a crucial part of philanthropy that I feel is missing in most people's lives. But my God, talk about the most egregious example I've ever seen of book-padding -- this is not just a magazine article padded out to the length of a book, but literally a blog post padded out to one, with only half a dozen lines of real, practical information buried within 270 pages of the most fillerific filler you will ever see. (For one very typical example, Cooney spends two entire pages telling us about a recent skiing trip he attended, just to make the point that deciding which charity to give money to is much like standing at the top of a ski slope and looking down at the treacherous run.) Plus, Cooney has a habit of making sweeping generalizations about charities, based on his personal opinions, that I didn't care for (he glibly declares at one point, for example, that all medical charities are inherently "worthier" than all arts charities, because fixing things that are wrong with the world is inherently nobler than adding something that didn't previously exist); and he also uses the book as an excuse to nitpick at charities he doesn't care for (he spends an entire chapter, for example, explaining why the Make-A-Wish Foundation shouldn't spend their money granting wishes), the exact kind of know-it-all do-gooder tsk-tsking that turns so many people off the entire idea of charity to begin with. Certainly Cooney's heart is in the right place, but this book is easily skippable, whose practical information can be completely and entirely summed up with, "Look at a charity's administrative costs closely before deciding to give them money."
Out of 10: 2.5