The best books on doing good

Why am I passionate about this?

William MacAskill is an associate professor in philosophy at the University of Oxford. At the time of his appointment, he was the youngest associate professor of philosophy in the world. He cofounded the nonprofits Giving What We Can, the Centre for Effective Altruism, and Y Combinator–backed 80,000 Hours, which together have moved over $300 million to effective charities. He is the author of Doing Good Better and What We Owe The Future.

I wrote...

Book cover of What We Owe the Future

What is my book about?

The fate of the world is in our hands. Humanity’s written history spans only five thousand years. Our yet-unwritten future could last for millions more — or it could end tomorrow. Astonishing numbers of people could lead lives of great happiness or unimaginable suffering, or never live at all, depending on what we choose to do today.

In What We Owe The Future, philosopher William MacAskill argues for longtermism, that idea that positively influencing the distant future is a key moral priority of our time. From this perspective, it’s not enough to reverse climate change or avert the next pandemic. We must ensure that civilization would rebound if it collapsed; counter the end of moral progress; and prepare for a planet where the smartest beings are digital, not human.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity

William MacAskill Why did I love this book?

The Precipice is a breathtaking work on the importance of the present era we live in, and the enormous challenges we face. In simple and clear prose, The Precipice goes into incredible detail about existential risks – from advanced artificial intelligence to engineered pathogens to nuclear war – that threaten the very existence of future generations. I learned something new in every chapter, even on topics I thought I knew well. 

By Toby Ord,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Precipice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This urgent and eye-opening book makes the case that protecting humanity's future is the central challenge of our time.

If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Our species could survive for billions of years - enough time to end disease, poverty, and injustice, and to flourish in ways unimaginable today. But this vast future is at risk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, humanity entered a new age, where we face existential catastrophes - those from which we could never come back. Since then, these dangers have only multiplied, from climate change to engineered pathogens and artificial intelligence.…

Book cover of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

William MacAskill Why did I love this book?

Superforecasting is the definitive work on the art and science of prediction. The approach of forecasting is to make very concrete, falsifiable predictions about the future, see which ones you are correct or incorrect about over time, and then improve your methods based on experience. The strategies in the book are used now on platforms like Metaculus to predict events that might be crucial to humanity’s long-run survival, like the probability of nuclear war in our lifetime. 

By Philip E. Tetlock, Dan Gardner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Superforecasting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The international bestseller

'A manual for thinking clearly in an uncertain world. Read it.' Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow
What if we could improve our ability to predict the future?

Everything we do involves forecasts about how the future will unfold. Whether buying a new house or changing job, designing a new product or getting married, our decisions are governed by implicit predictions of how things are likely to turn out. The problem is, we're not very good at it.

In a landmark, twenty-year study, Wharton professor Philip Tetlock showed that the average expert was only…

Book cover of Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism

William MacAskill Why did I love this book?

Some historians have argued that industrialisation made the abolition of slavery inevitable. In Moral Capital, Christopher Leslie Brown convincingly argues that abolition was not inevitable—instead, it relied crucially on particular activist campaigns that could easily have never happened. 

I discuss abolition at length in my book because it shows that enormous societal advances can be made by groups of activists who are morally ahead of their time and willing to take significant action to improve the world.

By Christopher Leslie Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moral Capital as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Revisiting the origins of the British antislavery movement of the late eighteenth century, Christopher Leslie Brown challenges prevailing scholarly arguments that locate the roots of abolitionism in economic determinism or bourgeois humanitarianism. Brown instead connects the shift from sentiment to action to changing views of empire and nation in Britain at the time, particularly the anxieties and dislocations spurred by the American Revolution. The debate over the political rights of the North American colonies pushed slavery to the fore, Brown argues, giving antislavery organizing the moral legitimacy in Britain it had never had before. The first emancipation schemes were dependent…

Book cover of The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty

William MacAskill Why did I love this book?

In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer makes the case that we can do a tremendous amount of good by donating to high-impact charities. Every year, hundreds of thousands of children die from preventable diseases, and at little cost to ourselves, we can make an enormous positive difference by giving to organizations like the Against Malaria Foundation. 

By Peter Singer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Life You Can Save as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For the first time in history, eradicating world poverty is within our reach. Yet around the world, a billion people struggle to live each day on less than many of us pay for bottled water.

In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer uses ethical arguments, illuminating examples, and case studies of charitable giving to show that our current response to world poverty is not only insufficient but morally indefensible. The Life You Can Save teaches us to be a part of the solution, helping others as we help ourselves.

'A persuasive and inspiring work that will change the way…

Book cover of The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

William MacAskill Why did I love this book?

The Scout Mindset is one of the best books I know on reasoning clearly and developing a truth-seeking attitude. Galef argues that instead of being like “soldiers,” who engage in wishful thinking by defending the ideas they most want to believe, we should be more like “scouts,” whose goal is to actually find out what is true. The book includes some of the latest research on the skills and habits one needs to be an excellent reasoner. 

By Julia Galef,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Scout Mindset as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of best smart thinking book 2022 (Business Book Awards)
Guardian best books of 2021

'Original, thought-provoking and a joy to read' Tim Harford

'Highly recommended. It's not easy to become (more of) a scout, but it's hard not to be inspired by this book' Rutger Bregman

When it comes to what we believe, humans see what they want to see. In other words, we have what Julia Galef calls a 'soldier' mindset. From tribalism and wishful thinking, to rationalising in our personal lives and everything in between, we are driven to defend the ideas we most want to believe…

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A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

Book cover of A Sparrow Falls

Vicki Olsen Author Of A Sparrow Falls

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Air Force brat World War 2 junkie Gallivanter Beret-wearing Francophile Book hoarder

Vicki's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

In this book set against the backdrop of a changing America, Sarah must find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past and come to terms with her future. Sarah, a young woman from the rural town of Tolerance, Arkansas, has endured an impoverished and painful childhood.

But now, as the innocence of the 1950s transforms into the turbulent 1960s, Sarah must find the strength to overcome her traumas, forgive those who have wronged her, and discover her true self. With its moving and often disturbing narrative, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman's journey…

A Sparrow Falls

By Vicki Olsen,

What is this book about?

A moving, sometimes disturbing, beautifully written book...Amazon Customer Review
Set in Arkansas as the innocence of the 1950s morphs into the turbulent ‘60s, A Sparrow Falls is an evocative account of a young woman emerging from an impoverished and traumatic childhood as she finds the inner strength to overcome her past. Te ghosts of the past and come to terms with her future is in the strength to forgive those who have wronged her?
Content Advisory: This book is intended for mature audiences and contains child sexual abuse and disturbing imagery.

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