The founder and editor of the website Inside Philanthropy, Callahan clearly knows the game and its players. This has its drawbacks. Especially in the early going, the book can feel laundry listy ... Happily, Callahan hustles through the preliminaries and into a sweeping exploration of what makes mega-givers tick, how they operate and how they differ from their predecessors ... Many readers no doubt will share Callahan’s views on the dark side of Big Philanthropy, and his ideas for addressing it. But even those who don’t should give The Givers a go. Callahan offers a peek inside a rarefied, poorly understood world with ever greater power to remake the broader world. It’s an engaging, thought-provoking tour well worth the taking.
While Callahan works really hard to stress the plurality of big-donor interests — there are environmentalist donors! feminist donors! velodrome-obsessed donors! — his proclamations along these lines seem a bit desperate. It feels like he is squinting in order to pretend a draining glass is half full ... It’s clear that he wants to avoid more charged political phrasing because so much of what these donors are doing is so earnest and well intentioned...But there’s an old saying about the road to hell, and the content of the pavement that leads to it ... By emphasizing the possibility of reforming the tax code and encouraging Americans to advocate for a better-financed government, Callahan reminds us that the United States remains a place where the many still have the capacity to rein in the influence of the few.
The Givers benefits from Callahan’s relationship with the faces of philanthropy. He is the founder and editor of the watchdog site Inside Philanthropy, whose goal is to 'pull back the curtain on one of the most powerful and dynamic forces shaping society.' Through interviews with wealthy donors like John Arnold and Eli Broad, Callahan provides a measured take on this issue. He does not condemn the actors; instead, he criticizes the system they operate within. Philanthropy is neither inherently good nor inherently evil. The problem lies in inequality itself, and the opacity surrounding the giving process ... Depending on where one’s politics fall, Callahan’s solutions can read either too optimistic or too critical of the benevolence of the one percent. Regardless, The Givers at least attempts to think through solutions for this issue.
David Callahan brings inequality to life. He draws a startling picture of the astounding growth of private American wealth in the past quarter-century, the people who have accumulated it and the ways they are using their money, often aggressively, to change the world — sometimes for the better, sometimes not ... Callahan is not a great writer. He uses the dreadful phrase 'for starters' at least five times in these pages, a symptom of his predilection for the language commonly found in PowerPoint presentations. His book is really an extended piece of journalism, reporting a great many intriguing facts. Analysis is not a strong suit, and his caution in judging the giant egos of the philanthropists he writes about can be frustrating. But Callahan has performed a public service by assembling a striking body of information on a fundamental aspect of 21st-century America.
Even though Mr. Callahan admits that he has uncovered no sinister plot by philanthropists to engage in a conspiracy to reduce the taxes they pay, weaken the grip of government and subsequently seize control of the future by funneling their ill-gotten gains to their pet causes, he nonetheless implies that, somehow, this improbable scenario is now reality ... Mr. Callahan is too decent to tar-and-feather all philanthropists, but he seems to yearn for the day when the state exercises more control over their freedom to roam and the flow of dark philanthropic money subsides.
He makes a strong case for greater oversight as megawealthy individuals, driven by the tech billionaires and committed to the 'Giving Pledge,' attempt to redistribute much of their wealth during their lifetimes ... Not only focused on gloom-and-doom, Callahan includes many positive examples in this fascinating look into perhaps one of the least understood trends in the public square.
The best part of Callahan’s book is not its account of the various players in this mega-giving, the Zuckerbergs and Bill Gateses of the world, but instead his view of the machinery that has grown up to surround big giving ... An eye-opening view of a vast sector of the economy that lies in the shadows but has undue influence, for ill or good.
Callahan isn’t focused on choosing sides among these liberal and conservative philanthropists; he’s warning that the entire system is undemocratic and unjust. The risk, he writes, is that the rising power of this elite group ‘will further push ordinary Americans to the margins of civic life in an unequal era when so many people already feel shoved aside by elites and the wealthy’ … One perspective largely missing from the book is that of the individual nonprofit organization … The challenge, Callahan writes, is to find ways to promote civic equality without impinging on our nation’s longstanding tradition of philanthropic freedom. His ideas for reform, which are so timely right now, strike that balance thoughtfully.