04/10/2015 10:58 am ET Updated Jun 08, 2015

Dare to Be 100: Book Review: Singer, The Most Good You Can Do

Reading Peter Singer's book, "THE MOST GOOD YOU CAN DO," made my brain grow. (1) As I read it I could feel my dendrites spreading out. I guess I should rate the quality of what I read by how the pages affect my brain volume. Frank Hu of Harvard reports that most TV has a negative affect on the brain, so turn it off. This book, however, "The most good you can do," is like a miracle grow tonic.

The last such epiphany that I experienced maybe 30 years ago occurred when I was alerted to Ilya Prigogine's "Order out of Chaos." (2) This book filled up caverns of my huge ignorance about "how" the world extracts life from cosmic dust. Singer's book provides the "why."

Singer is a Melbournite but hangs his hat at Princeton where his reputation as our prime, collective conscience flourishes.

Singer's thesis, in general, is that most of us agree that a part of our life strategy has to do with making the world a better place, that the spreading of the good has high value. But the agreement stops there, not so much because of major disagreement, but mostly out of ignorance. How does one develop a consensus about strategy? This is fundamentally Singer's task.

He starts with several basic concepts. He seeks the world's greatest deficits, and finds them among the poor, largely in Africa. He acknowledges that the poor needy are local as well as remote, but quantitatively the burden is greater over there.

Singer's concerns extend beyond our species. His animal welfare advocacy is renowned. In this book he does not differentiate among the animal classes. I have trouble being upset about swatting a mosquito, but I'm sure that Singer has this covered. Singer is a vegan, naturally.

He is also a committed capitalist, including making a lot of money in his to-do list. This, after all is said and done, simply encourages you to do more good. Hedonism, self interest is sternly rejected. At some length he describes the careers of deeply committed persons who exploited their office in Wall Street and Big Money to do BIG GOOD. He names villains with his saints, but never irresponsibly. He meticulously nominates his favorite charities, none of which I had ever heard of.

Singer's book is bold, fresh, inspired, reasoned, optimistic. Read it and grow your brain.


1) Singer, P. The Most Good You Can Do. Yale Univ. Press 2015.

2) Prigogine I, Stengers I. Order out of Chaos. Bantam ,NY. 1984.