Who Really Cares, by Arthur C. Brooks

Given a fair reading, this book will be an eye-opener for some, and an encouragement to others. I hope there’s no cause for cynicism or gloating. Keep in mind that this is a broad brush, “big picture” kind of book. Brooks is careful to point out that his study is not predictive of individual behavior, but measures influential factors on a large scale. Subtitled America’s Charity Divide: “Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters“, this is fascinating and well documented study of correlations between charitable giving and things like religion, sociopolitical and economic views, family structure and work ethic. Brooks finds a very strong correlation between religion and giving; not just giving to religious charities but to secular ones as well, giving time and money to help others. Conservatives were much more charitable as a group than Liberals owing largely to a difference in philosophy on who is responsible for caring for those in need. Those who place less responsibility on government are more generous with their own time and money. The working poor tend to give a much larger percentage of their time and money for helping others than any other group. Charitable values are largely passed on by example from parents to children in intact healthy families. Brooks also draws some interesting comparisons of charitable activity in the USA and Europe. He finds that where government becomes more of a caretaker, people become less charitable and less prosperous. Brooks finds a strong correlation between charitable activity and the economic prosperity of a country, seeing trends that discourage personal giving a worrisome. Many commonly held stereotypes are contradicted in this book. Brooks was very surprised to see his own findings contradict the assumptions he had going in to the study. I came away from the book feeling encouraged that there are a lot of good people in this country who ought to get to know one another better. I highly recommend it.[Edit 19 January 2008] An interesting review of this book from Books & Culture can be found here.

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