The Six Best Books on Effective Altruism

Lennox Johnson Books

This page contains a list of the best books on effective altruism. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on effective altruism. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about it.

Doing Good Better – Will MacAskill

Category: Contemporary | Length: 272 pages | Published: 2016 Doing Good Better - Will MacAskill Book Cover

Publisher’s description: While a researcher at Oxford, William MacAskill decided to devote his study to a simple question: How can we do good better? MacAskill realized that, while most of us want to make a difference, we often decide how to do so based on assumptions and emotions rather than facts. As a result, our good intentions often lead to ineffective, sometimes downright harmful, outcomes.

As an antidote, MacAskill and his colleagues developed effective altruism—a practical, data-driven approach to doing good that allows us to make a tremendous difference regardless of our resources. Effective altruists operate by asking certain key questions that force them to think differently, set aside biases, and use evidence and careful reasoning rather than act on impulse. In Doing Good Better, MacAskill lays out these principles and shows that, when we use them correctly—when we apply the head and the heart to each of our altruistic endeavors—each of us has the power to do an astonishing amount of good.

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The Most Good You Can Do – Peter Singer

Category: Contemporary | Length: 232 pages | Published: 2016 The Most Good You Can Do - Peter Singer Book Cover

Publisher’s description: Peter Singer’s books and ideas have been disturbing our complacency ever since the appearance of Animal Liberation. Now he directs our attention to a new movement in which his own ideas have played a crucial role: effective altruism. Effective altruism is built upon the simple but profound idea that living a fully ethical life involves doing the “most good you can do.” Such a life requires an unsentimental view of charitable giving: to be a worthy recipient of our support, an organization must be able to demonstrate that it will do more good with our money or our time than other options open to us. Singer introduces us to an array of remarkable people who are restructuring their lives in accordance with these ideas, and shows how living altruistically often leads to greater personal fulfillment than living for oneself. …

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The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity – Toby Ord

Category: Contemporary | Length: 480 pages | Published: 2020

Publisher’s Description: 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. If we do not act fast to reach a place of safety, it will soon be too late.

Drawing on over a decade of research, The Precipice explores the cutting-edge science behind the risks we face. It puts them in the context of the greater story of humanity: showing how ending these risks is among the most pressing moral issues of our time. And it points the way forward, to the actions and strategies that can safeguard humanity.

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80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career that Does Good – Benjamin Todd

Category: Contemporary | Length: 342 pages | Published: 2016

Publisher’s description: You have about 80,000 hours in your career: 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 40 years. This means your choice of career is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.

Make the right choices, and you can help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, as well as have a more rewarding, interesting life.

For such an important decision, however, there’s surprisingly little good advice out there. Most career advice focuses on things like how to write a CV, and much of the rest is just (misleading) platitudes like “follow your passion”. Most people we speak to don’t even use career advice – they just speak to friends and try to figure it out for themselves. …

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Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues – Greaves & Plummer

Category: Anthology | Length: 257 pages | Published: 2019

Publisher’s description: This is the first collective study of the thinking behind the effective altruism movement. This movement comprises a growing global community of people who organise significant parts of their lives around the two key concepts represented in its name. Altruism is the idea that if we use a significant portion of the resources in our possession—whether money, time, or talents—with a view to helping others then we can improve the world considerably. When we do put such resources to altruistic use, it is crucial to focus on how much good this or that intervention is reasonably expected to do per unit of resource expended (as a gauge of effectiveness). We can try to rank various possible actions against each other to establish which will do the most good with the
resources expended. Thus we could aim to rank various possible kinds of action to alleviate poverty against one another, or against actions aimed at very different types of outcome, focused perhaps on animal welfare or future generations. …

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Famine, Affluence, and Morality – Peter Singer

Category: Classic | Length: 120 pages | Published: 2015 Famine, Affluence, and Morality - Peter Singer Book Cover

Publisher’s description: In 1972, the young philosopher Peter Singer published “Famine, Affluence and Morality,” which rapidly became one of the most widely discussed essays in applied ethics. Through this article, Singer presents his view that we have the same moral obligations to those far away as we do to those close to us. He argued that choosing not to send life-saving money to starving people on the other side of the earth is the moral equivalent of neglecting to save drowning children because we prefer not to muddy our shoes. If we can help, we must–and any excuse is hypocrisy. Singer’s extreme stand on our moral obligations to others became a powerful call to arms and continues to challenge people’s attitudes towards extreme poverty. Today, it remains a central touchstone for those who argue we should all help others more than we do. …

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Additional Resources

You might also be interested in the following reading lists:

Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.

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