The role of philanthropy in the current era of rising economic inequality is the focus of David Callahan’s new book, “The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age” (Knopf: 2017).

On the one hand, basic government services have been squeezed as long-term obligations have exploded — pensions at the state level and various entitlement programs at the national level — and the number of citizens who rely on these programs has grown. On the other hand, an emerging class of megarich individuals have come to play an outsize role in charitable giving that has now replaced what were once roles fulfilled by government. Mr. Callahan’s conclusion is that these trends jointly represent a threat to democracy and calls for a significant increase in government regulation of philanthropic activity.


The first of these books is genuinely interesting. “The Givers” contains many detailed narratives of just how difficult it is to come up with an effective approach to giving away a lot of money and how diverse the paths taken have been. These range from tech billionaires like Sean Parker who look to spend down their wealth during their lifetime through “concentrated bets” on high-impact “hackable problems” to low-key, locally focused billionaires like Amos and Barbara Hostetter who seek to improve the quality of life in Boston in perpetuity. The Hostetters’ continuing impact will not only flow from their foundation’s endowment but also from their mentorship of the next generation of Brahmin billionaires. The history of the collaboration between Bill Gates and Warren E. Buffett that resulted in the Giving Pledge is widely known, but “The Givers” also describes the continuing institutional infrastructure established to help the pledgers give effectively.

Read the full article here by Jonathan A. Knee, The New York Times

David Callahan: The Givers – Book Review

David Callahan - The Givers

The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age by David Callahan

An inside look at the secretive world of elite philanthropists–and how they’re quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.

While media attention focuses on famous philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Charles Koch, thousands of donors are at work below the radar promoting a wide range of causes. David Callahan charts the rise of these new power players and the ways they are converting the fortunes of a second Gilded Age into influence. He shows how this elite works behind the scenes on education, the environment, science, LGBT rights, and many other issues–with deep impact on government policy. Above all, he shows that the influence of the Givers is only just beginning, as new waves of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg turn to philanthropy. Based on extensive research and interviews with countless donors and policy experts, this is not a brief for or against the Givers, but a fascinating investigation of a power shift in American society that has implications for us all.


“David Callahan has performed a public service by assembling a striking body of information on a fundamental aspect of 21st-century America.” —Robert G. Kaiser, The Washington Post

“Callahan offers a peek inside a rarefied, poorly understood world with ever greater power to remake the broader world.” —Michelle Cottle, The New York Times Book Review

“A convincing argument… Callahan is intimately familiar with today’s living donors and how they are spending their money, and his book is replete with examples of philanthropists that are upending the democratic process.” —Alana Semuels, The Atlantic

“[A] fascinating look into perhaps one of the least understood trends in the public square.” —Dan Kaplan, Booklist (Starred Review)

“An intriguing look at the world of big-ticket philanthropy… An eye-opening view of a vast sector of the economy that lies in the shadows but has undue influence, for ill or good.” Kirkus