Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen & Hannah Salwen

Book Review:  The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen & Hannah Salwen
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (February 10, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0547248067
ISBN-13: 978-0547248066

Rating:  3/5
Source:  Review copy provided by FSB Associates

Book Blurb:

It all started when 14-year old Hannah Salwen, idealistic but troubled by a growing sense of injustice in the world, had a eureka moment when a homeless man in her neighborhood was juxtaposed against a glistening Mercedes coupe. "You know, Dad," she said, pointing, "If that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal."

My Review:

This was an interesting book with an interesting premise. I had heard of this family project through morning talk shows and various news outlets, but had misunderstood what they were actually doing. I thought that they were giving away half of everything they owned, but they were actually selling their house and giving half of the proceeds to charity. This story explains how the decision came about, how they chose the charity, and the various missteps along the way.

While wanting to become actively involved in charity and helping others beyond just writing a check is noble, I had mixed feeling about the Salwen family. They seemed like nice people, but I couldn't really relate to them. Probably because they lived so differently than my family. While I don't think that they were Bill Gates rich, their planned donation was $800,000, which was half of the proceeds from selling their home. Not exactly the people next door....

Thankfully, the Salwens seem to be aware that they are privileged and aren't snooty about their good fortune. I liked one of the quotes in the book when they started discussing their project with others: "We didn't want to sound cocky or arrogant or preachy. We were eager not to be perceived as strange. And we had become acutely aware that sloppy communication of our project could make others feel less charitable in their own efforts." So they are aware that this is an unusual situation and they do try to be considerate of others, but I still had mixed feelings.

Towards the beginning of their journey when they are cleaning out year's worth of accumulated items, they held a yard sale. Dad Kevin is discouraged because he felt that the sale didn't go very well and now they had to get rid of the leftovers. Son Joseph was more upbeat about the results, pointing out that they made almost five hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars. From a yard sale. When we cleaned out my in-laws home and had a yard sale, we only made enough money to pay for the permit and then dinner afterwards. Guess the rich are different than you and me. Just another example of how I couldn't really relate to this family.

Aside from reminders of how different their lives are from mine, I did find this book inspiring. While we're not going to sell our house, and I doubt that the heads of various charities would meet with us to discuss sponsorships, it is a reminder that individuals can make a difference in the world. I really liked the kids, Hannah and Joseph. Hannah sounds like an amazing young woman, and I loved that Joseph was sort of the voice of reason in the family despite his young age. Didn't care for the parents as much, but I think it was just that I couldn't relate to their lifestyle and assumptions. Think that the family was brave in sharing their story, as they knew that there would be some negative reactions.

While I don't usually read non-fiction, this book was worth reading and actually made me want to become more charitable. Gave it a 3/5 as Dad Kevin is a good writer and it was fun to "meet" Hannah and Joseph, but I still had a hard time relating to the family and their project.   If anyone else has read this book, would love to know what you thought and if you had any trouble relating to this family. Thanks!


  1. Great review! It sounds interesting :D

  2. This one sounds really interesting! Thanks for the great review, I hadn't heard of it before!

  3. This does seem like a really interesting story.

  4. I heard about the family on news outlets too and am interested in reading more about them. While I agree that is can sometimes be easier to be charitable when you have a lot of resources, it seems to happen all too little so this family intrigues me.

  5. I am currently reading this book and liked your review. I can see what you are saying here. SO far I am enjoying it and the idea behind it.

  6. Sounds interesting and a neat idea, to have someone willing to give so much. I think I will pass on the book though. Thanks for the great review!

  7. If I win your contest I just might have to pick this one it sounds good! Thanks for the wonderful review :)