Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: The Power of Half

I'd love to meet the Salwen family. The book that Kevin Salwen and his daughter wrote, titled The Power of Half, paints the family as one that has fun together, that loves one another, and that enjoys helping other people. In those regards, I feel that we have a lot in common. In fact, anyone who values fun, love, and family should find the Salwens' story to be heartwarming, though it may take a few chapters to warm up to them.

The reason it may take awhile for readers to relate to the Salwens is that they owned a 6500 square foot mansion that they sold for around $1.5 million, donating half of the funds to The Hunger Project to help with sustainable economic development in Ghana, and using the other half to purchase a "smaller" house about half the size of the first. Since the home I own is less than 3000 square feet to begin with, I have a difficult time relating to "downsizing" to a house greater than 3000 square feet (though I must confess that growing up, our family of eight lived in a house over 3000 square feet). Secondly, the idea of donating around $800,000 to a single charity is something that few people, including very rich people, can relate to. Don't let these facts bog you down; continue reading past the initial stages of shock and you will be rewarded.

Kevin is a former journalist and editor for the Wall Street Journal, and in addition to an engaging writing style, he throws into his prose equal parts humor, humility, and love for his family. The real star of the book is his daughter, Hannah, who is credited with pushing her parents and brother to be a family who does things rather than just talking about them. She co-authors The Power of Half, adding her perspective in two-page segments once or twice per chapter.

It seems that for the Salwens, the "easy" part was deciding to downsize their house and donate the savings to charity. The more difficult parts: selling their house in a bad economy, physically moving (which is always a chore), sharing their story with others who had a hard time relating to what they were doing, and deciding the best way to invest their funds to make an impact.

The Salwens do not try to convince others that everyone should downsize their house and donate large sums of money to organizations fighting poverty in Africa. However, they do try to convince others of "the power of half." For example, take something like television. Say you watch four hours of television per week. Why not cut that in half and use the two hours you saved to serve in your community? Say you buy four cups of gourmet coffee per week. Why not cut that in half for a period of time and donate the difference to charity? The Salwens unabashedly let others know happiness comes, in part, from individual and collective sacrifices to benefit others.

I recommend The Power of Half to anyone who questions whether the pursuit of money, possessions and status will lead to happiness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


This sounds like a great read--and a great idea. I've been thinking a lot about sacrifice lately and a quote from C.S. Lewis came to mind, something along how our sacrifices cannot really be deemed sacrifices unless they "pinch or hamper" us in some way. I definitely think halfing can qualify. I want to find this book so I can read more!