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40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World

40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World

4.7 10
by Howard G Buffett

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With a foreword by Warren Buffett, 40 Chances is an “inspiring manifesto…both an informative guidebook and a catalyst for igniting real changes” (Booklist) in the struggle against world hunger.

If someone granted you $3 billion to accomplish something great in the world, what would you do? In 2006, legendary investor Warren Buffett


With a foreword by Warren Buffett, 40 Chances is an “inspiring manifesto…both an informative guidebook and a catalyst for igniting real changes” (Booklist) in the struggle against world hunger.

If someone granted you $3 billion to accomplish something great in the world, what would you do? In 2006, legendary investor Warren Buffett posed this challenge to his son Howard G. Buffett. Howard set out to help the most vulnerable people on earth—nearly a billion individuals who lack basic food security. And Howard gave himself a deadline: 40 years to put the resources to work on this challenge.

40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World captures Howard’s journey. Beginning with his love for farming, we join him around the world as he seeks out new approaches to ease the suffering of so many. Each of the 40 stories here provides a compelling look at the lessons Howard learned, ranging from his own backyard to some of the most difficult and dangerous places on Earth. But this message goes beyond the pages of this book, it’s also a mindset: a way of thinking that speaks to every person wanting to make a difference. It’s about reasons to hope and actions we can take. 40 Chances “recounts Howard’s personal and professional experiences in surprisingly candid and colorful fashion…successfully blending personal stories with a tough look at the struggle to fight domestic food scarcity and world hunger…A satisfying read” (Publishers Weekly) that provides inspiration to transform each of our limited chances into opportunities to change the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A son of legendary investor Warren Buffett (who provides the foreword), Howard G. Buffett considers himself a farmer first and foremost. He explains that all farmers get 40 growing seasons in their lifetime, giving them just 40 chances to improve. In 40 chapters—constructed as elegant essays—Buffett describes his quest to make a difference in the world, which began well before his father established philanthropic foundations for his three children. The younger Buffett has focused his foundation on wildlife conservation and world hunger. Here, he recounts his personal and professional experiences in surprisingly candid and colorful fashion. An accomplished photographer, Buffett humanizes his stories with his own pictures: from a young boy in ankle chains whom he encountered in Senegal, to a shy village girl in Sierra Madre, to a subsistence farmer digging zai pits in Mozambique. Buffett invites his son Howard W. Buffett, also a philanthropist, to contribute a few chapters, but unfortunately these miss the mark. Despite this shortcoming, the book successfully blends personal stories with a tough look at the struggle to fight domestic food scarcity and world hunger. Those interested in these issues or global philanthropy are sure to find this a satisfying read. B&w photos throughout. Agent: Jillian Manus, Manus & Associates Literary Agency. (Oct.)
Tony Blair
“This book is like Howard himself: inspiring, positive, and full of great stories. If you ever find yourself doubting that we can change the world for the better, read this and your optimism will return.”
Carlos Slim
"Howard has three passions: his devotion to the fight against hunger and misery; his love for farming; and his ability as a photographer and writer to share his amazing journey. Through the stories in 40 Chances, Howard invites all of us to join his efforts to fight poverty."
Secretary Dan Glickman
“The Jewish Talmud teaches that if you save one life you save the entire world. Howard Buffett has lived this prescription, and in the process has saved the world many times over. 40 Chances illustrates that his commitment and passion to help folks out of poverty, at home and especially in the developing world, has had a remarkable and measurable impact on the lives of farmers and rural citizens worldwide. 40 Chances should be a primer for all our citizens on how one man has the passion to save the world, and how we can all follow his lead in our own way.”
Eva Longoria
“Whether we are driving his combine in Illinois, meeting with farmers in Guatemala, walking across the border from Mexico to the US, or indulging in our shared loved for Dairy Queen, a day spent with Howard Buffett is one spent learning and laughing. Howard’s intellect is only surpassed by the size of his heart. This book will give readers a chance to learn from him in the way that I have and form their own plan for making the most of the 40 Chances we all have.”
President Bill Clinton
"Howard Buffett's account of his long battle against food insecurity conveys his deep respect for poor farmers and his conviction that they can be empowered to feed the world. His work is amazing and will inspire you to join his crusade."
"[An] inspiring manifesto. . . Buffett’s work is both an informative guidebook and a catalyst for igniting real changes in the world."
Forbes - Miguel Forbes
"Howard Buffett's new book redefines risk taking in philanthropy."
Mother Jones
"40 Chances is easy-reading earnestness from a dedicated do-gooder."
“Howard Buffett has figured out a way to tell 40 stories about hunger, farming, poverty and war, while delivering a readable account of a formidable challenge.”
Prime Minister Tony Blair
“This book is like Howard himself: inspiring, positive, and full of great stories. If you ever find yourself doubting that we can change the world for the better, read this and your optimism will return.”
Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman
“The Jewish Talmud teaches that if you save one life you save the entire world. Howard Buffett has lived this prescription, and in the process has saved the world many times over. 40 Chances illustrates that his commitment and passion to help folks out of poverty, at home and especially in the developing world, has had a remarkable and measurable impact on the lives of farmers and rural citizens worldwide. 40 Chances should be a primer for all our citizens on how one man has the passion to save the world, and how we can all follow his lead in our own way.”
Success - Margaret Jaworski
"40 Chances is an immensely readable, important and inspiring book with essential lessons about doing business in difficult circumstances."
Library Journal
Buffett (president, Howard G. Buffett Fdn.), son of Warren Buffett, is a philanthropist trying to tackle the problem of global food insecurity. Basing his argument on the premise that a farmer (which is how the author describes himself) has 40 growing seasons in a lifetime during which to improve harvests, Buffett posits that we all have the same time (hence the title) to make a difference in our own charitable endeavors. In 40 chapters, arranged according to vague themes (e.g., "Bravery, Courage, and Hope," "Hard-Learned Lessons"), he offers stories of his own foundation's work, including areas in need of progress and further investigation. In projects such as helping farmers enhance soil conditions and grow and market applicable crops, Buffett has sought to provide people with the tools to change their situations and compound the benefits for those who come after. He is in favor of genetically modified crops such as Monsanto's, which will leave some readers wondering about his relationship with agribusiness. VERDICT If Buffett had narrowed his scope in order to stay focused and go deeper, the book would have had greater value. As is, it comes across more as a vanity publication, albeit one with good intentions at its core. [See Prepub Alert, 4/29/13.]—Jenny Contakos, Art Inst. of Virginia Beach Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Farmer and philanthropist Buffett (Threatened Kingdom: The Story of the Mountain Gorilla, 2005, etc.) examines how to improve the world's food supply and make it more secure. The author--a U.N. World Food Program Ambassador--has committed the foundation his better-known father, Warren, helped him establish to putting his knowledge and experience to work in the particular circumstances of countries in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America. The author's earlier travels on behalf of wildlife conservancy--supporting mountain gorilla and cheetah survival--and his studies on the impact of conflict and war undergird his foundation's focus on the protection of the global food supply. With tireless enthusiasm, Buffett has worked to recruit educators to upgrade methods in the countries he has visited, and he introduces many here. He sees an important role for America in the maintenance of worldwide agricultural productivity, but it depends on accumulated improvements in skills, physical and cultural infrastructure, and technology and cannot simply be exported to areas lacking the culture, infrastructure or soil quality. The author discusses how he searches out the expertise required to consistently, successfully address specific problems of growing food crops with the tools and seeds available on local soils. This effort is very much in the tradition of Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution of the 1960s and '70s. Buffett believes that improvements in seed stocks and soil management and technology upgrades are absolutely necessary, as are people qualified to impart the required knowledge and skills. The author's commitment to education, and action, on behalf of such capacities, shines through his book. An impressive example of how an individual's diligent work can truly affect the world.

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Simon & Schuster
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Read an Excerpt

40 Chances

One Shot at a Warlord

The camp commander had just told me that two of the soldiers on our side were eaten by crocodiles the previous week. That got my attention. But as I stood in a clearing of scrub trees in the hot, dry desert of South Sudan, I realized that the thin man walking toward me, leaning on a cane, was much more dangerous than any croc. Crocodiles attack when they are hungry or their turf or young are threatened. I was about to meet General Caesar Acellam, an African warlord who had helped lead a campaign of murder, rape, torture, and enslavement across at least four countries. He was a top lieutenant in the psychopath Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. As such, Acellam had hunted the most vulnerable people on the planet—poor, starving children—to turn thousands of boys into sadistic soldiers and girls into sex slaves.

It was May 2012, and the temperature was over one hundred degrees. I had flown into this remote camp in a Cessna Caravan turboprop just minutes before, and the sweat was pouring out of me. There were tents and Mi-8 transport helicopters and Mi-24 attack helicopters parked under camouflage tarps. The dirt landing strip and the camp clearing were barely visible when we began our descent. There was an unmistakable, almost electrical, charge of pride among the Ugandan army leaders who hosted us. For months their men had camped in the jungle and tracked and finally ambushed Acellam just a few days before along the banks of the River Mbou in the nearby Central African Republic (CAR)—the same river where crocs had claimed their comrades.

The LRA’s evil campaign is more than a quarter century old. Its soldiers are vicious fighters with a twisted loyalty to the messianic Kony. He and the LRA are blamed for displacing around two million people and forcing upwards of sixty thousand children to fight for him during his more than two decades of spreading mayhem through what’s called the Great Lakes region of Africa.1 At the time of my visit, Ugandan soldiers had been leading an effort to hunt the LRA down in CAR. Kony and his followers have been on the run and have lost many supporters in the last several years, but they are skilled jungle fighters and difficult to find.

Kony has left a trail of death, mutilation, and misery. A young woman who looked to be about twenty also walked toward me with the forty-nine-year-old Acellam. The Ugandan commander explained that she was one of the thousands of girls Acellam and his followers had abducted and raped, and had been living as Acellam’s “wife.” She was holding the hand of a little girl with an angelic face who looked to be about two years old: Acellam’s daughter. The young woman’s body language was striking. She clearly felt she had to stand near Acellam, yet she leaned away as if she were a magnet being repelled by a colliding charge. I fished in my pocket and produced a Tootsie Pop and handed it to the child. Her mother smiled at me and helped the little girl unwrap it.

Acellam was being held under armed guards, but the Tootsie Pop was a weapon for my own personal mission that day. Others included my cameras, jars of peanut butter and jelly, and a few slices of bread. I am an experienced photographer of life in the developing world, both its fragile beauty and its dark, difficult sides. A friend of mine who is an advocate for impoverished and exploited people all over the world, and who supports the hunt for Kony, had asked me to take photographs of Acellam and his family. I was told that Acellam needed to look relaxed and smile in the photographs. Not for the sake of journalism or art: the photos were for laminated flyers urging the remaining members of the LRA to surrender. These would be dropped over the jungle by C-130 transport aircraft. It was important for the photograph to convey Acellam being treated well and with respect.

Stiff and wary at first, his eyes bloodshot but still sharp, Acellam surveyed his surroundings as one experienced in dangerous situations would do. But there was a resignation to him. He was tired; he knew he was done. He was no longer in control of his fate. I reminded myself that I was in the presence of an evil predator. The good I hoped to accomplish with photographs required me to bury my disgust for a man who, at this moment, I needed to like me.

Acellam, I could tell, was accustomed to underlings attending to his needs. I jumped up to get him water, and I prepared what for him was exotic fare: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He liked it. He told me he and his family had been eating “roots” in the jungle. His English was very good. He began to relax. He smiled when I asked if he liked the peanut butter. I got the pictures, and over the next few months, 565,000 laminated flyers with my photographs of a smiling, apparently happy Acellam—with quotes from him urging LRA fighters to surrender—rained down over the jungles of the Central African Republic. In the year that followed, dozens of fighters and hundreds of victims emerged, including a barefoot, one-eyed combatant in a tattered suit who surrendered in Obo, CAR, by holding the flyer with the photographs of Acellam and his family over his head. He later explained that he had fought with Kony for sixteen years.

This member of the Ugandan army was part of the brigade that captured General Caesar Acellam in May 2012. Photo: Howard G. Buffett

The photographs used in this flyer represent a disarmed Acellam. They disproved rumors of his torture and death and encouraged many victims to seek out safety and escape Kony. Courtesy of: CLRA Partners

This was one of my more unusual high-adrenaline encounters in a decade of trying to attack the causes of hunger and create more sustainable, lasting solutions. It’s been a wide-ranging journey, peppered with dangerous, even bizarre experiences. Why was a meeting with a vicious warlord part of the hunger equation? Because one of the most challenging elements in battling hunger, especially in Africa and Central America, is conflict. Individual stories of the bloodthirsty barbarism of Kony and his followers are horrifying, but two million people displaced and sixty thousand children kidnapped over the last twenty-plus years continue to live a fragile, hungry existence.

Conflict is ugly and takes a long-lasting toll on children and families. It ruins agricultural production, disrupts the shipping of food, and destroys land. It creates mass dislocation as people flee for their lives. And that is a dislocation from which there is no easy or ready recovery. It can mean months, even years, spent in a filthy, crowded camp for displaced persons. It can mean returning home only to find that one’s land and home have been taken over by others who feel entitled to remain there. And as those former child soldiers escape or are released from the only life they know—uneducated, traumatized, disconnected from their families—how are they to feed themselves? They have spent their childhoods murdering on command, often high on drugs. They typically have limited skills and are often hated by their own people.

In 2005 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said that conflict was the world’s leading cause of hunger.2 In 2007 Oxford University economist Paul Collier, writing in The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, analyzed the states that are home to the world’s poorest people, most of them in Africa. He found that 73 percent have recently been in, or continue to be in, a civil war. But poverty and hunger exacerbated by conflict exist all around the world. I’ve seen firsthand the human toll the drug wars are taking in Central America. In some regions of Mexico, for example, families living in remote villages have been forced to convert their corn and bean crops to marijuana and are starving at the point of the drug lords’ guns.

I confess: I am personally drawn to intense, high-stakes situations such as that South Sudan jungle. I am drawn to conflict-related challenges, as they are among the hardest problems we face. I am comfortable going where other philanthropists and aid groups may not or cannot go. But this kind of adventure is not my day job.

As you’re about to learn, I’m a farmer. Mostly, I approach food insecurity—when a person is routinely unsure of when, how, or where they will access their next meal—and poverty from the perspective of a farmer who operates planters and combines and who understands soil, seeds, and fertilizer. The bulk of my battles are with weather, insects, and weeds. However, I’m committed to addressing the full picture and complexity of hunger—even the most difficult realities. And I can promise you that even in far less dramatic situations in agricultural agencies or food-security conferences or the back rooms of Washington, DC, there is a waste of resources, corruption, or unintended consequences from failed policies. These impediments and the slow pace of politics and bureaucracy are almost as maddening to me as a warlord’s sneer. We know that millions of people die of nutrition- and hunger-related causes every year, more than three million of them children.3

This mission did not come to me quickly or easily. To understand how I ended up making a warlord a sandwich, however, we have to leave the jungle and travel back in time to a much quieter spot in America’s breadbasket.

Meet the Author

Howard G. Buffett is the President of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. A farmer, businessman, politician, photographer, and philanthropist, he has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation and finding solutions to world hunger. He is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Against Hunger, and serves on the corporate boards of Berkshire Hathaway, the Coca-Cola Company, and Lindsay Corporation. His son, Howard W. Buffett, has authored several of the stories in 40 Chances and accompanied his father to developing countries around the world.

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40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
betsy1971 More than 1 year ago
I saw the Buffett family on the Today show yesterday and i thought to myself, "this is a family that seems just like any other."  I felt like they were the kind of folks you could chat with at a church dinner or backyard barbecue -- and never know that they're billionaires!   I rarely act on impulse to get a book, but I had the day off so I went to the bookstore and bought a copy.  Well, I couldn't put it down. The Buffets, especially Howard, have the same values as so many families across America, but they're amazing, incredible people.  They have been all around the world to places I have never even heard of, along with some that I had, and the book is a collection of forty different essays about the people they've met and what they've learned along the way.  I was afraid that I would be overwhelmed by the book's focus on agriculture, which I don't know anything about, and it being about the rest of the world outside of the United States, but it is written in such a nice way with every chapter being its own story, I couldn't stop reading.  I stayed up until late into the night to finish it.   I felt like I had a different mindset when I woke up this morning.  I felt so inspired and ready to make a difference (okay, after an extra cup or two of coffee this morning, like I said, I hadn't slept much!!)  I'm seeing things just a little differently today, thanks to the advice and stories in the book, which I keep thinking about over and over in my mind all morning. If I could give this book higher than a five star rating, I would do it.  The book is as exceptional as it's authors, with lessons from one of America's greatest families, with lessons for every family in America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
40 Chances is a powerful recollection of ideas that truly inspires one to think about how to be more effective in not just their philanthropy, but their lives.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like a real understanding of the challenges of hunger as well as to enjoy a personable and personal collection of anecdotes that showcase the values and principals that made the Buffett family successful in business and philanthropy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I happened to see the three generations of the Buffett family on the Today show and ordered this book immediately. Howard G. Buffett lives in Central Illinois and I had heard about his philanthropic work in the local papers. This book was AWESOME and I will be sharing it with my family. Forty different stories in the 40 chapters, along with pictures he has taken, really opened my eyes. After reading this book, I'm inspired to work on my own 40 chances to make a difference and you will be too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's an inspirational and informative read which I find to be a nice and refreshing combination. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I pre-ordered this and am really enjoying this book!!!! I'm on chapter 22 and it's a real page turner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Howard G. Buffett shines in his novel 40 Chances! He is the son of the sensational Warren Buffett who left him with the task to embrace his forty chances to make a difference in the world. Howard has a passion for farming and believes that every farmer has forty seasons to create the best crops and learn from every single season he gets. Howard's mission is to make a difference in the world by helping to prevent world hunger and use many of his farming tools to help achieve that. In this novel his mission is to help fight world hunger and conserve wildlife in areas where forests are being cut down which is also affecting ecosystems in which more food could be conserved. This book takes you on Howard’s exciting adventures around the world where he discovers just how many people are suffering from food and shelter. He uses his own photography to capture pictures of kids in villages who are starved to death and kids who are locked in chains. This book was great because Howard was able to connect his personal stories to the ones that he was learning about every day in these countries all over the world. If you prefer longer books that jump from story to story then this book might get confusing and unenjoyable.  Although Howard’s writing style was well thought out that included mini stories that helped fill you in on hunger statistics and short personal stories of his own to keep you interested. This book would most likely never be a movie but could easily be made into a documentary. The overall theme to this story would be how hunger affects the lives of millions of people and if we don’t try to stop it now, then we most likely never will. This book would be a great story for a high school curriculum because of the power that all of young kids have to make a difference in the world and it only takes one person like Howard to help get it started.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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popscipopulizer More than 1 year ago
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, November 19, 2013. The main argument: In the developed world, the vast majority of us enjoy a standard of living unmatched in the history of humankind—and going hungry is the last thing on our minds. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that poverty and hunger have been eradicated in the developed world entirely (in the United States, for example, 1 in 6 are considered food insecure—including 16 million children). Still, the greatest problems with poverty and hunger continue to exist in the developing world. Indeed, despite substantial improvements over the past 30 years, poverty remains a significant issue, and nearly a billion of the world’s 7 billion people still face chronic hunger (while about twice that number are malnourished in some way)—and millions starve to death every year. It is not that many well intentioned people and organizations have not spent a great deal of time and money trying to solve the world’s poverty and hunger issues. Indeed, over the past half century the amount of resources that have been poured into these problems is staggering. So, just why do the problems of poverty and hunger stubbornly persist? Well, at least part of it has to do with the fact that there are several significant obstacles standing in the way—everything from armed conflict, to corrupt governments, to particular cultural practices etc. Howard G. Buffet has been involved in philanthropy for upwards of 30 years, and knows these obstacles all too well. However, Buffet insists that there is yet another reason why all of the well-intentioned efforts have fallen short of reaching their ultimate goal. And that is that many of the approaches have proven to be inadequate (if not downright counter-productive). The fact is that most of the aid flowing to the poorest parts of the world has been (and continues to be) in the form of projects that are meant to help people in the short-term. For example, NGOs commonly enter an area, drop off bags of seed and fertilizer, and then turn around and leave. This approach may help the area for a season or two, but in the end the seed and fertilizer eventually run out, and the community is right back to square one. Thus the approach acts more as a band-aid, than a self-sustaining solution that addresses the root causes of poverty and hunger. Thankfully, in Buffet’s 30 years of work as a philanthropist he has learned that there is indeed a better approach, and one that stands a much better chance of rooting out poverty and hunger for good. The more effective approach is much less about aid as development—less about helping people as enabling people to help themselves. This is a fantastic book. Don’t let the fact that Buffet is the son of one of the wealthiest men on the planet dissuade you from taking him seriously. The author may have had a head start in life, but he stands on his own two legs, and he has used his privileged position to help him gain perspective (rather than let it make him arrogant and entitled). Anyone interested in the hunger problem (and the best way to approach it) would be well advised to read this book. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com; on Tuesday, November 19. A podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poverty and health problems can create an amazing reason to feel down, look at negatives and give up. The recession proved daily that life simply bears down too hard for many of us to take another hopeful step forward. In the midst of economic and leadership struggles we admire folks like Howard and Warren Buffett who spot solutions and toss talent, promise and resources into leading innovative change. We're drawn to those who guide the most vulnerable among us into a finer place. We find such inspiration page-after-page in Howard Buffett's inspiring new book, "40 Chances." From the first narrative we hear the clock ticking with the Buffets, who begin to hone hope into state-of-the-art tools and build optimism by reshaping prosperity for those who've all but given up. Those who recognize the human brain's proclivity to progress, will also spot dozens of ways in this classic volume to act simply - and persist successfully - on the other side of loss. Regardless of challenges we all face in tough climates of loss and change we find doable inspiration to move forward. With each bare-boned story of struggle we dip into what Buffet shows to be brilliant brainpower for the worst of times. Here at the Mita International Brain Center, we've admired the integrity, care and forward thinking genius that exists in the Buffett family. Yet this book shows a unique compassion for those left at the fringes as our fast paced advancements too often tread down on the most vulnerable among us. This book's hub connects us globally - far beyond simply "treating others as we'd like to be treated." We're inspired to run with passion. We're called to help save the world from poverty and hunger that kills hope and assassinates any sense of wonder or worth that we can all achieve together. Philanthropy in the Buffet clan, shows itself to be playfully alive, well- packed with a humorous punch - and cast well in Buffett's family dream of alleviating world hunger. We all relate in some areas of our lives to the book's maxim that when we receive much we are required to give back more. So sign me up for the Buffett's well articulated plan to help end world hunger and poverty over the next century. No question, alongside the Buffet's impressive $3 billion offerings to ramp up food and water security, my own offering seems shockingly small. Yet the hope and delight I see in Buffett's new book, "Forty Chances" offers a new glimpse of refreshing opportunities for each of us to participate in this adventure. Imagine the human and divine legacy - as together we help end global hunger! Through each chapter of the book I found myself adding brain based underpinnings to showcase Buffet's riveting mix of 40 humorous, heart-breaking and inspired vignettes. Much like recent brain discoveries show value in the anatomy of hope, Buffet shows how life improves when we act from within genuine and lived compassion for all. As Buffett points out - we can feel daunted by our inabilities to make a difference. Yet Buffett convinces us to focus together on the outcomes many crave! Rather than settle for tired programs, policies and traditions, this life-changing book woos us to operate from where we stand, but with far larger promises in mind.