In this well-meaning but self-congratulatory memoir, the Salwen family decides to sell their gorgeous Atlanta mansion, move to a home half the size, and commit half the proceeds to the needy. Putting their plan into action, a raft of family decisions and meetings are led by mom Joan, a former corporate consulting executive and teacher, with the help of an actual whiteboard. Entrepreneur and activist Kevin, a former Wall Street Journal editor, writes with daughter Hannah, who, as instigator of the family project, provides commentary and practical suggestions. The chronicle is intriguing and the cohesiveness of the four family members is remarkable: "Friends and others... always focused on... the big house, the big donation, or the trip to Africa" with their eventual partner, The Hunger Project, rather than "the transformational energy" of "a family eager to stand for something collectively." The authors tend to gush over their efforts while discounting the privileged position that allows them to make them ("we think everyone can give one of the three T's: time, talent or treasure"); their unflagging optimism, buttressed by clear self-regard, can also be tiring.
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Kevin Salwen (former reporter and editor, Wall Street Journal) and his family had been living the best that America could offer; a two-million-dollar home, the finest possessions, and vacations were all on their full plate. So what was the problem? Idealistic daughter Hannah Salwen had seen the other side, and through ensuing discussions the family decided to downscale, selling the historic family home and giving half the proceeds to a nonprofit group. This is the story of a likable family that began to question the current "normal" of America that bigger, better, and newer is the way to go. The book follows the debates that led up to their extraordinary decision, as they struggle with the question, "How much is enough and how can I make an impact in the world?" Hannah Salwen inserts her tips on how to give "half" of your time and effort and infuses the book with teenage optimism. VERDICT A readable, interesting, but syrupy sweet take on philanthropy that will either inspire or irritate readers, depending on their frame of mind. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/09.]—Nancy Richey, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
Feel-good account of an Atlanta family that sold its $2 million home and gave half the money to a nonprofit group. As told by former Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Salwen and teenage daughter Hannah, the Salwens had it made: lives as "obnoxious, consuming yuppies," a three-floor historic home, both kids in private schools and a comfortable investment portfolio. Then one day, distressed by the needs of the homeless, 14-year-old Hannah asked why the family, which gave generously to charities and even took in a Hurricane Katrina family, wasn't doing more. Ensuing discussion with her mother younger brother and dad launched an unusual two-year adventure in which the likable family downscaled, moved into a more modest house and worked as a determined, close-knit group to find the right charity for their gift of $800,000 (half their home's sale price in a poor economy). In this down-to-earth, somewhat syrupy account of their "journey of service," the Salwens recall the banter, debate and decision-making they shared as they sought advice on ways to give effectively; vetted organizations working in Africa, where they wanted to help; and finally chose to support several villages in Ghana through the Hunger Project, a charity that emphasizes empowerment and self-reliance in helping communities escape poverty. The authors describe their on-site visits in rural Ghana, where their money helped build two community centers, each serving up to a dozen villages and consisting of a meeting hall, a bank for microloans, food-storage space and a health center. With occasional tips from Hannah on how readers can start family conversations and find ways to give "half"-of time spent watching television,Web surfing, etc.-as volunteers, this debut also includes the revealing responses of friends and TV viewers (Today Show and CNN), who were variously inspired, threatened or puzzled by the ambitious project. Salwen says the unusual act of philanthropy ultimately fostered not only the well-being of villagers but the deepening relationships within his family. Schmaltzy story of a gutsy attempt to make a difference. $100,000 ad/promo. Author tour to New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Agents: Amy Hughes, David McCormick/McCormick & Williams
"We often say that young people must not let themselves be infected by the cynicism of their elders. Hannah inoculated her family with the vision to dream a different world and the courage to help create it."
—Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and the Rev. Mpho Tutu
"The Salwens set a new standard for families and individuals seeking to inject meaning into their lives. What does your family stand for? Read this book - it will change your life."
—Daniel H. Pink, author of A WHOLE NEW MIND and DRIVE
"Crazy, impetuous and utterly inspiring.... The Salwens offer an example of a family that came together to make a difference - for themselves as much as the people they were trying to help."
—Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times
"Mixing humor, inspiration, and self-reflection, THE POWER OF HALF will give you a whole new perspective on your life. You can't help but recommit to the values you want to share with your children. And you'll be reminded that your kids have much to teach you, too."
—Jeffrey Zaslow, coauthor (with Randy Pausch) of THE LAST LECTURE and author of THE GIRLS FROM AMES
"Give it up for the Salwen family.... You feel lighter reading this book, as if the heavy weight of house and car and appliances, the need to collect these things to feel safe as a family, are lifted and replaced by something that makes much more sense."
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"Hannah inspires every one of her readers to ask, 'What can I do to help?' An adventure with a conscience. Brava!"
—Susanne B. Beck, executive director, National Coalition of Girls' Schools
The Salwens' "book, soaring in idealism and yet grounded in realism, can show Americans of any means how best to give back."
—Lisa Bonos, The Washington Post,
"Hannah, you rock!"
—Ann Curry, The Today Show
"Americans are the world's most generous people, but, as THE POWER OF HALF shows, the Salwen family is lifting hearts in a new way. Who knew Siddartha lived in the suburbs, Mother Teresa wore volleyball kneepads, and the Buddha could emerge from his dream at a traffic light: When the heart is full, give half."
—Michael Capuzzo, author, CLOSE TO SHORE and THE MURDER ROOM
"THE POWER OF HALF is a story of generosity become realized - a family's unpretentious, morally introspective life becomes a fulfillment of an old ethical and spiritual imperative: that in giving we receive."
—Dr. Robert Coles,
"THE POWER OF HALF proves so much about leadership. Most importantly, that leadership comes in all ages, as long as there is a decision made to let it out and foster it. Hannah and her family inspire me."
—Alicia Mandel, VP, Organizational Development, Apollo Group and former Director, Olympic University, USOC