Book Reviews

Review by: Becky Sanchez

Portland State University

beckys@pdx.edu 

The Power of Half is the true story of a family who (motivated by the altruistic intentions of their teenage daughter) sold their two million dollar home, vowing to donate half the proceeds to improve the lives of those living in a few small villages in Africa.

The book follows the family as they decide on the work that they want to do and how to tell others about their plan. Sharing their plan with others was a conversation often met with confusion or misunderstanding. The natural gravitation toward giving to others demonstrated by Hannah Salwen is the most striking part of this book and is inspiring to read. The Salwen’s decision making process was very inclusive, giving parents and teens an equal voice in the selection of the project they embarked upon. This process continued when they encountered setbacks.  Decisions that previously would have been made by parents were jointly discussed and resolutions were developed in a collaborative process. Elements of their interpersonal process could be helpful for advisors to reflect on as they consider their own personal and professional development. Advisors may ask themselves how they can approach decision making with those impacted by those decisions including students, supervisors, colleagues and family.  

The story is interspersed with short sections written by the daughter of the family, Hannah Salwen. These sections give readers practical activities that may be useful for advisors short on time. Advisors can offer the activities to a student who wonders how they can make a difference for others. An example of an activity is one in which a student selects a person from their past who had a positive impact on their life. The instructions are to write a letter to that person expressing appreciation, go see that person face to face, read it to them, and leave the document with the receiver. As advisors work with students, advisors ask students about their past, how they decided upon their major and their interests. Those stories are often speckled with one or two people whose actions or words helped shape the student’s career interests. Advisors may be able to encourage students to consider an entry into altruism by performing the activity the author suggests.

The authors visit Africa to see how donated money is used and they find their presence at a few critical gatherings more important than their donation. They made speeches and were guests of honor at events that celebrated new centers and provided training for the villagers. The organization the Salwens worked with is The Hunger Project and their work empowers the people who live in the villages to do the necessary work to improve their situation.

This is an interesting story, I recommend this book for any advisor interested in an easy-read that details the potential impact people can have when they buck societal norms and expectations to help others.


The Power of Half: One family's decision to stop taking and start giving back. (2010). Review by becky Sanchez. Book by Kevin Salwen & Hannah Salwen, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pp, $15.95 (paperback), ISBN, 978-0-547-39454-1, http://hnhco.com/shop/books/The-Power-of-Half/9780547394541


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