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Philanthropy in America:
A History
Olivier Zunz
With a new preface by the author

Hardcover | 2011 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691128368
400 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Q & A with Oliver Zunz

American philanthropy today expands knowledge, champions social movements, defines active citizenship, influences policymaking, and addresses humanitarian crises. How did philanthropy become such a powerful and integral force in American society? Philanthropy in America is the first book to explore in depth the twentieth-century growth of this unique phenomenon. Ranging from the influential large-scale foundations established by tycoons such as John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and the mass mobilization of small donors by the Red Cross and March of Dimes, to the recent social advocacy of individuals like Bill Gates and George Soros, respected historian Olivier Zunz chronicles the tight connections between private giving and public affairs, and shows how this union has enlarged democracy and shaped history.

Zunz looks at the ways in which American philanthropy emerged not as charity work, but as an open and sometimes controversial means to foster independent investigation, problem solving, and the greater good. Andrew Carnegie supported science research and higher education, catapulting these fields to a prominent position on the world stage. In the 1950s, Howard Pew deliberately funded the young Billy Graham to counter liberal philanthropies, prefiguring the culture wars and increased philanthropic support for religious causes. And in the 1960s, the Ford Foundation supported civil rights through education, voter registration drives, and community action programs. Zunz argues that American giving allowed the country to export its ideals abroad after World War II, and he examines the federal tax policies that unified the diverse nonprofit sector.

Demonstrating that America has cultivated and relied on philanthropy more than any other country, Philanthropy in America examines how giving for the betterment of all became embedded in the fabric of the nation's civic democracy.


"In a sweeping, insightful history, Olivier Zunz has traced the evolution of American philanthropy over the past 150 years and its contribution to democracy and civil society. What is particularly satisfying is his focus--somewhat rare among books about American philanthropy--on the extent to which foundations and other grantmaking programs have been involved in shaping national affairs and public policy. This involvement, Zunz rightfully claims, has been an important force not only in strengthening American democracy but in establishing philanthropic institutions as integral parts of society. . . . A splendid book about philanthropy in America."--Pablo Eisenberg, The Nation

"A readable account of how philanthropy caught on in the United States more pervasively than any other nation. . . . Zunz mixes case studies, mini-biography and academic theory to demonstrate that both the superwealthy and common folks have invested in giving to the needy as part of an effort to make America a better place. . . . A sterling example of how an academic author can combine high-level theory with interesting, important real-world examples."--Kirkus Reviews

"Chapters on the relationship between the institution of income taxes, the price of war, and the creation of 'mass philanthropy' will make any reader stop and ask deeper questions about the contemporary relationship between those same structures. It's a great overview and should be read by everyone currently active in nonprofits or foundations who has ever asked, 'Wait, why do we do it this way?'"--Lucy Bernholz, Philanthropy 2173

"Will be of interest to all those who wish to understand better the development of a distinctive style of American philanthropy since the Civil War. . . . Important."--Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, Philanthropy Daily

More reviews

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
Chapter 1: "For the Improvement of Mankind" 8
Chapter 2: The Coming of Mass Philanthropy 44
Chapter 3: The Regulatory Compromise 76
Chapter 4: The Private Funding of Affairs of State 104
Chapter 5: From Humanitarianism to Cold War 137
Chapter 6: Philanthropy at Midcentury: "Timid Billions"? 169
Chapter 7: Investing in Civil Rights 201
Chapter 8: In Search of a Nonprofit Sector 232
Chapter 9: American Philanthropy and the World’s Communities 264
Conclusion 294
Notes 301
Index 351

Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Olivier Zunz:


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File created: 7/11/2017

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