Introduction to Effective Altruism Reading List

by smithee18th Nov 20181 comment



There are plenty of these out there already, but when a friend asked me for a guide to start reading about effective altruism, I wasn't completely satisfied with any of the existing lists. Here's my shot at the most engaging, most essential introductory EA materials.

(I think reading Doing Good Better is probably a better intro than reading all of this, but a series of blog posts can be less intimidating that purchasing and reading a book. If you want to read Doing Good Better, definitely do it! But if you'd like a smaller intro, here you go.)

First, a broad introduction:

A writer from the Atlantic discovers effective altruism, and is incredibly moved by it. He walks through everything he’s learned from it, and why it matters so much to him now.

OR, Peter Singer's Ted Talk on your power to save a life. It's not as thorough and moving as The Atlantic piece, but the Ted Talk format can be nice.

Then, some specific EA ideas:

The Center for Effective Altruism's introduction to the specific ideas and cause areas of current effective altruists.

Givewell, an organization that specializes in evaluating the impacts of charities, argues that many charities fail do much good at all.

Blogger Scott Alexander argues that when it comes to how you're going to accomplish good, you can't escape tradeoffs.

Blogger Eliezer Yudkowsky explains the psychological concept of scope insensitivity: humans don't intuitively, emotionally feel the difference between saving 10,000 lives and saving 100,000 lives, but the difference is huge—99,000 dead people, to be exact.

The founder of Givewell talks about Excited Altruism: EA isn’t a burden that makes EAs miserable, it’s an amazing idea that we feel passionate about and brings us joy.

Finally, what you can do about it:

You have 80,000 hours in your career. How can you use them to make the biggest difference possible? 80000 Hours is here to help.

Givewell explains what your dollar can really do, if it’s at the most effective organizations.

Giving What We Can members pledge to donate 10% of their income over their lifetime to the most effective charities they can find. Their thousands of members have donated tens of millions of dollars to effective charity so far.

Please suggest changes, or leave your favorite EA reading material in the comments!

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I usually recommend Magnus Vinding's Effective Altruism: How Can We Best Help Others?, sometimes even to people not new to the EA ideas: the ebook is short but dense and available for free.

This book is part introduction to, part reflective examination of, the idea and ideal of effective altruism. Its aim is to examine the question: how can we best help others? A question that in turn forces us to contemplate what helping others, effectively or otherwise, really entails. Here the book argues that the greatest help we can provide is to reduce extreme suffering for all sentient beings.