If you had access to an abundance of resources to accomplish a massive improvement in the world, what, exactly, would you do?
The "Oracle of Omaha", Warren Buffett (BRK.B) posed this challenge to his son in 2006, when he decided to leave a large boatload of his money to charity working with the Bill Gate's (MSFT) Foundation.
Howard G. Buffett decided to take on the cause of world hunger. He decided to find ways to put an end to the suffering of a billion human beings on the planet today. His book "40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World" outlines his personal story and how his experiences led to the insights that shaped his pragmatic plans of action.
About Howard G. Buffett
Howard G. Buffett, famous because of his father, Warren Buffett who continues to lead Berkshire Hathaway to greatness (BRK.A), ranked as one of the most brilliant investors of all time, decided to wage a war against famine, hunger, and human misery.
However, Howard Buffett is very much his own man and not just in the shadow of his father, and his efforts to conserve wildlife and end world hunger arises from his own depth of experience. In his time, he has played many roles well. He has been a philanthropist, photographer, politician, businessman, and farmer. Additionally, he serves on the Berkshire Hathaway boards and is the UN Goodwill Ambassador Against Hunger.
The Back-story Behind the Book: Why 40 Chances?
In 2006, one of the wealthiest men in the world, Warren Buffett, asked his son, Howard G. Buffett, what he would do with $3 billion dollars dedicated to end the suffering of a billion people starving to death. Howard said he would resolve the problem in 40 years.
40 happens to be a magical number for Howard, as a farmer, he knows that he has only 40 chances to improve on crops because there are only 40 growing seasons. 40 also happens to be average number of years for a productive life. The rest of the time is spent in either growing up or winding down.
The book itself is arranged in 40 stories. These stories share the author's experiences, life lessons ranging from the safety of his own backyard to visiting some of the most dangerous places on our planet.
This book can best be described as a collection of stories told from different perspectives. As the son of Warren Buffett, he talks about how his last name shaped his life. As a farmer, he shares his view about the seasons and sustenance, as well as about the rituals of planting, of fertilizing, of harvesting and of starting all over again. Then, as a photographer, he shares his views about meeting a vicious African warlord in Southern Sudan, a subsistence farmer in Mozambique, and a forlorn village girl in Sierra Madre. Finally, as a father, he invites his son, also named Howard and also a philanthropist, to share a few stories about his own experiences.
The stories are not a random collection of memories but are a description of the formative influences that shaped Howard's quest to understand the issues associated with philanthropy. He discusses the poor farming methods in third world countries and the political, economic, and cultural issues that have resulted in world hunger. It's an adventure story with a philosophical bias. It can also be described as a vision statement, a manifesto, a guidebook, and hopefully, also a catalyst to raise awareness about a huge problem that is not being seriously addressed.
Although by no means a literary book, but more of a series of chronicles and musings, it somehow reminded me of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" written in 1899, which contains acidic reflections on the effects of colonialism in Congo, which had been thoroughly exploited by King Leopold II of Belgium. Like Conrad's book, "40 Chances," too, reveals the underbelly of evil that causes so much suffering for humankind. For instance, in one story, Howard talks about his shocking experience when he came across a group of boys in Senegal who had been bound in ankle chains.
The book has gathered positive reviews from some of the most famous influencers on the planet, people like British Prime Minister, Tony Blair; the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim; the US Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman; Eva Longoria, the actress turned philanthropist; and former US president, Bill Clinton.
In closing, the book is well-written, with an engaging style that flits freely from journalism to philosophy, from idealism to pragmatism, and from psychology to cultural anthropology. Although, it reads more like an adventure story, but there are no needs to embellish the plot for Howard's adventures, like the man himself, are larger than life.
This book will only add more good feelings about the Buffett family and the great performing Berkshire Hathaway company that the father and son serve as CEO and directors.