Effective altruism reading material for busy people

August 2014

So your friends have been bugging you about this thing called “effective altruism” and you finally decided you want to learn more. Unfortunately, like everyone else on the planet, you don’t have the time to wade through a bunch of chapter books and/or poorly-organized blog posts to figure out what’s actually going on.

You’re in luck! Now you only have to wade through one well-organized blog post with links to all the other poorly-organized blog posts! Don’t feel obligated to read everything; just poke around and read what interests you. (Lifehack alert: if you don’t have time to read everything now, you can use something like Pocket or Instapaper to save them for later.)

Note: this list is a work in progress. It reflects my own views, not necessarily the views of the effective altruism movement, which also doesn’t have views because it’s not a monolithic entity. It also reflects my desire to keep things short, so it leaves a lot of stuff out. If you have other reading suggestions, post them in the comments!


Introductory materials

Start with one (not all) of these three articles for a good overview of what it means to think like an effective altruist–mainly about treating all lives equally, and trying to do what helps the most (rather than just something that helps).

On personal choices

If taken too extremely, effective altruism can seem incredibly demanding. How can we justify spending anything at all on ourselves when the money could objectively do much more good elsewhere? There’s no good canned answer to this question yet–everyone struggles with figuring out where to draw the line, or what standard to hold themselves to. But reading about other people’s personal strategies and takes on the question can be really informative.

On thinking like an effective altruist

In my view, there are four main principles of effective altruism:

Although these ideas seem intuitive and obvious, they’re hard to digest fully! So it helps to look at where other people have gone with them.

On cause comparison

The fundamental question of cause prioritization is: how can we compare how much good is done by two disparate-seeming causes? How much should we value giving one family a malaria-preventing bednet, versus giving one child drugs that prevent parasitic worm infections?

On specific causes that some effective altruists like

For a very broad overview, Luke Muehlhauser’s Four Focus Areas of Effective Altruism outlines broad areas that a lot of people think are especially likely to be effective: reducing poverty, growing the EA movement, improving the prospects of the far future, and improving the lives of nonhuman animals. Within this, there are a number of more concrete areas and specific things to do that seem promising. (900 words)

On deciding what to do with your life

Endless supplies of further reading

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Aaron Gertler
  1. Great list! I will put it on my own endless list of not-very-sorted links:


  1. As always, you are about six months ahead of me on finishing projects like this. Is there anything you’re planning to do, say, seven months from now, so that I might get to it first?

Peter McIntyre

I think it’d be good to add a few things to this list:

-A link to the EA Handbook compiled by Ryan Carey and others.

-The new career guide by 80 000 hours:

-A succinct collation by EA UNSW (disclaimer: written by me)

Peter McIntyre

edit: But awesome work, thanks for writing it. I’ve sent it to a lot of people. :)

Pablo Stafforini

The EA Wiki list of EA blogs is a copy of a list I compiled a couple of years ago. I’ve recently updated the list, which now includes more than twice as many blogs as the original one. You’ll find it here.