What Drives Mega-Novelist James Patterson's Philanthropy?

The novelist James Patterson may be the most popular novelist you've never read. Check that. He's the most popular novelist ever, whether you've read him or not.

As a recent Vanity Fair article illustrates, Patterson is a one-man publishing machine, the "Henry Ford of Books," cranking out dozens of titles a year with the help of an army of co-writers. He earned close to $90 million last year alone.

The article also reveals that Patterson is a big-time philanthropist. Who knew?

Since most of Patterson's novels deal with complex and occasionally sadistic characters that require a great deal of armchair psychoanalysis, we figured why not analyze his giving accordingly? So: What drives James Patterson to give?

Sincerity and gratitude. Patterson's life was changed upon reading authors like Joyce and Jean Genet as a teenager. He was also blessed with a modest upbringing. His father was a "an emotionally withholding insurance agent" (don't worry, Freudian analysis will follow). And Patterson enjoyed ample educational opportunities, earning a scholarship to Manhattan College in the Bronx. So Patterson, quite naturally, understands the power of education and literacy.  

In November, he launched a national campaign to promote reading. The campaign complements his own site, readkiddoread.com, which provides parents with the tools they need to teach their kids the importance of reading.

He has also contributed more than $26 million to his and his wife's alma maters, given another $5.8 million in scholarships at 22 colleges and universities, sent 650,000 of his books to U.S. troops at home and abroad, and provided a box of books to every public school in New York City, Los Angeles, Savannah, Georgia, and Palm Beach County, Florida.

Arrogance. Patterson built his empire after a successful stint in the corporate advertising world, and he does not suffer fools. (Then again, you'd have a chip on your shoulder as well if you've sold more books than J. K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, Dr. Seuss, and John Grisham since 2001). As so Patterson's giving is very hands-on. "I think institutions frequently are very sloppy," he notes in a "know-it-all-funder" kind of way.

Guilt. OK, hear us out. Patterson, as previously noted, earns about $1.73 million a week. He churns out books in assembly-line fashion with a cadre of co-writers. Not the most elegant approach. Furthermore, as far as retail sales go, he makes most of his money through the few remaining large corporate booksellers and Amazon.

So what did he do? He gave $1 million in grants to struggling independent bookstores in 2014.

And before you brush off our guilt theory, consider some corresponding evidence — he went to the Catholic St. Patrick’s High School.

Case closed.