Topic: Book Reviews

The Pocket Piketty: a two page intro for non-bookworms

One of my main functions within Oxfam seems to be to review books to spare everyone else the effort. Last week, I was on Piketty duty. Batches of campaigns and policy types sat in suitable veneration around a copy of the giant tome, and I talked them through this two page ‘Pocket Piketty’. The Potted […]

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International Aid and the Making of a Better World: a great new book

Ros Eyben makes retirement look terribly exhausting. No sooner had I reviewed her book on feminists in development organizations than another appeared. This one is a little (170 page) gem. International Aid and the Making of a Better World interweaves her own life story with the evolution of the aid system, in which she is […]

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The new UN Human Development Report on vulnerability and resilience: ignoring trade-offs and an epic fail on power and politics

I started off reading the exec sum of yesterday’s Human Development Report (UNDP’s flagship publication) with initial excitement, followed by growing dismay. It’s a pretty traditional kind of disillusion (I’m a bit of a connoisseur). Allow me to walk you through it. In a nutshell, an interesting diagnosis and a few good new-ish ideas, followed […]

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‘Economists know almost nothing about anything’. Yet another reason to love Thomas Piketty

From the intro to ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, a taste of his great approach to learning, the easy discursive style, (but also why the book is 600 pages long – succinct he ain’t. I’ve got to page 164): “To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion […]

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Bill Easterly’s new book: brilliant on technocrats, flawed on rights, wrong on aid and hopeless on China

This review first appeared in the June issue of the IMF’s Finance and Development magazine. I loved the premise and conclusions of William Easterly’s new book. The intervening 300 pages gave less cause for celebration. Easterly sees development as hijacked by technocrats: “The technocratic illusion is that poverty results from a shortage of expertise, whereas […]

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Into the Unknown: Explorations in Development Practice: lovely (and short) new book from Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers is who I want to be when I grow up, an object lesson in how to grow old (dis)gracefully. Funny, passionate, always willing to admit doubt and failure, and endlessly curious – he never pulls that weary ‘oh, we tried that in the 1970s and it didn’t work’ routine beloved of other development […]

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An Uncertain Glory: Dreze and Sen’s fantastic introduction to India and its Contradictions

India dominates many debates on development – home to a third of the world’s absolute (<$1.25 a day) poor, the world’s biggest democracy, an emerging power with a space programme, a buzzing beehive of political and social activism and experimentation. With their new book, An Uncertain Glory, Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen have given us […]

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How complexity thinking cut malnutrition in Vietnam by two thirds

To end complexity week, another of the fascinating case studies from Ben Ramalingam’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos In December 1991, Jerry and Monique Sternin arrived in Vietnam so Jerry could take up the role of Save the Children US Country Director. The country was still labouring under a US-led economic embargo and had […]

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Aid on the Edge of Chaos, a book you really need to read and think about

I held off reviewing Ben’s book til after last night’s launch at ODI, so that I could add any useful extra info or soundbites. Here goes. It’s smart, well-written and provides a deeper intellectual foundation for much of the most interesting thinking going on in the aid business right now. Ben Ramalingam (right)’s Aid on […]

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The Idealist: a brilliant, gripping, disturbing portrait of Jeffrey Sachs

For The Idealist, Nina Munk, a Vanity Fair journo, stalked Jeffrey Sachs for six years, focusing on his controversial Millennium Villages Project (MVP). She interviewed the man, sat in on his meetings with bigwigs, and hung around the Millennium Villages to find out what happened when the Prof’s entourage moved on. The result is more subtle […]

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Governance for Development in Africa: Solving Collective Action Problems: Review of an important new book

The last year or so has been a bit quiet in terms of big new books on development, but now they are piling up on my study floor (my usual filing system) – Angus Deaton, Deepak Nayyar, Ben Ramalingam, Nina Munk etc etc. I will review them as soon as I can (or arm-twist better […]

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Speed reading rocks, so why don’t we all learn it?

The best day’s training I ever did was a speed reading course, offered by DFID (I had a short stint there about ten years ago). It helps me every day – when was the last time you could say that about a training course? The first part of the course covered what you normally think of […]

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