Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Summer Reading List

For those who have been following along this summer, if you are interested in learning more about development, aid, public health in the developing world, problems in the poor countries of the world more generally, and how it all impacts us, here is a list of the (relevant) books I read during my time in Madagascar, as well as the ones that are next on my reading list.

·         The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, by Paul Collier
o    A brilliant economist’s thoughts on why the 60 countries that are home to about a billion of the poorest people on earth are not actually developing but stagnant, and should be approached as such, rather than lumping the world into two categories (developed vs. developing).

·         Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
o   Chock full of interesting studies and very well-written book on the various reasons that the poor stay poor, specifically looking at the cultural mindsets that we as first-world citizens may not even think could exist, and how we can help break the cycle.

·         Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
o   An incredibly moving book written by two Pullitzer-winning NY Times journalists about the myriad ways that women are being oppressed and abused throughout the world and some of the heroic efforts currently underway to fight the problem. Lots of detailed stories of individual women in many countries, and some concrete suggestions for how to get involved.

·         Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
o   This book isn’t about the developing world but it applies equally anywhere. For me it helped to solidify my thoughts about public health interventions, as it gives some insight into how people make decisions and shows you that we don’t always make the best decisions for ourselves. If you are in a position – government, health care worker, even just a voter – to influence people to make better decisions for their own good and that of others (such as quitting smoking or getting vaccinated, for example), this is an interesting read.

·         The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, by Simon Baron-Cohen
o   A very interesting look at the biological origins of empathy, examining the range from the overly empathic psychotherapist to the autistic person (lacking in empathy but with potentially positive consequences) to the psychopath (lacking in empathy and with negative consequences). I hadn’t intended this book to be relevant to my time in Madagascar, but it helped give me some perspective to think about maternal instincts and how mothers could be willing to let their children starve to death even when they have another option.

·         Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City, by Elijah Anderson
o   I happened on this book a bit randomly. It is a sociological study by a UPenn professor who spent a lot of time interviewing poor, inner-city blacks in Philadelphia about their beliefs and practices. It is an interesting look into the culture of the inner city, and somewhat surprisingly I found a lot of parallels between what Anderson describes and the culture in sub-Saharan Africa.

·         The Madagascar I Love, by Arkady Fiedler
o   Again a random find (free for Kindle on Amazon). An account by a European explorer to Madagascar in the early 20th century. Amusingly racist, and funny to think how today’s sex tourism industry in Madagascar may have its origins in the custom of providing a girl to every European visitor as a show of hospitality. Interesting to put things into some historical context if you are visiting Madagascar.

What I’ll be reading next:

·         The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, by Jeffrey Sachs
o   This is Sachs’ seminal work, laying out his side of the aid argument, which is in favor of giving people as much aid as possible in an effort to break the cycle of poverty.

·         The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, by William Easterly
o   Easterly’s seminal work, in which he (essentially) opposes Sachs by arguing that we must use the free market to encourage development among the poor, as aid will not be useful until people demand it of their own volition.     

·         Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, by Paul Farmer
o   A look at human rights abuses in the context of public health, with examples from countries such as Haiti, Peru and Russia. Farmer is a passionate physician who is the incredibly inspiring founder of Partners in Health. See also Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

·         The Poor and Their Money, by Stuart Rutherford
o   A look at why microfinance does or does not work, by examining how the poor save and budget, which is not at all using the same strategies as the rest of us.

·         Not for Sale, by David Batstone
o   A call to arms against human trafficking

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