New Book on Poverty and Development in Fragile States

poverty development fragile statesI am pleased to announce the publication of my new book on fragile states — Betrayed: Politics, Power and Prosperity (Palgrave Macmillan). The book focuses on the biggest challenges in the development field today: how to create inclusive societies, equitable governments, and dynamic economies that will give the poor the opportunity to accumulate the means and skills to control their own destinies. Up to now, change has proved illusive in most parts of the world, leaving three billion people — roughly one-half the population in the developing world — disadvantaged. The concrete suggestions described in my book are targeted at political, economic, and civil society leaders as well as scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and students.

The book combines the latest research on poverty and state building with my personal observations drawn from many years working in the developing world, and covers a far wider range of issues than comparable titles. These include social exclusion processes, ideology, elite incentives, strategic urbanization, connectivity, livelihood factors, power dynamics, transaction costs, social networks, and business linkages.

Former President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings wrote the foreword, calling the book “a compelling and eloquent argument for empowering all citizens, especially the poor.”

I hope you will share this information with your colleagues and friends. You can order a copy from Amazon. Continue reading

Top 10 books of 2008

My top 10 books of 2008 are an eclectic mix of insightful analysis, counter-intuitive reasoning, master story-telling, and solutioneering. Some brilliant books were published in 2008, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers just gets squeezed out but is still recommended reading. Below, in no particular order, are my top 10.

  1. Fixing Failed States, A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World, Ashraf Ghani & Clare Lockhart. Thousands of people can say that they have helped rebuild failing states, only a dozen or so can say they have then written about their own experiences and the experiences of other countries in lucid prose. But Fixing Failed States is not on my list solely for this reason. It’s really here because it’s the only persuasive critique of the ill-conceived, incoherent aid complex run by the U.N. and other agencies, which regularly undermines and supersedes weak states instead of stabilizing them.
  2. The Unthinkable, Who survives when disaster strikes – and why, Amanda Ripley. Fascinating and engrossing this book is a tour de force. Its gut-wrenching stories span the full spectrum of action under duress, from panic to heroism. Amanda Ripley has sifted through amazing tales of survivors from other disasters and mined various sociological, psychological, and neurological studies. Her insights are fascinating. Brilliant.
  3. The Forever War, Dispatches from the War on Terror, Dexter Filkins. To call Dexter a frontline reporter would be to diminish his work; for the most part he was not embedded in the U.S. Army — dangerous as that was – but rather embedded in both Iraq and the United States. He went out to the villages and to the countryside, talking to tribal leaders, village elders, and all the men and women (and children) he could engage. Unlike the stud scuds of the first conflict with Iraq, secure in their rear echelon hotels, and unlike the pundits and theorists, ensconced in their Washington think tanks, Filkins learned everything he has to tell us about the wars and occupations in these lands from firsthand experience. It is, quite simply, an awesome book.
  4. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky. This book will undoubtedly be a classic in years to come. It’s well researched, beautifully written and as Cory Doctorow suggests: “Clay has long been one of my favorite thinkers on all things Internet– not only is he smart and articulate, but he’s one of those people who is able to crystallize the half-formed ideas that I’ve been trying to piece together into glittering, brilliant insights that make me think, yes, of course, that’s how it all works.”
  5. Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein. The story goes that Thaler and Sunstein were having lunch with their publisher when the choice of the title came up in conversation. Originally the authors wanted to call it Liberterian Paternalism, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Unsurprisingly that mouthful didn’t go down well with the publisher who suggested that individuals often just need a nudge in the right direction. The rest, as they say is history.
  6. Predictably Irrational, The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions, Dan Ariely. At the heart of the market approach to understanding people is a set of assumptions. First, you are a coherent and unitary self. Second, you can be sure of what this self of yours wants and needs, and can predict what it will do. Third, you get some information about yourself from your body. Standard economics, Ariely writes, assumes that all of us know all the pertinent information about our decisions and we can calculate the value of the different options we face. What the past few decades of work in psychology, sociology and economics has shown, as he describes, is that all three of these assumptions are false.
  7. McMafia, Crime Without Frontiers, Misha Glenny. This is an encompassing and wholly authoritative investigation of the now proven ability of organized crime worldwide to find and service markets driven by a seemingly insatiable demand for illegal wares. Whether discussing the Russian mafia, Colombian drug cartels, or Chinese labour smugglers, Misha makes clear how organized crime feeds off the poverty of the developing world, how it exploits new technology in the forms of cybercrime and identity theft, and how both global crime and terror are fuelled by an identical source: the triumphant material affluence of the West.
  8. The Atlas of the Real World, Mapping The Way We Live; Danny Dorling, Mark Newman and Anna Barford. Created by three of the team behind the renowned website worldmapper.org this is a gem of book. Open this book on any page and you’ll learn something you never knew about the world – for example in an analysis of water resources, the rainforests of South America, with 30 per cent of the world’s fresh water, make the continent balloon whereas Kuwait – dependent on desalinated sea water – completely disappears from the map.
  9. Understanding Somalia and Somaliland, Ioan Lewis. This is a beautiful book and should be required reading for diplomats, journalists and NGO workers. Gerald Prunier neatly captures Lewis’ assessment of the country: Somalia is a walking and moving exception to many rules about the nation-state and that trying to deal with it in ‘usual’ fashion not only does not help but on the contrary tends to compound the problems.’
  10. Homicide, A Year on the Killing Streets, David Simon. Many people won’t have heard of Homicide, a fascinating account of criminality in Baltimore that won the 1992 Edgar Award winner for best fact crime, but readers of Global Dashboard will be familiar with David Simon’s most recent effort, the HBO series The Wire. Need I say more?