Books on Development

One of the most popular pages on “Tim in Tamale” (after the techy database one) is my list of books on international development so I thought I’d update it here in a shameless attempt to get a bit more traffic.

The list is just a list of books I’ve read over the last couple of years in an attempt to better understand Africa and the issues around poverty and development.  I’m still reading so any suggestions would be welcomed, I’ve got several book waiting to be read and a bunch on my Amazon wish list but all suggestios welcomed.

Books about Africa and African history

“Africa, a biography” by John Reader – going from the geological formation of Africa, through the evolution of life there and right up to the present. The first half is a bit hard going but overall it’s a great piece of context

“The Scramble for Africa” by Thomas Pakenham – describes the European powers’ colonial ambitions at the end of the nineteenth century. I reviewed it here

“King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild –  horrific description of Belgium’s behaviour in what is now the DR Congo. A must read, I reviewed it here.

“The State of Africa” by Martin Meridith – plots the course of African countries post independence. Mostly depressing but worth reading. I descibed it here

“Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond – Not sure this fits in this section but an interesting attempt to explain why some places and peoples have developed high tech while others remain hunter gathers. He dismisses the idea that Europeans are intrinsically brighter, arguing that the reverse is true, but that development is driven by a combination of geographical imperative and need. A bit controversial but worth a read

Books about development issues and economics

“The White Man’s Burden” by William Easterly – Read this excellent book that explains some of the economics around development and argues against big, outsider driven interventions. I reviewed it here

Rural Development” by Robert chambers – The sub title says it all “putting the last, first”. An excellent description of how and why development needs to stop treating the poorest as passive recipients and start learning from them. A must read.

“The fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid” by C K Prahad – an excellent book exploring how businesses can help the poor and themselves by providing goods and services to the poorest. Refuting the idea that the poor aren’t a market because they don’t have any money he shows that on many things the poor are forced to spend more because of lack of provision. It’s a shame the book doesn’t have any examples from Africa, but uses case studies from India and South America.

“The bottom Billion” by Paul Collier – An interesting exploration of the “traps” that keep countries poor. Worth a look

“Poor Story” by Giles Bolton – A simple introduction to the issues around development.

Globalisation and its Discontents/Making Globalisation Work by Joseph Stiglitz – The first book is a vicious attack on the IMF by a former World Bank economist, fascinating albeit sounding a touch bitter. The second is a detailed analysis on mechanisms that could be used to fix the world economy. Interesting but personally I thought it a bit too ambitious and detailed. I reviewed it here.

“Bad Samaritans” by Ha-Joon Chang – an excellent attack on the IMF/World Bank/WTO ‘s slavish commitment to forcing free trade on developing countries. He demonstrates that rich countries such as UK, US or Japan and Korea used protectionism and other non free trade ideas to grow. I reviewed it here

Fiction set in Africa

Things fall apart – Chinua Achebe
Arrow of God – Chinua Achebe
No longer at ease – Chinua Achebe
Mine Boy – Peter Abraham
Houseboy – Ferdinand Oyono
A man of the people – Chinua Achebe
Anthills of the Savannah – Chinua Achebe
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene
King Solomon’s Mines, Alan Quatermain – Rider Haggard
The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Weep not Child by Ngugi Thiong’o
No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series – Alexander McCall Smith

Travel Accounts

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Blood river by Tim Butcher – an attempt to recreate Stanley’s epic journey down the Congo. Worth a read, especially after “King Leopold’s Ghost”

Books I didn’t like

These are probably worth reading, but I disagreed with them.

“Dead Aid” by Dambisa Moyo – an interesting idea poorly argued. I reviewed it here

“The End of Poverty” by Jeffery Sachs –  The first third of the book is Dr Sachs blowing his own trumpet, the rest is his explanation of how he can save the world given enough money. Big on spending money, small on listening to people.

“No Logo” by Naomi Klein – an attack on a source of economic growth for some of the world’s poorest countries.

“The Lexus and the Olive Tree” by Friedman – Simplistic tosh about the wonders of the free market. Published in 2000 he uses Enron as a golden child example of why the free market works.

The two books I’d heartily recommend to a prospective VSO heading out would be “Rural Development” and “The White Man’s Burden” both stress the need to involve, work with and learn from the people on the receiving end of aid.


10 responses

14 08 2009
Fi McKenzie

Thanks Tim, I’ve read (and agreed with a number of your reviews!) quite a few of those but looking forward to tracking a few others down. Have just started Guns, Germs and Steel and finding it really fascinating.

14 08 2009
Tim Little

Thanks Fi, I thought you’d have read several – which ones do you disagree on?

14 08 2009
Fi McKenzie

I think I’m more fond of Easterly’s Elusive Quest for Growth: An Economist’s Adventures and Misadventures in the tropics than the more recent White Man’s Burden but have only read the latter in small doses. Must read the whole thing through.

Totally agree on Dead Aid and The End of Poverty and I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Tempted to give Paul Collier more of a billing, but I quite enjoy his economics.

Thanks, you’ve given me more good “Summer” reading!!

14 08 2009
Tim Little

I started “The Elusive Quest for Growth” but it was nicked. Ought to try to get another copy and read it. Of what I read I thought “Burden” more readable, but “Quest” possibly more complete

18 08 2009

nice list, Tim.

18 08 2009
Tim Little

Thanks penelopmc

18 08 2009

Great list – Dark Star Safari should be in the non-fiction category though, and I would suggest you read The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski, which is a brilliant read too.

18 08 2009
Tim Little

Thanks Valentina. I did consider moving Dark Star Safari, but it’s more of a personal account than an analysis which is why it ended up (wrongly perhaps) under fiction. Perhaps I should rename it. “Out of Africa” will go in the same section when I finish it.

Thanks for the suggestion, not one I know so I’ll look out for it.

2 03 2010

Thank you for compiling this list. I am looking into a Masters in International Devo and this is a great starting point. You might enjoy “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun” by Peter Godwin (non-fiction) set is Zimbabwe.

21 10 2013

Having traveled extensively in the DRC,myself and done among things almost all of his trip as well I would suggest to move Tim Butchers book to the fiction section.

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