Category Archives: Books

when the Bible is worse than a whisky bottle…

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Harsh, yes. But we all know it’s the unvarnished truth. We have all looked down that street, and we have all seen the terrible results.

The Tiger in the Smoke

Normally he was the happiest of men. He asked so little of life that its frugal bounty amazed and delighted him….He believed in miracles and frequently observed them, and nothing astonished him. His imagination was as wild as a small boy’s and his faith ultimate. In ordinary life he was, quite frankly, hardly safe out. — Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke

I must admit that I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Margery Allingham’s book, The Tiger in the Smoke. It is, however, on my short list.

Who the “he” is in the short passage above I do not know, but I cannot wait to meet him. We are going to great friends, and I am looking forward to spending many enjoyable hours with him.

We have so much in common that I already feel like I have known him forever. Allingham’s beautifully concise description of him makes me want to invite him over for a beer. Just this brief sketch lets me know the two of us share a worldview that would make for evening of fascinating conversation.

But more than that, this character is someone who could teach me, and teach me  a lot. I am intrigued by his joyous amazement of the simple things. I love his openness and am delighted at his belief in miracles and his ultimate faith. And it sounds like his imagination might even be as big as mine.

This guy knows the secret. And I can already see that the he’s willing to share it.

It’s a good thing I have the bookstore on speed dial.



Dickens knew hunger and it shows.

Charles Dickens knew about hunger and poverty first-hand from his childhood in the workhouse, debtors prison and boot blacking warehouse. The stark, ugly reality can be felt in his work. In this passage from a Tale of Two Cities the pervasive shadow of hunger covers all. The poor are always stalked by the spectre of hunger and Dickens allows the reader to feel it.

The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and started up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.

Its abiding place was in all things fitted to it. A narrow winding street, full of offence and stench, with other narrow winding streets diverging, all peopled by rags and nightcaps, and all smelling of rags and nightcaps, and all visible things with a brooding look upon them that looked ill. In the hunted air of the people there was yet some wild-beast thought of the possibility of turning at bay. Depressed and slinking though they were, eyes of fire were not wanting among them; nor compressed lips, white with what they suppressed; nor foreheads knitted into the likeness of the gallows-rope they mused about enduring, or inflicting. The trade signs (and they were almost as many as the shops) were, all, grim illustrations of Want. The butcher and the porkman painted up, only the leanest scrags of meat; the baker, the coarsest of meagre loaves. The people rudely pictured as drinking in the wine-shops, croaked over their scanty measures of thin wine and beer, and were gloweringly confidential together. Nothing was represented in a flourishing condition, save tools and weapons; but, the cutler’s knives and axes were sharp and bright, the smith’s hammers were heavy, and the gunmaker’s stock was murderous. The crippling stones of the pavement, with their many little reservoirs of mud and water, had no footways, but broke off abruptly at the doors. 

so much ill and so little good

Preparing for my class I am teaching at George Mason University this fall, I am doing a lot of reading. Another good book I have just finished is The White Man’s Burden:Why the West’s Efforts the Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly. The book was named best book of the year by The Economist,  Financial Times and the Washington Post.

The White Man’s Burden is the sequel to Easterly’s first book, The Elusive Quest For Growth. Recognized as one of the world’s best know development economists, Easterly offers both a brilliant and a biting diagnosis of the West’s interventions on behalf of the poor in The White Man’s Burden. He makes an excellent argument that our focus needs to be focused on small, measurable interventions that encourage self dependance and personal growth rather than  multimillion dollar macro-projects with a continuous history of failure.

Remember, aid cannot achieve the end of poverty. Only homegrown development based on the dynamism of individuals and firms in free markets can do that.  Shorn of the impossible task of general economic development, aid can achieve much more than it is achieving now to relieve the sufferings of the poor.

Put the focus back where it belongs: get the poorest people in the world such obvious goods as the vaccines, the antibiotics, the food supplements, the improved seeds, the fertilizer, the roads, the boreholes, the water pipes, the textbooks, and the nurses. This is not making the poor dependent on handouts; it is giving the poorest people the health, nutrition, education, and other inputs that raise the payoff to their own efforts to better their lives.

Easterly’s expertise makes this a must-read for anyone involved in working with the poor and hungry, or interested in international development.

One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

Here is the opening paragraph of Sir Gordon Conway’s latest book, One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World? Conway is Professor of International Development at Imperial College in London and is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on global food needs.

Hunger (from the Old English hungor) is an evocative, old Germanic word meaning “unease or pain caused by lack of food, craving appetite, debility from lack of food.” In the developed countries it is a feeling of slight discomfort when a meal is late or missed. By contrast, in the developing countries hunger is a chronic problem. Television images convey the realities of hunger—emaciated and starving children–in war-torn countries or in the aftermath of droughts, floods or other calamities. Yet for a billion people—men, women, and children–hunger in the developing countries is a day-to-day occurrence, both persistent and widespread.

The book goes on to lay out the formidable challenges of feeding our global family by 2050. Yet, at the same time, he reminds us that there are reasons for optimism, as well. The book is based on evidenced-based proposals for sustainable methods of feeding the hungry. Linking evidence to policy and action, One Billion Hungry is both inspirational and pragmatic.

As Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID states in the book’s forward, Gordon’s new book like his Doubly Green Revolution, is an invaluable voice in the fight against hunger.

a “must read” for nonprofit leaders

Right before I left for a little time off I had begun reading a fascinating book by by Dan Pallotta. I accidentally left it at home, so I am just now getting back into it.

The book is CHARITY CASE: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up for Itself and Really Change the World. It is Pallota’s second. His first was UNCHARITABLE.

Both of his books are focused on how charity actually undermines the humanitarian causes about which we are passionate. Pallota makes a strong case that our rigid and religiously-based ideas about charity are both dysfunctional and counter-productive in today’s society. And although I haven’t finished either book, I feel he has a lot of things right. Pallota’s thesis is

We have the opportunity to eradicate the most hideous forms of human suffering in our lifetime. It is a possibility no generation before us has ever known. Hundreds of years ago, charity was about neighbor-to-neighbor assistance. We have a larger opportunity today. And the code for our ancestors’ compassion will not suffice for our generation’s dreams.

Pallota’s views are radical, but they make sense. I heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in nonprofit work.  I also think CHARITY CASE should be a “must read” for every nonprofit CEO and every nonprofit board member. His innovative approach to thinking about charity and fundraising is sensible and even profound.

I wish I had this book 35 years ago when I first began my hunger work. It is a true game changer.
















This book is a game changer.

our problem

I first became aware of Howard Zinn when I came home from my humanitarian assessment trip to Iraq before the Second Gulf War. His voice was one that could not be ignored in it’s opposition to the cacophony of lies  and half-truths trumpeted by the US administration for the need to invade Iraq. His fearless attacks against the rampant stupidity being promoted won him a place as one of my favorites.

I was surprised and delighted to find that Zinn is also a favorite of Willie Nelson. As I was reading Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, I came across this powerful quote.

Civil disobedience is not our problem.  Our problem is civil obedience.  Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience….Our problem is that the people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity and war and cruelty.  Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves…and the grand thieves are running the country.  That’s our problem.

Zinn is right. We are mostly like sheep and far too obedient for our own good. There is no righteousness in allowing evil to flourish and remaining silent in the face of injustice. Never doubt that authority always needs to be questioned, sometimes confronted, and when necessary…even disobeyed.