Book Review: Damned Nations, by Samantha Nutt

I didn’t mean to read this book. I am in the middle of another book I’m reading for review – Ed Carr’s Delivering Development (which I am really enjoying, but it’s new enough to me that I am also carefully taking my time). But I picked Damned Nations off my to-read pile the other day because I was on my way to the bank and needed something while I waited. About five days later, I’m done.

Everyone new to aid and development should read Damned Nations. It didn’t have a lot in it that was new to me, but it’s a fantastic overview of almost every major issue in relief and development aid. Health, conflict, rule of law – packed into 200 well-written pages. I’m going to recommend this book to pretty much everyone who writes to me wanting to know more about aid, and I’m going to give it to my entire extended family next Christmas. Professors should be assigning this to their undergrads.

This is the book that explains the why and how of what we do. It’s about the issues that make aid necessary, the ways to do aid right, about being a better aid worker and a better donor. From SWEDOW to the Paris declaration to .7%, it’s all in there. And that’s woven in with compelling personal anecdotes and powerful imagery. This is a book my cousins will actually read. It is a beginner book, but it’s an amazing beginner book.

Like pretty much every book on aid, Damned Nations does a better job of identifying problems than solutions. The last chapter, in which Nutt talks about better aid, is by far the weakest of the book. I think that’s a forgivable flaw. These are giant problems and we’re still figuring out how to do things right. Nutt doesn’t have a set of handy prescriptions to fix aid because nobody does.

Now that I’ve finished my copy of Damned Nations, I’m ready to give it away. Leave a comment on this blog entry telling me one of your favorite books on aid and/or development and why, and I’ll enter you in the drawing. I’ll give you one entry for each comment. I’ll close comments on the 14th, and I will mail the lucky winner their book at the end of the month when I am in the US for the TED conference.

(Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. I will earn a tiny pittance if you click them.)