Eminently debatable, but a necessary contribution to the literature surrounding both humanitarian aid and African...



How do we know that genocide is taking place in Darfur? “Because we are told it is,” writes Mamdani (Government/Columbia Univ.; Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, 2004, etc.), who argues that it is not.

While serving as George W. Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell declined to characterize the unfolding events in Darfur as genocidal, saying, “why would we call it genocide when the genocide definition has to meet certain legal tests?” But Powell, pressured by others in the government, eventually claimed that genocide was indeed being committed, abetted by the government of Sudan—the first time, Mamdani writes, that one government had ever accused another of the act. Mamdani examines those legal tests, concluding that, whereas events in Rwanda and the Congo in the last two decades fall into the category of genocide, those in Darfur do not. That is not to say that Westerners should not act to relieve the civilian suffering that has resulted from Sudan’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign. It is just, Mamdani argues, that there is a difference between knowledge and moral certainty, and “the lesson of Darfur is a warning to those who act first and understand later.” The author limns a tightly constructed history of central Africa that places Darfur in the context not only of regional tensions among the neighboring states of Chad and Sudan and of ethnic tensions among Arabs and black Africans, but also of the larger Cold War and the interplay of client states serving the superpowers—and, later, the superpower of Washington on one hand and the regional power of Libya on the other. His argument that Darfur is the inevitable result of proxy war is well taken, but his evident contempt for the Western intervention effort—in which Darfurians “are not citizens in a sovereign political process as much as wards in an open-ended international rescue operation”—takes an unhelpfully contrarian tone given that, after all, actual lives are at stake.

Eminently debatable, but a necessary contribution to the literature surrounding both humanitarian aid and African geopolitics.

Pub Date: March 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-37723-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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