Tales of corruption and compromise, of interest to anyone who’s ever contributed to a humanitarian aid organization.




A veteran foreign affairs journalist reports on the 21st-century crises confronting international humanitarian aid organizations.

To trace Osama bin Laden to his compound, U.S. intelligence enlisted a senior Pakistani health officer to initiate a phony campaign to inoculate citizens against hepatitis B. In Somalia, Bancroft Global Development trains local forces to fight against the al-Shabab insurgents and also, notwithstanding its NGO label, sponsors its own investment operation. The founder of International Relief and Development retired in 2014 after reports about his agency’s lavish compensation and overspending culminated in a Washington Post headline: “Doing Well By Doing Good.” As he relates these and other abuses, Gill (Famine & Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid, 2010, etc.) embeds within his brisk, hard-hitting narrative the inspiring origin stories of three of our most revered aid agencies—The International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam, and Save the Children—and underscores the noble founding principles that animated each: independence, neutrality, and impartiality. With the honorable exception of the Red Cross, and relative newcomers like Médecins Sans Frontières, few organizations, including the U.N., remain faithful to this doctrine. Aggressive advertising and unbecoming concerns about institutional growth have helped transform modern aid into “a mighty, money-spinning industry,” but the war on terror has also placed peculiar strains on what should be the disinterested mission of alleviating human suffering. Gill’s informed, on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria demonstrates how Western aid agencies have, through their increasing reliance on government funding, surrendered their independence. Understandably fearful for their own security, they’ve tied humanitarian efforts to the military and political goals of those same governments, arousing severe mistrust among Muslims in particular. Dreading falling afoul of counterterrorism laws, they’ve abandoned efforts to connect with the victims they should be helping. Gill’s reporting exposes an almost fatal falling away from first principles that the Western humanitarian movement must address to regain its effectiveness and its moral soul.

Tales of corruption and compromise, of interest to anyone who’s ever contributed to a humanitarian aid organization.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78360-123-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Zed Books

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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