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An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the Twenty-First Century

4.32  ·  Rating Details ·  1,440 Ratings  ·  106 Reviews
Book by Orbinski, James
Hardcover, 431 pages
Published September 30th 2008 by Walker Books (first published April 4th 2008)
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May 16, 2010 pri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
a while ago, I saw the film 'Triage' and there leaned a bit about Dr. James Orbinski and his work. it was incredibly moving and i was absolutely fascinated - with his work and with what a great story teller he is. The film covered his return to Somalia and Rwanda where he had worked for MSF (Doctors without Borders) and his (then) current endeavor of writing a book about his experiences and viewpoint. i do highly recommend the film. the book itself is a more thorough look at his life, motivation ...more
Jan 04, 2012 Nastassja rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
She was slightly older than middle aged. She had been raped. Semen mixed with blood clung to her thighs. She had been attacked with machetes, her entire body systematically mutilated. Her ears had been cut off. Her face had been so carefully disfigured that a pattern was obvious in the slashes. Both Achilles tendons had been cut. Both breasts had been sliced off. Her attackers didn't want to kill her; they wanted her to bleed to death. They knew just how much to cut to make her bleed slowly. She ...more
An open, honest, beautifully disturbing account of humanitarian work. James Orbinski is an inspiration. He does what most of us would be afraid to even attempt. If you have an interest in human rights and want to hear the truth, read this book.

I read the introduction as a preview on Amazon. Next thing I knew I had to own this book! His thoughts were compelling and insightful from the first line, making you think about the politics our world is caught up in and how humantarianism fits in to the g
This book was heartbreaking and intense, but important nonetheless. It's the memoir of a physician who worked in the field with MSF for many years and then went on to become the international president of the organization. "Dr. James" worked all over the globe...Somalia, Congo, Kosovo, North Korea, Russia, Central and South America, Zaire, and Rwanda during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. His stories and the details of these global conflicts, from the perspective of a humanitarian aid worker and p ...more
Jun 21, 2009 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is written by a former president of Doctors without Borders. Each chapter chronicles his experiences and the Borders organization in various countries including Afghanistan, North Korea, Rwanda, Sudan, etc. Sometimes I got lost in all the names and politics of it all but I learned a lot. The theme that stood out to me is the relationship between humanitarianism and politics and how so many try to keep the two separate but this is near impossible. I especially enjoyed one of the last ch ...more
Apr 13, 2009 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Orbinski's book is an easy read and is a great starting point for people who know little about the Rwandan genocide. I enjoyed his vivid, raw and at times lurid detail of the events that unfolded. I have a profound degree of respect for his selflessness and his relentless pursuit to help others and lobby for their plight. I especially enjoyed the last chapter on his advocacy work to allow cheap access to drugs in developing countries, his fight against the PHRAM lobby and his explanation of the ...more
Stephanie Allen
This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It seemed that the entire book was a manifesto for preserving the power of humanitarianism: pure humanitarianism, free from political tangles or ulterior agendas. It was refreshing and poignant; timely and timeless. The book was very well-researched, which is one of the reasons it took me two months to read. The level of detail about political exchanges and turmoil was impressive and I learned a great deal. Reading this reminded me of huma ...more
Yin Ting
Jul 29, 2011 Yin Ting rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laksmi Govindasamy
I read this book shortly after watching the documentary that followed Dr Orbinski's writing of it at the 2009 Global Health Conference. There are times when the only reason I remain in my degree is this book. There are times when I cannot bear to look at the cover because the stories it contains leave me too raw. There are times when I don't want to think about the personal sacrifice demanded by people who choose to dedicate themselves to humanitarian aid work. There are times when I want to thi ...more
Nov 13, 2008 Joey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this was the most difficult book I have ever read. Everytime I opened it, I knew my heart would race and heart would sink. In fact, I had to stop reading it before going to bed, becase I wouldn't be able to fall asleep for too long.

This is the kind of book that slaps you across the face awareness. It is important to have this type of read, with events in Darfur and the DRC. It wakes you up, makes you alive, and reminds you of what is means to be human. Also interesting political and his
Feb 25, 2009 Elaine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book highlights past and present humanitarian concerns. It is written by the former president of Doctor's Without Borders. He had some interesting stories about his time during the Rwandan genocide and enusing conflict in Zaire. He also highlights the responsibility of the UN and governments to invest more research and money into diseases that primarily affect the developing world. He has traveled extensively and the information he provides tells of what really goes on behind the scenes in ...more
An Imperfect Offering is one of those rare books that not only breaks your heart but puts it back together again and at the same time, inspires you. Dr. James Orbinski has experienced the horrors of war, famine and genocide. Despite that, he writes about the ordinary people he's either treated or worked with and the compassion and courage they each display. Dr. James Orbinski is a true humanitarian in every sense of the word. This is a tender and beautifully written book that you will never forg ...more
Kristine Gift
Feb 21, 2013 Kristine Gift rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was riveting and informative. Orbinski has a real flair for telling stories. I watched a documentary about him through Netflix and immediately ordered the book, which I read quickly over the course of a week. I learned a lot about places like Somalia and Rwanda and even more about international politics, humanitarianism, and the intersection and tensions between the two. I've recommended this book to lots of other people because it's as entertaining as it is eye-opening.
Banu Altunbas
Being an MSFer myself, I can relate to many of the stories James Orbinski talks about in his book. This book is about the passion that we all have for the work we do on the field, and the genuine interest in humanity. And there is one picture in the book where James took it in Masisi - DRCongo, that has Jean PP as a young driver next to James. Jean PP is still working today with MSF in North Kivu!! He hardly recognized himself in the picture though...
Apr 04, 2013 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oct 28, 2016 Awkward_turtle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Imperfect Offering is a deeply touching book, exploring the clash between politics and true Humanitarianism from many perspectives, ground level to Executive. The best parts of the book are the earlier ones, when Orbinski was hands on with teams in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Rwanda. Those are unflinching, and do a good job of not omitting some of the distasteful parts without calling them out or being preachy. Meeting a CIA spook in the backwoods of Zaire during a time when the US government w ...more
Feb 26, 2017 CK rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one sticks with you. A first-hand account of some of the most horrendous human tragedies of our day. Orbinski's writing is powerful and direct without being preachy.
Dec 28, 2016 Vanessa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Imperfect Offering follows the journey of Dr. James Orbinski, a Canadian doctor who worked for many years with the Canadian chapter of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders). During his time with MSF, Dr. Orbinski found himself in the middle of some of the worst humanitarian crises of the recent past, from Rwanda, to Somalia, to Afghanistan. He was forced to confront unimaginable cruelty, injustice, and corruption, all of which lead him to question the 'apolitical-ness' of hum ...more
Aug 16, 2010 Parksy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
sobering read. sad to think how screwed up the world is. mass genocides even in the new millennium... stirs one to action.

Product Description
“As Albert Camus wrote, the doctor’s role is as a witness–to witness authentically the reality of humanity, and to speak out against the horrors of political inaction. . . . The only crime equaling inhumanity is the crime of indifference, silence, and forgetting.”
—James Orbinski

In 1988, James Orbinski, then a medical student in his twenties, embark
Feb 05, 2013 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written in a very accessible, almost conversational style, Orbinski's memoir is nonetheless both hard-hitting and thoroughly detailed.

Orbinski's goal is not merely to bear witness to both the best and worst that humanity can perpetuate on each other, although he does that effectively, but to bring attention to the fact that in recent years "humanitarianism" has become, in and of itself, less a matter of apolitical assistance and more a direct tool of political manipulation by those powers with
Mar 01, 2015 Elena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: meds, memoir
I find it useful when reviewing these non-fiction books to look at what they set out to do and how their are built to achieve it, and this loosely follows Orbinski's life to be successively the autobiography of a doctor, the report of a witness to some of the very worst chapters of history, the portrayal of the internal workings of MSF during a very small range of years, and a broader reflection and call to action regarding the role of humanitarianism and its frayed relationship with politics.

Kurt Winter
Mar 23, 2014 Kurt Winter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An inspiring read underscoring Orbinski's unflinching commitment to humanitarianism in truly horrific circumstances.
"In this miasma of forgotten wars, torture and and the war on terror, there are no easy answers, especially in the face of a very real terrorism. But I can live by my questions. As a humanitarian, I can act for a feeling of shared vulnerability with the victims of preventable suffering. I have a responsibility to bear witness publicly to the plight of those I seek to assist and in
Jun 27, 2010 Grace rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-cause
For years i have lauded the work of MSF, knowing only that they are present all over the globe helping people in times of crisis.

James Orbinski explains clearly what the mission of the organisation is as he explores and agonises over the specific question of whether a humanitarian group can truly remain independent from politics. Short answer: No. But through his accounts of missions to Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, North Korea and the former Yugoslavia, he comes to a livable conclusion about t
Harrowing tales of genocide, shady global politics*, and futility of an individual’s efforts are answered with defiant bravery. Rather than merely thinking about existential questions, Dr. Orbinksi ‘lives his questions’. Too often have thinkers done too little; too rarely have they tried to change things practically.

The words of Father Benedict, Dr. Orbinski’s mentor and friend:
“There is no escape… There is only what you do.”
“Correct answers can rarely be given. We can, though, be conscious of
Jul 30, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Orbinski's accounts of Somalia, Rwanda, Zaire, Kosovo, Bosnia and beyond evoke such a visceral reaction. He does not hide the complex, messy parts of war. He speaks of the woman whose breasts were cut off by machete and the children's fingers littering the roads that he mistook for sausages. But more importantly, he looks at the way the world reacts. He gives an important insider view of the bureaucracy within the UN and of how harmful and self-interested so many of the institutions that suppose ...more
Jan 13, 2009 jools rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finally finished reading, An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the Twenty-First Century by James Orbinski. It’s an interesting read - really highlighted my ignorance to world events/conflict. Can’t say the writing impressed me all that much - it was a bit ponderous and overly detailed in some parts while skipping over bits I would have liked to know more about. It’s the second book I’ve read (the first being Emergency Sex: And Other Desperate Measures ) that shows the UN and all its of ...more
Everyone should read this incredibly well-written and powerful book. It is impossible to read this book without experiencing a huge range of emotions: shock, outrage, sadness, compassion, and you will develop an incredible respect for James Orbinski and other true humanitarians who work tirelessly around the world. This book impacted me in several informed me, shifted my thinking, shook me to my core...and affected me emotionally...I will never, ever forget the experience of reading th ...more
Oct 23, 2008 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to say that I didn't get all the way through this book. I was expecting it to be something different from what it really was. I was hoping the book would give me ideas on how I can be a better humanitarian from someone whose actually spent his whole life on the front lines. I was just as disappointed as Mr. Orbinski when I realized that there isn't much I can do because it's the politicians who are calling the shots. Even for a Doctor who has vastly more knowledge about the medical world ...more
Jan 07, 2010 Kara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, aids, africa
Working with MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in Rwanda, Afghanistan & Zaire he discusses the extreme difficulties in administering food and medical aid during war with no stable government. His time as international president of MSF and with his following career he discusses the harsh effects of international politics on developing countries, specificially with access to affordable medication. He discusses the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and his thoughts on their affects.

The book increased my
Daniel Margolis
May 31, 2013 Daniel Margolis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good narrative of James Orbinski's experiences with Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and the personal and public ethical struggles of humanitarian aid in the face of a politically unsupportive world mostly from a first hand perspective. My only real criticism is his biases come through a little too heavy, although a lot of them have merit and come from the unspeakable horrors he has witnessed. Also the writing is sometimes unclear and it is difficult to keep some of the gr ...more
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“As Albert Camus wrote, the doctor’s role is as a witness – to witness authentically the reality of humanity, and to speak out against the horrors of political inaction... The only crime equaling inhumanity is the crime of indifference, silence, and forgetting.” 11 likes
“I wanted to be able to live in the world so that I could live with myself. I wanted to do something practical to relieve the suffering of others, while at the same time striving to understand the circumstances of such suffering.” 2 likes
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