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

4.31 of 5 stars 4.31  ·  rating details  ·  940 ratings  ·  79 reviews
From one of the world’s greatest humanitarian activists comes a searing personal memoir that is also an urgent call to confront suffering in all its many forms.

Having seen things we hope never to see, confronted suffering and dispassion and evil we hope never to encounter, and faced deep personal torment, James Orbinski still believes in “the good we can be if we so choose
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Hardcover, 431 pages
Published September 30th 2008 by Walker & Company (first published April 4th 2008)
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pri
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
Nastassja
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
Amanda
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
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Emily
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
Laurie
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
Mark
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
Patrovk
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joey
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
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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
Elaine
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
Ruth
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
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...
Kurt Winter
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
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Grace
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
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Robin
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
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Parksy
sobering read. sad to think how screwed up the world is. mass genocides even in the new millennium... stirs one to action.
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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
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Samantha
James Orbinski's accomplishments in the humanitarian field are outstanding. His unbiased approach towards the plight of his patients helps him to view all people in light of their humanity. I really enjoyed reading about his approach towards politics. He believes politics and humanitarianism should aim to be separate. Under his leadership, MSF never sided with either nations or rebel causes, even under intense pressure from the media and other political groups.

One flaw in his approach; however,
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Sarah
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
Nicole
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
Ellen
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 ways...it 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
jools
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
Matt Morrison
A truly eye opening and honest book which depicts the harsh realities of the suffering of war torn nations and the efforts of those who try to help. As a doctor with Doctors Without Borders James Orbinski assisted those and endured horrible events of history and gives honest accounts of the politics involved as well. To me Orbinsky is a hero and continues to do great work. I highly recommend coupling this book with his documentary 'Triage'. A must read
Michael
A workmanlike memoir by a man whose work has taken him through the midst of some of the most harrowing situations I can imagine. The book as a whole -- as literature rather than historical document -- suffers from its multi-decade span and thick detail, as the staccato recitations of names, places, and injustices sometimes blur together. But, still, it left a mark on me. The long chapter in Rwanda, and its cruel anticlimax in Zaire, is astonishing, terrifying.
Rawda Hejazy
" Stories, we all have stories. Nature does not tell stories, we do. We find ourselves in them, make ourselves in them, choose ourselves in them. If we are the stories we tell ourselves, we had better choose them well.... I ask again and again, "How am I to be, how are we to be in relation to the suffering of others?"... It is about a way of seeing that requires humility, so that one can recognize the sameness of self in the other. It is about the mutuality that can exist between us, if we choos ...more
Kara
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
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Jen Allen
A good reminder and analysis of global inequality, the responsibilities of the prosperous, and the inadequacy of good intentions. I appreciate his perspective.
Daniel Margolis
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
Marissa
An important book that I'm glad I read. I learned a lot about MSF (a.k.a Doctors without Borders) and the politics surrounding humanitarian missions. The author covers a number of conflicts in the world (Sudan, Rwanda, etc.) and makes the topics readable, which is not easy given the complexities of each situation. It makes me want to read more books about MSF that go more in-depth on the day-to-day life of the volunteers, this certainly has some of that but also covers a lot of the organizationa ...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.” 9 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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