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The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,561 Ratings  ·  295 Reviews
In the universally acclaimed and award-winning The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier reveals that fifty failed states--home to the poorest one billion people on Earth--pose the central challenge of the developing world in the twenty-first century. The book shines much-needed light on this group of small nations, largely unnoticed by the industrialized West, that are dropping fu ...more
Hardcover, 205 pages
Published June 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published April 27th 2007)
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Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy KidderDead Aid by Dambisa MoyoHalf the Sky by Nicholas D. KristofPoor Economics by Abhijit V. BanerjeeThe Bottom Billion by Paul Collier
International development
5th out of 136 books — 139 voters
Development as Freedom by Amartya SenMountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy KidderWhy Nations Fail by Daron AcemoğluThe White Man's Burden by William EasterlyThe Bottom Billion by Paul Collier
International Development Book Club
5th out of 95 books — 33 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 27, 2014 Praj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: px

On July 9th 2011, the people of South Sudan took to the streets jubilant, celebrating their country’s independence. Alas! The euphoria was short-lived as the newly independent, strictly landlocked country fell into the cyclic trap of civil war; ethnic annihilation and mass starvation taking the centerstage. The recent signed peace deal between President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Riek Machar, dashed all hope of tranquility as the ceasefire deal was broken through a couple of violent attacks
Nov 17, 2009 Kerry rated it liked it
I read this for a book club. I will share the poem I wrote about the book:

Trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder
Per capita income, GDP, what does it matter?

A failing state after four years or more of stagnation,
Often includes bad governance, conflict & hyperinflation,
Natural resource shocks and bad neighbors can lead to marginalization
There is a reason tourists don't choose the Central African Republic as a destination.

Can something be done to prevent a downward trend?
Can aid and capac
Dec 10, 2010 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Really fascinating book about why countries like Haiti, Somalia, Chad and the Central Asian "Stans" have failed to develop towards middle income status, whereas the rest of what we call the "developing world" has made real progress. Collier is better on the problems, I think, than on the solutions, but not bad on either. This is the best, clearest explanation I've ever read about why oil and mineral wealth can be so detrimental to a country's growth. (Because it crowds out all other export activ ...more
Jan 18, 2009 Ericka rated it did not like it
Poor scholarship
Lacks critique of objections to his proposed solutions
Lacks evidence--debunks failed policies based on his word with no supporting evidence
Fails to address health and education issues
Obvious bias towards capitalism and free market economies being the solution to world problems
Lacks citations of any data rather uses a "based on previous research" approach which nullifies any empirical claims of this particular book
Frank Stein
May 21, 2010 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book might be an effective counterpoint to William Easterly's "The Elusive Quest for Growth," but instead of focusing on foreign aid, Collier focuses on the internal problems in poor countries that inhibit economic growth, and thus he largely complements rather than contradicts Easterly's analysis. This work is based on an entire career of rigorous scientific research, and Collier puts it to good use in a book that is both dense and fast-paced.

Collier has identified four main "tra
Bojan Tunguz
Apr 07, 2011 Bojan Tunguz rated it it was amazing
This is one the best policy books that I have read and an example of what a good policy book should be all about. It deals with the subject that is often in public spotlight and yet it seems as intractable today as it was decades ago. This sad state of affairs may in at least part be attributed to some of the misunderstanding of what global poverty is all about, who is most affected by it, and what sort of traps those most affected find themselves incapable of escaping. As this book clearly argu ...more
Aug 13, 2012 Jan rated it it was amazing
-If you consider to read just one book about poverty and aid this one is well written, 190 pages, inexpensive, gives insights other books not necessarily give you - a good choice. Be warned that you might want to read more on the topic after finishing this book.

-This book analyzes scientifically why the bottom billion countries remain the poorest while countries as China and India experiences rapid growth, to what extent anything can be done about their situation and to what extent existing poli
Dec 28, 2008 Jason rated it liked it
Collier loves his research. He also loves the research of people who have studied under him. Finally, he loves the research of people he works with.

While I have no doubt that his research has produced some fruitful insights into poverty, I don't think his book is the amazing must-read development book of the year - or even a book really worth reading. Here's the nutshell version, that will save you some money:

The bottom billion people out there (part of a number of countries Collier won't name
Oct 31, 2009 J rated it did not like it
I was disheartened to learn this book is highly regarded and then sickened to discover it was not published 10 years ago. Collier's ideas are hardly contributive to any insightful analysis of the problem of "development", and even his myopic vision is ill-served by his bland and threadbare solutions.

How could a man as who once served as director of research for the World Bank be so appallingly estranged from the complex realities of Africa? Oh wait, never mind...

I feel oddly embarrassed that thi
May 28, 2016 Connie rated it really liked it
Source: I read this book online.
Cost: Unknown

Title: The Bottom Billion
Author: Paul Collier
Genre: Information, Non-Fiction
Overall Rating: 4 stars

I read this book as part of my university course and it does make for a very interesting read, there were of course a lot of words that I didn't initially understand, but it all flows very well and the author paints a dramatic, yet necessary picture of the world around us. I found all the facts and figures in this book quite interesting, ho
Jul 30, 2011 Lester rated it really liked it
I'll start with what I did not like. I did not like that Paul Collier assumes that growth is a good tihng, and that it is the main thing required for the bottom billion to get going. There are (for me) numerous disadvantages with continuous (not to mention double-digit) economic growth, and to assume that the consequences of such growth in 20% of the worlds population will not be diastrous for the world ecosystem (economic and ecological) is irresponsible.

I also am surprised that Collier seems t
Jan 02, 2011 Sherry rated it it was amazing
This is one smart, caring and thoughtful man--and an economist to boot! I really enjoyed this read and it makes me even more excited about the possibility of maybe becoming a Peace Corps Country Director in Africa for this is where most of these billion live and to be closer to development there at the grassroots and with the frame Collier provides would be great. I love his advocacy for international charters and budget transparency. A few highlighted quotes as a sample of his work:

"This book i
Justin Campbell
Dec 10, 2011 Justin Campbell rated it it was amazing
I have just finished reading Paul Colliers book the Bottom Billion. ie=UTF8&qid=1323505577&sr=8-2 Now at this point this review could easily turn into a sales pitch about how good the kindle app on my android tablet is and how it brings books that would be $30 or more in an Australian store to my tablet for the cost of $9. However, today I will review the book.

Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of Afri
Tim Benoit
Jan 13, 2014 Tim Benoit rated it really liked it
Collier's economics background in conjunction with his work with the World Bank makes him a prominent figure in the international development field. "The Bottom Billion" address the inherent 'traps' associated with development in an approachable and readable format suitable for readers of all demographics. This book is one of those books that provides a gut-wrenching look into the stagnant, underdeveloped nations (with a focus on Africa) and their perpetuating inability to break their respective ...more
Feb 23, 2014 Willa rated it did not like it
I read this for one of my classes and we spent the whole time critiquing Collier’s rhetoric. He fails to provide sources and evidence (or ANY citations) for many of the claims he makes in this work, and fails to even address any opposing views to what he proposes as solutions (none of which are very good). He has a very clear bias towards free market capitalism in being a solution to the world’s problems without addressing our increasingly interdependent and globalizing world as a contributor to ...more
Mary Mimouna
Mar 31, 2016 Mary Mimouna rated it it was amazing
A clear and concise book which talks about the idea of poverty traps, and specifically asks the question why African countries have failed to develop. Especially when several of these traps exists together there are more problems to overcome. For example, Switzerland is landlocked, but surrounded by good neighbors who can both serve as markets and who are not hostile. The Central African Republic, for example, is landlocked as well as being in a bad neighborhood, with neighbors which can neither ...more
Mete Rodoper
May 25, 2015 Mete Rodoper rated it liked it
Paul Collier in his book first identifies what are the four traps that keep the least developed at the same level or even worse over time, while the rest of the countries GDP keeps increasing. To identify these four traps he studies and analysis the data over the last 40 years in these countries. He does nor explicitly give the names of these countries which his studies are based on, but approximately 1 billion people live in these areas.

After describing these 4 (conflict, natural resource, land
Mark Lawry
Mar 23, 2015 Mark Lawry rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone working in public policy or an NGO that has anything to do with aid efforts. Too many great quotes from him but my favorite is his criticism of the left towards the end of the book:

“The countries of the bottom billion are not there to pioneer experiments in socialism; they need to be helped along the already trodden path of building market economies. The international financial institutions are not part of a conspiracy against poor countries; they represent beleaguered ef
Somewhat dated assumption that growth is a panacea, otherwise an informative, well researched and engagingly written assessment. Pragmatic and blunt in his observations: “Aid alone is really unlikely, in my view, to be able to address the problems of the bottom billion, and it has become so highly politicized that its design is often pretty dysfunctional.” pg 99
“Technical assistance needs to be reorganized to look more like emergency relief and less like a pipeline of projects.” pg.115
“The milit
Lanre Dahunsi
Book #8: The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are failing and what can be done about it by Paul Collier #Africa #100BooksChallenge2016

Favourite Take Aways

All societies used to be poor. Most are now lifting out of it; why are others stuck? The answer is traps. Poverty is not intrinsically a trap, otherwise we would all still be poor. Think, for a moment, of development as chutes and ladders. In the modern world of globalization there are some fabulous ladders; most societies are using th
Mar 09, 2015 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll have to read this again to really appreciate and understand it, but it was less polemical than Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, which was refreshing. So many groups do have a drum to beat about aid that a well informed, research based approach is a very valuable addition to the field.
Collier goes over some of the problems with aid, analyses what ails the poorest countries in the world, finding many different and logical sounding reasons, which in t
Jan 20, 2014 Erik rated it really liked it
A great, thoughtful and surprising look at the poorest countries, why they are so poor, and what we can do about it.

The central conceit of this book is that since the 1970s, most of the poor countries in the world have seen enough growth that they appear to be slowly pulling themselves out of the worst poverty. There are a set of countries, though, which have not seen any growth in the last 30 years, or have even moved backwards. These countries represent the 1 billion poorest people in the worl
Sep 01, 2012 Pooja rated it really liked it
This is an important book for anyone interested priorities of mainstream development economists. Philosophically, I disagree with the prescriptive parts, which focus (unsurprisingly) on GDP growth and stability, but I found the diagnosis/analysis poverty and instability useful. And the prose is good for an economist
Nov 18, 2012 Gregg rated it it was ok
Extremely dense and Collier missed the golden opportunity to summarize his findings. He is all over the map. He lays out problems but couches the solutions, if you can find them, in "it may work but might not because they are different markets." He may be a great economist but he is a poor writer.
Michael Macdonald
Apr 11, 2015 Michael Macdonald rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books that I have ever read. Aid policy becomes polarized between those who want to change the West,seeing aid alone as the answer and a sceptical group who recognise the defects of aid but have no alternative other than trade. Collier outlines how life in the old Third World has immeasurably improved for the vast majority but his left the bottom billion trapped. Ironically even some aid agencies ignore the bottom billion focussing on more congenial postings in rapidly de ...more
Jun 27, 2008 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Best book of the "how do we fix the world" genre... Terrific book on its own rights, falls short on the legitimacy of some of its supporting evidence... at this point, that criticism isn't relevant but will be once political scientists figure out how to do their job...
Apr 05, 2016 Martin rated it liked it
I won't pretend that I understood eveything that was expounded on in this book, but I will profess that it was quite an education, whether I grasped everything he was saying or not.

What enamored me was that the book was highly solution-oriented. The first half of the book outlines the problems, with excellent details and fine research and honesty about the extend of the peer review of his work. The second half outlines the proposed solutions. The final chapter summarizes what needs to be done, w
Jan 15, 2010 Rebecca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
This book was such a disappointment; I expected an intelligent analysis, and some thoughtful solutions. What I got was a lot of repetition from an author who assumed his audience was going to forget every statement he made!
Jan 25, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book and I certainly learnt a huge amount of really interesting stuff. It definitely opened my eyes more to the fact that development is unfortunately not as simple as we would often like to believe and the measures that could be truly effective. Collier writes really well my only criticism would be that, as I was really busy whilst reading this book it took me quite a while too get through and I did at times find it quite hard to follow as there were constant references to ...more
Oct 06, 2008 Paddy rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Paddy by: TED
Shelves: economics, world
Clear, specific, and based on tons of empirical data - everything that the development discourse is missing. Gives a very coherent plan for making the world's poorest less poor.
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  • The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good
  • Development as Freedom
  • Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet
  • Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa
  • The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits
  • More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty
  • Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
  • Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty
  • Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism
  • The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else
  • Making Globalization Work
  • Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty
  • How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas
  • The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World
  • Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day
  • The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working
  • In Defense of Globalization
  • Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor
Paul Collier, CBE is a Professor of Economics, Director for the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Antony's College. He is the author of The Plundered Planet; Wars, Guns, and Votes; and The Bottom Billion, winner of Estoril Distinguished Book Prize, the Arthur Ross Book Award, and the Lionel Gelber Prize.

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