Daniel's Reviews > The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

The White Man's Burden by William Easterly
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's review
Apr 05, 08

bookshelves: general-nonfiction
Recommended for: anyone interested in problems of poverty
Read in April, 2008

This book is what happens when someone has an idea for a long article in the Atlantic Monthly and decides to turn it into a book. It's interesting, makes a persuasive case for its central thesis (i.e., planning foreign aid on a large scale is about as successful as planned economies of Communist yesteryear), and is reasonably well-written, but it makes its point early and just drones on about it for a long time. At the end, the author launches into a review of the Cold War sins of the US and the mistakes of the colonial powers in Africa and elsewhere. This latter portion of the book reads like a freshman research paper, because Easterly is an economist and so relies on heavily footnoted assertions culled from generalist reading of histories. I find it irritating that he doesn't temper the strength of his convictions when he moves into territory where he is no longer expert.
There are a couple of other irritating features of the book: (1) He thinks he's as funny as PJ O'Rourke; someone (perhaps a girlfriend?) needs to tell him he is not.
(2) He misuses statistical reasoning in that cavalier way that only engineers and economist presidents of Ivy-League universities seem to do without realizing that there *are* indeed subtle points to proper use of statistics.
All in all, though, the book is a powerful call to us little people to get off our duffs and help fight world poverty because the World Bank isn't going to take care of it. Sounds good to me.

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