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Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,053 ratings  ·  208 reviews
An eye-opening and intimate memoir about life as an international humanitarian aid worker in the field in Rwanda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Haiti.

Jessica Alexander arrived in Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide as an idealist intern, excited to be a part of the international humanitarian aid community. But the world that she encountered in the field was dramatically dif
Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Broadway Books
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved this book! I have a difficult time reading non-fiction but I couldn’t put this one down, I guess because I’m very interested in its topic. I wish Chasing Chaos was longer, wanted to know more of Alexander’s experience in the field instead of her personal life (this definitely made the book more “fiction like” to me but in this case, and maybe easier to read but I only wanted to know more about the facts, events, programs, and hardships they faced in executing them).

I would recommend thi
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I’ve been in the aid business for a while, and have had many of the same experiences and felt many of the same emotions that Alexander describes here. This isn’t some self-absorbed aid worker bragging about exploits or overblowing accomplishments. This is real and her observations are spot-on. Alexander tells the reader about the frustrations, the stresses, the personal and professional challenges and the deep satisfaction and sense of purpose that working with people ...more
Mike Robbins
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
It’s 2005 in Darfur, western Sudan. Jessica Alexander, a young American aid worker, is woken at 5.30am by the call to prayer. The night before she put a wet towel on her forehead and soaked her pajamas so that they would keep her cool. Now she gets out of bed to face the heat again and go to one of the camps for the internally displaced. Brought to Darfur to do something else, Alexander has suddenly found herself needed to manage Al Salam, a camp of about 20,000 people. She is just 27. She now s ...more
Tricia Tierney
Aug 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Chasing Chaos is a smart, compelling memoir. Jessica Alexander pulls no punches in her examination of what has become an 'industry' -- or her own role in it. From her first days as idealistic adventurer in Darfur to her more savvy self in Haiti a decade later with many more international disasters in-between, Alexander thoughtfully captures the ups and downs of humanitarian work on both the global and personal level.

This should be required reading for any young (or old) idealist who is even thi
Lance Charnes
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers who want to know how their charitable donations are used
When we think of international aid workers at all, we tend to think of them in one of two ways (mostly depending on our political leanings): selfless saints or intrusive busybodies. Strangely enough, Jessica Alexander, the author of this memoir, agrees with both views after a fashion.

Chasing Chaos is Alexander's story, a recounting of her baptism-of-fire in crisis-area fieldwork for various NGOs. Her mother's death from cancer spurs her into doing something to "make a difference," which sends he
Disclosure: I received this book for free through the Goodreads First Read giveaway program.

I give out many 3 and 4 star ratings, but I try to reserve my 5 star ratings for books I truly feel deserve it. This is one of those books. Yes, I did have some issues with it, but most were due to my personal feelings, and had nothing to do with the writing style or content of the book. What I mean by this, is that this particular memoir has brought up many questions that I find harder to answer now that
Aug 31, 2013 rated it did not like it
I received Chasing Chaos through the first reads program. I wanted to like it but to be honest it was work just to get to the halfway point and then I but it down because it was getting repetitive and boring.

It almost reminded me of the book Wild:From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail which I also found equally hollow but I know other people just loved.

I know this is a harsh review but I wasn't grasping a point in the book. It lacked fullness, depth, flavor... It seemed like run of the m
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book about the benefits and downfalls of Humanitarian Aid told in a very engaging way.
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
I have always dreamed of humanitarian aid work but admit I don't think I could actually "tough it out" for a longterm assignment. I love books like this that walk you through life as an aid worker; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Chasing Chaos was informative and fascinating. You get a taste of the work through the author's own experiences in the roughest of places. Interesting reading of her thoughts on burnout, the local impact of displacement camps, the counterproductivity of uncordinated in ...more
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is fascinating and impossible to put down, as well as an insightful look behind the scenes of the past decade's most important humanitarian aid efforts. Jessica Alexander's story is surprisingly moving and captivating. If you liked Emergency Sex, you will love this book. Highly recommend. ...more
Nicole Overmoyer
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Jessica Alexander doesn't want to be told how amazing the work she did and does as a humanitarian aid worker is and how much of a VIP she is. She makes that clear in Chasing Chaos that she sees herself as a very small fish in a very large pond, even after she rises to senior levels in the world of humanitarian aid.

That's what makes this book, and Alexander's story, all the more compelling.

There isn't any flowery language to hide the fact that the entire story is necessary because something has
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A tremendously gripping and anecdotal narrative of the author’s work in international aid in Rwanda, Haiti, and other countries in desperate straits. Jessica Alexander is a newly minted college graduate who decides to go into international aid as a vocation. This narrative offers a daily account of the work she does.

She discovers right away after landing in Rwanda exactly how rigorous and sometimes defeating this line of work is going to be. She works with a European national who thinks all Afri
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
IQ: "Aid procedures weren't developed out of a lack of compassion; in fact, they specifically took into account how easily compassion could lead us and people like James astray. Aid workers aren't just a bunch of people doing the first nice thing that came into their heads. Sympathy was a shortsighted emotion: it told you to make the pain stop now, and so you went with the quick fixes. Because you wanted your pain to stop, too: you didn't want to be someone who stood by, seemingly idle, while hu ...more
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads, memoir
I received this book for free through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

I picked up this book last night intending to start it and read for maybe half an hour before I called home to chat with my folks. Two hours later I realized I still hadn't called my folks. I made my call, had a good chat, then hung up and picked this book up. I finished it a little after midnight. It's that kind of book.

This is a memoir of a woman who works in the humanitarian aid industry. It is honest and blunt about the r
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I received this book through FirstReads.

While reading about the horrors faced by people living in war-torn countries and regions affected by natural disasters isn't easy, Alexander walks with you through the common emotions and thoughts. Her naivety at the beginning of her career echoes with common misconceptions about aid work but she progresses to know more on the subject than most of her readers can ever know.

I had no idea of the level of the intricacy involved in humanitarian aid, from the
I didn't really enjoy this book, even though I don't think the author is a particularly bad writer. I disliked this book because of its focus, which was on the personal life and experiences of the author herself; which parties she went to, which luxuries she lived without or which hardships she endured, and who she dated. There is virtually no mention of the organizations she worked for (indeed, this is kept a secret which is quite strange), or of the programmatic aspects of the work. This might ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book! It is one thing to watch it on the news, it's quite another thing to hear about what happens from the mouth of someone who was over there, living it and helping them. I learned so much while reading this book... I can't believe what happens to fellow humans on this planet, but thank God we have people like Jessica Alexander. I think this book will inspire young people to help and be more a part of hands on helping.

I am so lucky to have won this on goodreads!

p.s. new hobby: reading
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
In Chasing Chaos (Early Reviewer’s copy), Jessica Fuller recounts her past ten years in the humanitarian field going to such places as Rwanda, Darfur, and Haiti. While she does talk her about her experiences in the field, a large portion of the book seems to focus on some of the downsides such as lack of personal relationships, inter-aid office politics, and the misconception of what it means to actually “help” someone. I found it to be quite an interesting read and a must for anyone wanting to ...more
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it

This book was a required reading in one of my political science courses that examines politics in the "developing world." After reading it, I completely understand why my professor would assign this book for our class: it's informative, eye-opening, and presents a different perspective on humanitarian aid. I think anyone who wants to work in the field of humanitarian aid, or anyone who has an interest in working for a charity, NGO or UN organization should read this book.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting. Liked the behind the scenes look at humanitarian work. And Alexander is very candid, both about the work as well as her own motivations, which I enjoyed very much. But my absolute favourite part about this book? The MAPS! At the beginning of each chapter are two maps: one, usually on a semi-continental scale (e.g. Africa or the Caribbean islands), and then a zoomed-in map, more on a regional scale - showing the location of the major city and environs. Best context-providing map ...more
Marylou Cambron-bertrand
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A must read for all people interested in humanitarian aid!
Jill Geyer
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Jessica Alexander absolutely wowed me with this book. Her fast paced book took me through rwanda, sri lanka, sierra leone, sudan, and haiti along the way exposing facts about the aid industry and maybe the not so obvious.
Alexander approaches her first internship in Rwanda with an eagerness unmatched by her more seasoned colleagues; however, her perspective about aid changes throughout the book. She sees its failings and how it will never be a permanent solution. She describes aid work in "any f
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, memoir, non-fiction
4.5 stars. "Chasing Chaos" is the memoir of Jessica Alexander, a woman who has traveled to some of the most difficult places on earth in order to try to make them better through humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid and international development are two things that I find absolutely fascinating. At one time in my life, I even thought I might want to go into international development as a career but life had different plans (that is a story for another day). I was really interested in reading someth ...more
Nov 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
1.5 stars.

Repetitive, terrible. Jessica Alexander is unlikable and shallow. Another reviewer mentioned that this novel reminded her a lot of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, which is funny, because I thought the exact same thing. Alexander is much like Strayed - they both, even while complaining about their circumstances, hail themselves as amazing, strong people, doing amazing, strong things. They aren't. They both use other people to call themselves out on
Carianne Carleo-Evangelist
Wow. I haven't come across such a compellingly readable non-fiction book in a while. The author really brought the crises of Rwanda, Darfur, Banda Aceh and Haiti to life with the locations almost as intriguing as the people she met while there. Naive do gooders, cyncial burned out career NGO workers, voluntourists. None of those solely describes humanitarian aid workers, but the field is made up of all of them and together they tell the stories of worldwide disaster relief. Especially when Polya ...more
Stacy - The Novel Life
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jessica has written a harsh account of life in field as a humanitarian aid worker. It’s lonely, accommodations we take for granted become luxuries, like running toilets, bathing in a shower, internet service, even water to drink are scarce. Her frustration with the system is apparent throughout the novel. I found it interesting that she continues to work for aid services although from NYC rather than in the trenches of Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, etc. etc. With all that is wrong with the system ...more
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
I appreciated the author's honesty, particularly her not-always-flattering assessments of the aid community. I actually got this book as a gift for my sister who likes to travel before remembering it was on my to-read list, too.

Jessica Alexander has held jobs most of us think would be very exciting and glamorous and rewarding, but I think her experience shows that it's a bit more complicated than that. Yes, you should be properly trained before offering aid and no, it's not always that rewardin
Nov 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This memoir follows one woman's experiences in the humanitarian aid profession, with all its many challenges and all too infrequent triumphs. It is frank and honest, and not at all a fluffy "do-gooder" look-at-me kind of narrative. It offered perspective I had not before considered about what it means to provide aid in the wake of war or disaster, and changed the way I myself might approach the support of humanitarian relief. Before this I had not considered how aid to one affected area might ca ...more
Aug 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read most of this on a plane that was hanging out on the runway while they fixed a mechanical issue, so it was good perspective. It's also a great plane read in general: interesting, good flow, compulsively readable.

Alexander candidly and thoughtfully describes her experiences as an aid worker in a number of countries over a period of ten years. Interspersed with personal events in her life are more general thoughts about the value, failings, and successes of aid organizations and aid workers.
This is a well-told , informative story about a fascinating career path. Jessica relays exactly what you would want to know from someone who worked at a refugee camp in Rwanda: What are the housing and hygienic conditions? What do you do on a day-to-day basis? What do you do for fun? She neither glorifies her work nor disparages how little can be accomplished.
She easily conveys the dichotomy of how she views her work and how her uninitiated American friends respond to the image they have of an
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Over the past 12 years, Jessica Alexander has worked in humanitarian operations for the United Nations and various NGOs. She has responded to crises in Rwanda, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Sudan, Pakistan, Haiti and the Horn of Africa. Alexander is a Fulbright Scholar who received the award to research child soldiers in Sierra Leone in 2006. Her research there was used as expert ev ...more

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