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The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,506 ratings  ·  198 reviews
PEN Literary Award Finalist

On January 12, 2010, the deadliest earthquake in the history of the Western Hemisphere struck the nation least prepared to handle it. Jonathan M. Katz, the only full-time American news correspondent in Haiti, was inside his house when it buckled along with hundreds of thousands of others. In this visceral, authoritative first-hand account, Katz c
Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published January 8th 2013)
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Start your review of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
Author Jonathan Katz takes no prisoners nor pulls any punches in his extraordinary work on Haiti. Katz was the only full time America journalist living in Haiti at the time of the disastrous 2010 earthquake that was centered beneath the major population center of the country.

Haiti is more than misunderstood and impoverished. It is a lesson in bad intentions, mismanagement, corruption, arrogance, and host of other problems unlike any other place. Then there are the Haitians themselves! The Intern
Nov 25, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
MSM reporter Katz has written a very misleading book, an apology for the latest stage of imperial plunder of and aggression against Haiti disguised as criticism of NGO "incompetence." It's yet another instance of a spokesman for the conquerors of Haiti insisting his paymasters made immense fortunes while plundering and exploiting the citizenry and their resources "by accident", when they really meant -- Katz never offers any evidence for this supposition -- to be benevolent and magnanimous savio ...more
Jim Marshall
Jul 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to review this book briefly because I think it might have been overlooked when it first came out several years ago. Written by Jonathan Katz, an AP journalist stationed in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the book chronicles the devastation of the hurricane and earthquake that nearly destroyed Haiti in 2010. The post-disaster images were widely seen of course, as were the famous people showing up in front of cameras to convince us of their sincere support (see Bill Clinton, Bono, Sean ...more
Julie Dawson
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I received an ARC (Advanced review copy) of this title. My review is reflective of the ARC.

It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and nowhere do we see the truth of this more vividly than in Jonathan M. Katz's The Big Truck That Went By. Katz shines a bright, unforgiving light on the bureaucracy, politics, and infighting between NGO's that often due more harm than good over the long term with their emergency response to massive disasters.

The earthquake
Great read! It is such a compelling story to me- I do earthquake engineering, so I feel like I know this issue from a geology and engineering perspective. But I really have no understanding of how the humans factor in. It was eye-opening to read about the history of the island (I seem to have only learned bits and pieces), the influence of Americans and our particular notable figures like the Clintons and Sean Penn, and especially the world of disaster and humanitarian aid.

I was really impressed
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have more compliments than criticism for this book, which is huge considering my fascination with the subject matter - what happens during and after the initial world response to a huge natural disaster in any country, but especially one like Haiti. Despite some issues, I believe this book should be standard reading for people who are considering or are actively involved in post-disaster work. I mean at any level - on the ground, administratively back home, donating from their IPhone, etc. Wha ...more
Oct 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
The author, Katz, was an AP reporter in Haiti during and after the 2010 earthquake that killed over 100,000 people. This book tells the story of the earthquake and about the next 18 months, through the subsequent presidential election.

The story of the earthquake itself is quite good, and one gets a good feeling for the situation in Haiti, as well as for the life of an AP reporter. However, the book declines in quality toward the end, especially with the author's detailed description of his repo
May 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014, haiti
This is one of the best non-fiction books I've read. The author is a journalist who was covering Haiti for the AP at the time of the earthquake in 2010. The house he was living in was destroyed, so he was sharing the experience of many earthquake survivors right after the quake. In the book, he talks about the immediate aftermath but also examines the international response and the way aid money was used - and not used - in the year following the event. He follows the dollars - like the ones I d ...more
Meg Petersen
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book fascinating and infuriating. It provides a detailed account of Haiti during and after the earthquake and how aid organizations made a bad situation much worse.
I also recommend this article about The Red Cross:

The ending of the book is much better than the rest. The account of the chorera epidemic and the ensuing cover-up as well as the presidential election is great.
I was far less interested in the author's personal life. I wish he had
Jan 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating and important book on many levels. It is both an entertaining and sometimes suspenseful personal account of living and reporting in Haiti during a series of crises, and an insightful examination of the advantages and pitfalls of foreign aid - both from governments and nonprofits. As someone who lived in Gaza and observed its own version of what Katz describes as the "blan bubble" (like Iraq's Green Zone), so many of the dysfunctions he observed rang true to me. We keep repe ...more
Jonathan Katz was an AP journalist living in Port au Prince at the time of the earthquake. First hand account of the quake and the two years following the quake. He reports the events of the quake and goes on to follow the vagaries of reconstruction failures and the cholera epidemic. I thought his presentation reflected exceptional access to people and places in Haiti and was further enriched by his previous several years reporting from Hispanola. Enlightening read for anyone who wonders why all ...more
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is excellent. It provides a lot of really interesting information about a disaster that I knew little about (2010 earthquake), a country that I knew even less about (Haiti), and the recovery process that I knew absolutely nothing about. I will warn you that you should be prepared to feel appalled, offended, and depressed on pretty much every level (the international response was just ugh). But also prepare to be educated. By the end, I had renewed faith in the state of modern journalis ...more
Phil Spencer
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well-written account of the earthquake, cholera, outbreak and Presidential election in Haiti that was thought provoking and reflective.
By Robert Cole

It is three years since a massive earthquake devastated Haiti. A new book by Jonathan Katz suggests that the ensuing international aid effort gave the stricken the Caribbean country all possible assistance, short of actual help. He suggests, indeed, that the outsiders did more harm than good.

Haiti’s crisis plucked at the world’s heart strings. Bill Clinton, Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie were among the famous names who stepped up as advocates for the dispossessed. Katz reports that $
Mar 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I give this book five stars for its up-close perspective on what happened in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, the tragic ineffectiveness of the substantial amount of money donated (well, “pledged” may be a better word) and the author’s willingness to propose changes to the way disaster relief is provided. I am not sure I agree with all the author’s prescriptions but they are thought provoking and, given the long-term failure of foreign aid to achieve its objectives, should be considered.

To start
4.5 StarsIf you ever think of Haiti it's probably as that unstable & poor country in the Carribbean that have coups and exiled dictators. Every so often the U.S. shows a mild interest in it and either invade it, give aid or sanctions. I knew it mostly from my years of living in S. Florida from all the times a raft full of Haitian refugees would turn up on shore only to be promptly returned to somewhere (maybe Guantanamo & eventually back to Haiti). Which would lead to great big protests by Haiti ...more
Barun Ghimire
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If it wasn’t for the earthquake of “April 2015” I would not know about the book by Jonathan M. Katz, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. I heard about the book and was immediately fascinated by the title. I wanted to read the book but it wasn’t available in Nepal, most stores I inquired did not even knew that the book existed. I finally got hold of the e-book and started going through the book. (It happens to be my first e-book as I could not ...more
*I received this book via Goodreads First Reads giveaways - Thank you!!*

What a heartbreakingly necessary book.
This should be required reading for anybody concerned with international relations, humanitarian aid/NGOs/UN missions, or really the well-being of our fellow man in general.
I helped with a Haiti fundraiser through my undergrad's campus ministry. I know we sent our collection to a Catholic organization based in Haiti, but that is the extent of my knowledge. With the seeming rise of trul
Apr 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
With the self-confessed eye of an outsider, Katz tackles the task of bringing Haiti to life – wracked by earthquake and held hostage by NGOs as it is. Katz's work tracing the country's outbreak of cholera back to a division of Nepalese UN workers is particularly strong, and sums up the uneasy relationship forged between a vulnerable country and a foreign aid agenda left unchecked.

Certainly a recommended read, with my only criticism the slowness that came with tracing some of the behind-the-scene
Key points: Introduction of cholera by peacekeepers. 93% of $2.43 billion of aid went to UN and NGOs, on supplies/personnel, contradicting the image of the Haitian government as the obstacle to demonstrable reconstruction.

When ex-dictator Duvalier returned, a range of characters showed up at his hotel charging meals to his room.

2010 World Cup was five months after the January earthquake, a time for “ordained distraction”, like today.
Purple Iris
Okay, I need to pull together my thoughts about this book, so that I can move on from it. This book grabbed me from the first few pages, but about a quarter of the way through, maybe earlier, I started having mixed feelings about it. In the end, I'd rate it a 3.5, but have rounded up to 4. It is a book I would definitely recommend to people wanting to know more about the 2010 earthquake -- the reasons it was so devastating as well as the way it was (mis)handled by both Haitian and foreign author ...more
Mar 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an important, but ultimately very flawed, book. The author was the only western journalist living in Haiti when the earthquake struck in 2010, and so has a unique perspective to describe both the quake and its aftermath to American readers.

I learned a lot about Haiti, and its institutional issues that pre-dated the earthquake--for example that the ruling Duvalier family stole as much as $800 million, and that one-sixth of Haiti's population fled during their 30-year rule.

The author's c
Oct 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Interesting, since it's by an American journalist who was living in Haiti as the earthquake struck. The book is a mix of recollections of the authors time there, the events that occurred during/post-earthquake, and part history and analysis of actions of the US/UN/NGO's/groups acting on the ground. While the recollections are interesting, they often feel like an act of storytelling, with endearing but often racist depictions of Haiti and Haitians(Aside from some friends). His depiction of people ...more
Michael Griswold
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jonathan M. Katz in The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, tells moving stories of survival in the face of the 2010 earthquake that flattened the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Underneath the stories of survival and perseverance is a seething anger at the international celebrity aid community, past Haitian presidents, foreign governments who played a role directly or indirectly in making the problems of the average Haitian worse, rather than better, d
This book breaks my heart, but I'm glad my husband put it in my hands. I learned so much about Haiti and could not put it down near the end. If this is an audiobook, I might have made it through the middle part quicker if I was listening. I was shocked by some of the stuff I learned- how did I not know Wyclef Jean attempted to run for president in their last election? The amount of mistrust in government or any person affiliated with politics in Haiti caused them to elect a musician (with zero e ...more
Jason von Meding
I've been meaning to get to this book for quite a while. It was an enthralling read, and demonstrated a great deal of insight as to the root causes of the earthquake disaster and the political and economic levers of the relief/reconstruction disaster. Some of his criticism was veiled and understated, and I tended to like this style (though I usually go for the jugular) - the concern would be that some readers might go away thinking that everyone was operating based on the best of intentions. I f ...more
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written, thorough explanation of what happened during the response and recovery in Haiti. He makes a convincing case for better coordination with the local government, and makes a strong criticism of the outside agencies. One thing that kind of bugged me, though, is that he uses his reporter's privilege to be detached a little too much. Given how much he explains about how aid worked, he really ought to also explain how aid ought to work better in a place like Haiti. With this kind of det ...more
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books about Haiti next to Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. Katz understands and unpacks the complexity of Haiti without paternalizing the country and its people. He takes time to tell the rich history of a people that kicked out Napoleon. It's a must read for anyone seeking to do mission or development work in Haiti. ...more
Erica Hafferkamp
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and important read. I think it would be easy to overwrite a book like this, but Katz does a really good job of letting a lot of the facts and events and people speak for themselves while also speaking for himself as a firsthand observer, letting the story build from the information rather than trying to create a narrative and fitting the information into neat little storylines.
Therese Rose
May 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very impressive first person account of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and its aftermath.
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Jonathan M. Katz is a former Associated Press correspondent and editor. The only full-time American news correspondent stationed in Haiti during the January 2010 earthquake, he stayed on to cover the aftermath and flawed recovery that followed. That fall, he broke the story that UN peacekeepers were the likely cause of a postquake cholera epidemic that killed thousands of people. Katz was awarded ...more

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52 likes · 22 comments
“[For] decades, researchers have told us that the link between cataclysm and social disintegration is a myth perpetuated by movies, fiction, and misguided journalism. In fact, in case after case, the opposite occurs: In the earthquake and fire of 1906, Jack London observed: "never, in all San Francisco's history, were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror." "We did not panic. We coped," a British psychiatrist recalled after the July 7, 2005, London subway bombings. We often assume that such humanity among survivors, what author Rebecca Solnit has called "a paradise built in hell," is an exception after catastrophes, specific to a particular culture or place. In fact, it is the rule.” 2 likes
“A March 2010 Fox News poll would find that more than half of U.S. registered voters donated to Haiti’s relief.” 1 likes
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