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An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  1,886 ratings  ·  116 reviews
National Bestseller

“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,
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Paperback, 448 pages
Published August 11th 2009 by Anchor Canada (first published April 4th 2008)
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Nastassja
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
pri
May 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
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
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...
Ocrema
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is really cool.
Amanda
Jan 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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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
Dianne Everson
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I gave this worthy of 5 stars book a 4 star review because to me it was too harrowing at times, although that should not be changed by the author, but the subtitle "humanitarian action in the 21st century" didn't reveal the fact that it dealt so thoroughly with the Rwanda genocide and msf ( doctors without borders).
Orbinski is a good writer, and as a humanitarian must be almost legendary.
This book deserves to be read, and should be read.
Canada has not only its D'Allaire who saw
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Laurie
Jun 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Stephanie Allen
This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It seemed that the entire book was a manifesto for preserving the power of humanitarianism: pure humanitarianism, free from political tangles or ulterior agendas. It was refreshing and poignant; timely and timeless. The book was very well-researched, which is one of the reasons it took me two months to read. The level of detail about political exchanges and turmoil was impressive and I learned a great deal. Reading this reminded me of huma ...more
Jonathan
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was half a story of a humanitarian doctor and half a history of Medecins Sans Frontieres. It reminded me of how recent a concept the citizen humanitarian is, and clarified some how very different international development (the work I do) is from humanitarian work. One of the more fascinating discussions in the book is how and when MSF will engage politically to manifest change when it is committed to political objectivity (hence the organization's name). Orbinski covers many of the major hu ...more
Joey
Nov 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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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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
Elaine
Feb 25, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Zachary Habayeb
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Orbinski captures the brutalist nature of humanity in such an honest and compelling way. Through humanitarian crises in Peru, Kosovo, Rwanda and North Korea, this book allows the reader to gain valuable insights into the barbarity of mankind, the follies of political intervention masked as humanitarian relief and the philosophies and guiding principles that define Orbinski and Doctors Without Borders, the institution he would later chair.

Heart-breaking, gripping and deeply personal.

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Kristine Gift
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mackenzie
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Dr Orbinski delicately describes genocides he worked through. If you're at all interested in the politics of health and/or genocide, I'd recommend this.
His experiences are hair-raising at times.
Parksy
Aug 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Robin
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Elena
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: meds, memoir
I find it useful when reviewing these non-fiction books to look at what they set out to do and how their are built to achieve it, and this loosely follows Orbinski's life to be successively the autobiography of a doctor, the report of a witness to some of the very worst chapters of history, the portrayal of the internal workings of MSF during a very small range of years, and a broader reflection and call to action regarding the role of humanitarianism and its frayed relationship with politics. ...more
Shane Senécal-Tremblay
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Former MSF head Dr orbinski gives his biographical treatise on the complexities of the “humanitarian space” and why humanitarian aid cannot be a substitute for political action. The book charts a course through several conflicts, the authors life, the challenges on the ground, and the human stories that get obscured beneath the politics, violence and statistics. In what resounds like an Ode to Camus, Orbinski compels us to face the absurd: strive to bring hope and health to situations of ubiquit ...more
Vinicius Ribeiro
This is one of those books that should be a must-read for all of those studying and aspiring to become humanitarians. James’ experiences and input will most definitely have an impact on you and will hopefully inspire you even more to make difference in the world.
Awkward_turtle
Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Imperfect Offering is a deeply touching book, exploring the clash between politics and true Humanitarianism from many perspectives, ground level to Executive. The best parts of the book are the earlier ones, when Orbinski was hands on with teams in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Rwanda. Those are unflinching, and do a good job of not omitting some of the distasteful parts without calling them out or being preachy. Meeting a CIA spook in the backwoods of Zaire during a time when the US government w ...more
Vanessa
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Imperfect Offering follows the journey of Dr. James Orbinski, a Canadian doctor who worked for many years with the Canadian chapter of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders). During his time with MSF, Dr. Orbinski found himself in the middle of some of the worst humanitarian crises of the recent past, from Rwanda, to Somalia, to Afghanistan. He was forced to confront unimaginable cruelty, injustice, and corruption, all of which lead him to question the 'apolitical-ness' of hum ...more
Kurt
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Donn
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is perhaps the most important book I'll read this year. Part autobiography, part humanitarian treatise, part poetry, this book was a captivating read throughout. By the end, I literally went to look for future career options at the MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) and researched how I might steer my career towards one toward helping the greater good.

Just a warning though: some of the descriptions Orbinski has in the book are extremely graphic and painful to read. More than once I
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Grass_Roots Books and Music
Orbinski, a past president of Doctors Without Borders, explores the meaning of humanitarianism. What are the differences between humanitarian war and humanitarian action? He was in Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan and Afghanistan. As I read, I remembered the news footage and commentary at the time. His view of these countries’ turmoil, as an active humanitarian, was really insightful. This book is very accessible. It held my attention and made me think.
Kristine Morris
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
What an honour it would be to meet James Orbinski. He probably doesn't think so, but he is a true hero. I was most impressed with MSF's and Orbinski's refusal to allow their humanitarian aid to be used as a political or military tool especially when on the surface the optics of this stance were unfavourable. To be awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize must have been overwhelming - to have the correctness of their position acknowledged worldwide. An excellent book - highly recommend it.
Matt Morrison
Jan 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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.” 12 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.” 6 likes
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