Monday, May 3, 2010

Palmer, Collier, Befus

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

I will admit that I am very hesitant and prematurely skeptical of motivational, leadership, and "life" books. This one came highly recommended from both my mother and father, who I have the greatest respect and admiration for, so I was willing to give this one a chance.

The reason I don't like most of these "life" books is that I feel that most of them are saying the same thing but with different words and metaphors. Although somehow it seems all of them include a story about rappelling (this book included!) and comparing to stepping of the edge to some decision in life. Plus, I have never been attracted to the idea of someone who I've never met giving me life advice and revealing an easy step by step process of finding what I should do with my life. I feel like that advice is best given by close friends and is revealed within myself.

I believe that God puts innate passions, compassions, interests, and desires within us and that finding a purpose of what we are supposed to do is a matter of following these - step by step, logical decision by logical decision. I think Palmer understands that and that is really the premise of his book, exemplified by his title.

My favorite part of the book was the final chapter dealing with the seasons of life. Although I'm sure not totally original, I read it at a good time in my life - timing really is everything. Palmer presents different periods of life into the seasons of nature and discusses how each should be enjoyed and how it naturally progresses and is connected to the other seasons. Although most everyone enjoys the warm weather of spring and summer, he talks about how these aren't possible without the death that comes with winter. Each season, each period in life is important and is preparing for the next natural progression. Learning to enjoy each season for what it offers and what it is preparing you for is not easy and I think only comes with maturity and patience. I'm trying to enjoy whatever situation I am currently in rather than always discounting where I am because I'm always anxiously waiting to move on to the next phase. Although I'm naturally always looking to make the next step in life, I've realized that doing that causes me to overlook the people I am with now and the opportunities that I have, even though it might not be my ideal situation. It's a season and it's temporary...

Wars, Guns, and Votes by Paul Collier

Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford Univeristy, follows up The Bottom Billion (a book Collier claims is an economics book you can read at the beach) with a book building on additional research about "democracy in dangerous places".

First of all, let's talk about The Bottom Billion, a book I became familiar with because it was on my graduate summer reading. Anyone who is remotely interested in global poverty, humanitarian work, or international affairs should read this book. It literally is that important. Collier lays out four traps that countries housing the bottom billion poorest people - mostly in Africa, but not exclusively - find themselves in. It is surprisingly readable for an economics book. In my opinion, economists are the most well-equipped professionals to form solutions for global poverty and it is about time that we start listening to them. Let me explicitly say, you need to read The Bottom Billion. In fact, you need to read it before Wars, Guns, and Votes, but let's talk about this one.

Democracy is a beautiful thing when it works, but, as Collier shows in this book, it is a dangerous thing when it a country is not ready for it. Countries that lack the ability to provide essential basic public goods (meaning security for its citizens. this is way before they start considering education or healthcare) find themselves in a dangerous cycle of violence and elections and under the constant threat of a coup and civil war - essentially economic development in reverse. Most importantly, do not mistake elections for democracy. In countries that are plagued be corruption, it is not an accurate portrayal of democratic elections. Collier, a development expert, insists that security is tantamount before any amount of investment or development can be done.

I loved this book. I love the subject matter it deals with, Collier's style of writing based on extensive quantitative data, and the conclusions and recommends that he finishes with. But like I said, this should be read after The Bottom Billion, which puts everything he says into context.

Where There Are No Jobs by David Befus

I'm not going to talk too much about this one, as its intended audience is extremely focused. Befus writes this book towards those who are looking to start or be involved in a microfinance business in poor, underdeveloped countries. He outlines an organizational structure, management strategies, and financially sustainable policies for developing and maintaining a microfinance venture.

It you're interested in microfinance, I'd recommend checking it out because it gives good advice on how to do good work and how to do it well. It's a little too dense for someone with a casual interest in development economics. I'd suggest skipping this and reading The Bottom Billion.

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