The non-fiction brigade, apparently.

Over the weekend, while traveling, I read Mohammad Yunus’s book Banker to the Poor. It’s about, roughly, how he grew up and started the Grameen Bank.  Grameen gives very small loans to very poor individuals, mostly women, with no collateral, and it has had enormous success in reducing poverty and getting returns on its investments (98 percent payback). Grameen and Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

As I said earlier (uh, somewhere), I did find the concepts discussed in the book fascinating — micro-credit is still some how inspirational and at the same time almost unbelievable to me. The chapter that discussed application in the United States was particularly interesting, as I’d been experiencing the skepticism throughout that he said he usually faces from Westerners, a “it wouldn’t work here” feeling. Maybe it would/could work here. I would have liked to hear more about the results in rural areas like Arkansas; the opportunities in an urban environment seem better to me, because I think the ability to market individual work for survival-level wages is higher in a space with, well, more people around.

Anyway, having said the concepts were engaging, much of the book was not. It’s not poorly written, so much, but it’s poorly put together. It’s a book that can’t quite decide what its central story is. It’s about 1/4 autobiography, 1/3 technical manual, 1/4 defensive response to criticism, and 1/6 (that’s the remainder)
rah-rah inspiration. I see Yunus has a new book out, and while I am, again, interested in the concepts, I’m not tempted to read it, because… I want more from my nonfiction than this. I understand the need for a book from him, even many books from him, and I think his message needs to get out, but I’d be much more likely to buy a book written about Grameen Bank by someone else than another one like this. Perhaps a different editor, though, could sway me.

To follow that up, I was going to read The World is Flat, but instead I picked up Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, mostly on the strength of the National Book Award Finalist stamp on its cover. After reading the Yunus book, this book is like a breath of fresh reading air, even if the topic (it’s about the groupthink, politics, and absurdities of life in the Green Zone in Baghdad that led to huge, literally fatal errors during the early occupation) is depressing as all hell. There’s a story here — well, many stories, and details, and writing that’s lovely and personal and informing and opinionated. I’m enjoying this more than my last “war book,” which was Martha Raddatz’s The Long Road Home — and I liked that one quite a lot.

I need to follow this up with, I think, Paul Bremer’s book about Iraq.

Highly recommend Imperial Life.

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