Top positive review
12 of 12 people found this helpful
Revelatory, thought-provoking... and balanced
on 3 November 2010
Linda Polman's book is the kind that couldn't have been written by anyone with less of an insider's eye on the problematic relationship between humanitarian aid, donor governments, the media and recipients. That only makes it the more extraordinary: in return for access to refugee camps and NGO input, reporters are all too often compromised. Not Polman, however, whose book is an arresting mix of on-the-ground reportage and investigation that slowly lays bare the mire of opaque practices, compromised principles and self-defeating realpolitik at the heart of the international aid industry, studded with portraits of warlords and agency chiefs, direct conversation and jaw-dropping facts. The sad thing is that so many have seized on the book as an attack on the idea of humanitarian aid itself. It's not - any more than, say, the Washington Post's expose of Nixon's skullduggery was an attack on the idea of a democratically elected President. What emerges from the Boschian parade of wrongs here is actually quite salutary: the idea that there is a way forward; that the same scrutiny is due the aid industry as the areas of business and administration their structures and turnovers increasingly emulate; that an industry that welcomes, not attempts to block, scrutiny will emerge not only healthier but more effective and more humane for it; and that the transparency and accountability demanded of other multi-billion-dollar industries whose actions affect the fate of nations should apply to aid. The real marvel, though, is that this book on a topic that strikes many as somewhat worthy and unexciting, not only delivers a sound thesis, but does so in prose and narrative that positively crackles with life and colour. And Polman emerges not as a whistleblower, or an Angry Of Wherever, knocking aid; but as someone who feels passionately about humanitarian aid, and just as passionately betrayed by the dismaying shenanigans that riddle Aid, Inc.