I am disappointed by this book and I think it is a missed opportunity. I speak as someone who has been working in international development over a period of 20 years ranging from small NGOs to working with the large multilateral funders.
It's clear that the author knows her subject however I expected a more objective discussion of the issues. Instead the author has a clear opinion and agenda. The book is far from a balanced discussion. Nevertheless there was enough substance to continue reading and I'm happy to hear someone else's view.
The point where it all got to much for me was the discussion about social sectors and in particular the statement that "people in traditional occupations are cut out - water sellers .... etc. The prices of the new goods and services invariably end up higher than those of the traditional providers they replace". In many cases this is far from the truth. The poor, who are the ones that often have to reply on water sellers, are usually the ones that pay the most for their water, often 3-6 times the amount that the rich pay, particularly in urban areas. In many major cities of the World much gangland violence is centred around the control of the water sellers territories.
I bought this book to read more about development. I had expected a balanced book that highlighted both the successes and the failures as suggested by the title of the series "no nonsense". However, what I found was a continual criticism and listing of the failures of development. Although microfinance and some of the small scale NGO projects are praised, without re-reading the book I am struggling to recall anything else that was positive. I read this as somebody who is not an expert and perhaps it is all gloom as the book seems to suggest but it makes for a depressing read. I will not be buying the other "No Nonsense" guides based on this book.
Having personally been involved in the humanitarian world, which left me with question marks about whether international aid is a good or bad thing, I can honestly say that this no-nonsense guidebook has been the most helpful literature so far. It does not give one concrete answer, the debate being ongoing. Yet, it is a great little book objectively covering a wide span of the international aid debate with insightful observations that touch both on theory and practice. It is written in academic style, but being compact in size, very much to the point and full of examples, make it an interesting read.
In this book, Maggie Black, a leading writer on development issues, convincingly reveals the flaws of the prevailing views on and practices in international development. But she does not stop here, drawing on a vast array of literature, documents and studies as well as a wide and profound personal experience, she forcefully shows new and feasible ways on how to improve the living conditions of millions of people who have to make do with not more than one Euro per day. In this sense, this book is a true and welcoming guide.