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on 4 October 2017
I first read this in my late teens, just as I started to get an interest in politics, and this was one of the first real eye openers for me. An excellent introduction to the topics of poverty, inequality and geopolitics. I think it manages to be informative enough to be used for students and academics, yet accessible to the casual reader as well.
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on 7 September 2014
Thought provoking but annoying - the arguments put forward are clear, but somewhat repetitive. If you are interested in understanding WHY Africa can constantly face so many challenges, it is fantastic. If you want to understand ACTION required to help people in different regions and countries FIX their problems it's much less compelling. Despite that, it's a great book.
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on 6 July 2017
It's worth reading even if you don't have an interest in (global) wealth distribution.
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on 25 May 2017
Not an academic work, raises issues without rigour or balance. Fails to explain key terms and concepts several times. For a book railing against the politicisation of poverty, it displays a number of unexplained political biases.
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on 13 December 2007
As a kid growing up in Nigeria, I thought that it was 'normal' that Latin Americans, Asians and Africans were classified as The Third World. Now as an adult, it seems that the only pictures of starving children I see on TV are those from my native continent. Despite the aid and attention that Africa has received in the last 20 years, most African countries are still stuck in pre-industrial poverty. Professor Collier's highly accessible book provides some illumination on the matter.

The thesis of the book is that the economies of the poorest countries in the world, the so-called bottom-billion, have not grown in the last 30 years because they are stuck in one or more of the following traps: (1) the conflict trap; (2) the natural resource trap; (3) the "landlocked with bad neighbours" trap; and (4) the "bad governance in a small country" trap. Collier proposes the following solutions to the problems: (1) Military intervention; (2) adoption of voluntary laws and charters; and 3) changing rich-world trade policy.

The book is written in a logical, easy-to-read style. Professor Collier, former head of research at the World Bank, is remarkably familiar with African societies. He rightly points out that aid and revenue from commodities have enriched local parasitic elites, who prefer to maintain the status quo rather than invest in economic development; 'rent' money, based solely on patronage, funds the gravy train for elites. The narrative is laced with delectable anecdotes of author's travels in Africa. He recalls how he was treated as a celebrity in the Central African Republic and how, after he disclosed that he worked for the World Bank, he was shunned by the Immigration official in Nigeria. The reader even learns jargon such as 'Dutch disease' and 'ex and ante' conditionality for investment.

Collier does not pull punches when describing the entrenched elite in the bottom-billion. If, after reading the book you think, "Geez, African elites are self-serving, egoistical spurns of the Devil", then you may be forgiven. Collier reserves his most excoriating remarks for the Angolans. According to Collier, when the East Timorese government needed an example of how to spend their anticipated oil revenues, they turned to Portuguese-speaking Angola. Collier snidely opined that they (the East Timorese) could have asked a brothel for a lecture on sanctity! Funny, sad but true.

Collier also rightly points out that in a number of bottom-billion countries, there are courageous men and women, who are working hard at reforming their economies. He names a few of them like Nigeria's Ngozi Okonji Iweala and Charles Soludo. Professor Collier notes that these brave people deserve support. So true!

Furthermore, he criticizes aid policy as had been administered to date. Aid has not worked and for good reason: it has been badly administered and done with the heart and not the head. As one who is sceptical of the arguments of both the aid-loving left and the aid-bashing right, I was pleased to read how Collier strikes a balance between both camps. His point: aid does not have to be given to poor countries as a sop for colonialism. It must be committed, targeted and given for over a decade to post-conflict societies.

The first few chapters are about the Professor and his students/co-researchers. He reduces the complexity of human interaction to sterile models, which may be - wait for it - be used to predict the risk of civil war. How neat! He manages to do the odd name-dropping also; how his models were recognized by the CIA and the United Nations. An effort to put some humanity in the numbers would have helped the tone of the first few chapters. Also, he purposely skipped the names of the bottom-billion countries except for a few countries like Nigeria, Central African Republic and Zimbabwe. What harm could have been done by mentioning the names of the countries? Moreover, he does not give any information on the equally poor Central Asian countries. It would have been nice to see how the dynamics of poverty differ between Africa and Afghanistan, for example.

The book's major weakness is that its assessment of the failure of African economies is almost wholly agentic i.e. the book focuses on 'bad' actors and ignores the role institutions, especially the post-colonial systems in Africa. Collier observes that Africa has the largest number of landlocked countries in the world. According to him, "...The international system should not have let them become economic entities in the first place..." Well, that's putting a gloss on the issue here. Why not call a spade a spade? The reason why there are so many landlocked countries in Africa is colonialism. For example, landlocked Chad and Burkina Faso were carved up as French zones of influence in 1888 and remain so till this day. The Professor does not even mention the "C" word. The situation is even more complicated than Collier suggests. The international system (a.k.a. the European imperial powers) carved up Africa into a quilt of nation-states and left them at independence with schizophrenic political institutions that were neither African nor European. Using terms like "international system", Collier skilfully avoids naming names. Afterall, if a system caused the problem, no one did it. He asks us to get over it and move on as these countries are here to stay. I agree. Yet, I fear that this is an injustice to readers, who may not understand that most African countries are not 'nations'. Collier, who knows Africa very well, should have emphasised the 'stickiness' of institutions in the post-colonial era.

Reading the book, you'll get the impression that Africans merrily squandered Western aid in the last 50 years. The truth is more complex: there was the added complication of the Cold War, which was anything but cold in the Third World. Indeed, Africa and Latin America were the key frontlines in the Cold War. It is in Africa, for example, that the US supported unsavoury dictators like Mobutu Sese-Seko and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA, leading them to commit the heinous crimes against their own people. The book does not tell this side of the story well.

One of Professor Collier's instruments for pulling the bottom-billion out of poverty, military intervention, is not well-thought through; indeed, it seems to be an after-thought. He does not convincingly argue why the West should intervene in places like Congo. His argument that he does not want his son to live in such a divided world is a good one for the family dinner but may not cut much ice with hard-nosed politicians, beholden to electorates, who do not like to see their soldiers dragged through the streets of a 'God-forsaken' Third World country.

Colier has a message for both sides of the political spectrum. To the left: there is nothing romantic about the poor African native, who lives in abject misery, is 'happy' with his lot and in touch with nature. Aid and growth can and should be compatible if it is to be effective. To the right: Don't overplay the efficacy of growth. It alone cannot life the bottom billion out of poverty. Economic growth must be combined with some painful change of policies, such as at the WTO, to be effective. I hope that the right people are listening to this message.
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on 2 January 2008
This is a thought-provoking book: the problems of the poorest countries are deeply and cogently analysed and explained, and appropriate policies proposed. It has the added virtue of being written in simple and refreshingly straight-forward language. There is much that is absolutely original here.

The one comment I have is that Collier bases some of his policy prescriptions on the assumption that the only way to develop is through export, which seems to suggest export-led growth and large projects. There is nothing about micro projects and the need to work with the poor to alleviate poverty through the provision of appropriate/intermediate technology.

I e-mailed him about this and received a rapid and courteous reply saying that he did not have space in the book to cover everything and that he agreed that exporting only makes sense as a growth strategy for some countries and that he has no fault to find with the micro approach.

He also suggested I might write this review; so I did.

PS I also thoroughly recommend the lecture on his website.
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on 6 April 2008
I find Paul Collier's book(The Bottom Billion) interesting to read. He easily highlights Many of the economic difficulties facing the poorest countries in the world. He then suggests multi-faced approach that can be applied to tackle some of the issues he highlighted, not only by the poor countries themselves but also by the so called "donor" countries.

Much of Paul's argument is based on data collected by international organization such as IMF and The World Bank and so on. When reading through the pages you would meet some high ranking individuals in these countries, i.e. the Finance minister, but rarely the ordinary person in the street and the challenges he/she faces. In my opinion this is the main weakness of this book. It's a top down approach. He does not talk so much about some of the side effects that export driven policies had on these countries such as planting crops for export in the best available land instead of the staple food of the country which people need to survive. Overall very good book, though I encourage Paul to get out of the big hotels and ministerial headquarters and meet ordinary people next time he visits one of these countries.
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on 12 April 2017
The top negative comment describes the author of this book as a 'neoliberal apologist' and I think that really hits the nail on the head. Persistent and at some points very credible, justification is made for the previous actions of the World Bank, who Collier is open about having worked for. His conflict of interest and lack of objectivity should make everyone who reads this book take its conclusions cautiously.

Collier goes as far as to make quite cheap jibes at the economic left throughout the book, which make him seem a bit childish and also expose his bias.

A much bigger gripe with this book is perhaps that Collier quite often makes very interesting subjects quite boring. He will labour a point or go into too much detail and I found I was much less excited about picking it up than I have been with other books on similar subjects. Everything I have read by Ha-Joon Chang for instance has been better both in style and substance.

In spite of all the above, I still think this book is okay. It includes some interesting pieces of information and it isn't impossible to see through the commentary and make your own conclusions from the facts presented.
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on 5 March 2011
This is a very good insight for developmental studies students and not only. It talks about the main problems of development in the countries known as the "Bottom Billion". A book recommended by both professors and students.
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on 21 January 2014
Overall, I enjoyed the book; it was easy to read and offered numerous suggestions that could help to provide assistance to those nations that have struggled to maintain sustainable levels of growth and employment for their populations, amongst other issues. However, the tone of the book goes something like this: "The third world is a place of suffering and they need to catch up to countries like Britain and Norway to save themselves and be more like us", this is personified by the unnecessary picture of the child with a gun on the front cover.
I lived and worked in one of the so called "bottom billion" countries (Kenya) for many years. I am also married to someone from this bottom billion country, and I am blessed with a beautiful family from this bottom billion country. I do not believe it is fair, helpful, or even accurate to refer to the bottom billion countries as "cess pools", or to make patronising statements inferring that some governments "lack the competence to manage even a village post office" (not suggesting that they do not face major problems, especially in regards to corruption).
Whilst there are many challenges that face such nations, mainly economical, they have a lot to offer the rest of the world in terms of sustainable development themselves. The way the bottom billion countries are portrayed sometimes in this book, for those that haven't been to these places, you would think them to be the worst places to live on earth, with the most unskilled workforce you could imagine - which is unfair. As Collier is taking the view that we are ahead, and therefore they need to catch up, there is no reference to the many aspects of life in these societies that we could also learn from to help the many problems in our own societies. After all there are many problems that the "developed" world has faced, and continue to face, caused by rapid and insatiable and unsustainable growth - economically, ecologically, sociologically and indeed psychologically.
For example, and I am comparing to Britain, [in Kenya] you would rarely see the elderly abandoned experiencing desperate loneliness; children appreciate opportunities, especially with regards to education; food is rarely wasted, and much more appreciated; landscapes are less polluted with fresher air; the more successful members of families usually help those less well off family members; people are much less materialistic than we are and emphasise social interaction above consumerism; people are much happier in general, despite the challenges they face; people are very welcoming to visitors, whereas many people here do not even know their neighbours and cannot even say hello to one-another on the tube; people are much more interested in current affairs, for example, even pubs and clubs will shut the music off at 7pm and 9pm every night to enable everyone to watch the news....the list could go on.
My point is that the book is heavily biased in favour of a western mind-set, which incidentally is one of the major flaws, I believe, in our worldly approach to development as a concept; there is rarely a discussion about cultural appropraiteness in these types of work. It is not uncommon for the well-educated experts in development to converse negatively in this way, especially towards Africa, but you would hope someone with this much intelligence and experience would be more balanced in his arguments.
Furthermore, there is little reference to the greed and corruption of corporations, global institutions and governments of developed countries that have actively sought to disrupt countries and governments for their own selfish gains i.e. dictatorial structural adjustment programmes imposed by the IMF making problems in many developing countries a lot worse (see Stiglitz: Globalisation and its discontents).
In relation to internal fighting in developing nations let us not forget that much has been instigated by the supply of weaponry from developed nations, especially USA, Britain and Russia; for example, Britain has supplied arms to the likes of Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe, even when they had evidence of misconduct. The US and Britain, have, and continue, in certain ways, to pursue hegemonic control of poorer countries to benefit their own foreign policy objectives, often making it very difficult for hard-working, smart and decent people to obtain positions of power in Government. Collier is right in saying that guilt and blaming ourselves is not helpful, but at the same time his assertion that we (the west) have played little part in creating and perpetuating problems is naïve.

That being said, I like Paul Collier, I think he is a force for good, and his ideas are very useful and that is why I give the book 4 stars; I just wish it was more balanced in its approach and the sometimes patronising tone was removed. I am currently reading `the plundered planet' which so far I find to be a great improvement on this book.
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