Reading List.

This is a list of books on Haiti and economic development. As I complete a new book, I will post a brief comment on this page. If you are interested, I hope this will encourage some reading of your own.

If you have any recommendations for books to read in these categories, please let me know!

Economic Development and Social Justice

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

     Of all of the development economics books I've read, I've found this one to be the most real and the most intimately connected to demographic it's discussing. This book offers no sweeping solutions or cure all theories, but rather focuses on specific instances where efforts at development have failed and where they have succeeded. The authors also adequately reference other books in this vein to provide conversational context to their own work, almost like a discussion between theories. A good mix of anecdotal evidence and statistics. Highly recommended.

How Human Rights can Build Haiti by Fran Quigley

     A great portrait of how the inadequacies of the criminal justice system within Haiti and the lack of justice for Haiti internationally both significantly hinder development in the country. The book focuses on the work of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI and IJDH) and lawyers Brian Concannon (American) and Mario Joseph (Haitian), who are fighting for more justice for Haitians domestically and internationally. From the lawsuit against the U.N. over cholera, to the trail on the massacre at Raboteau in 1994, to explaining the injustice of a French-language justice system for a Creole-speaking population, Quigley fantastically presents the reality in Haiti in fact and context. Excellent, inspirational read. 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

     This book is by a black lawyer working in the Southeastern U.S. representing people, mostly minorities, on death row and/or people wrongfully accused of serious crimes. Absolutely one of the best books I have ever read. It should be a requirement as an American to read this and be educated on the issues that Stevenson brings up in this book about the injustice in our justice system in the U.S. I include this on my list here, because Haiti's justice system has serious issues as well, as I've been learning about more recently. Reading this book has provided more context for me in critically analyzing the system in Haiti.

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

     A good, easy-reading look at how to make a difference. This would be a great book for a small group discussion, or for personal growth and guidance in figuring out how to be more engaged in making the world a better place. Though lacking a bit in cohesiveness, the book is pretty inspirational. This couple also wrote Half the Sky about the oppression of women and girls in developing countries.

Human Rights and Development by Peter Uvin

     A collection of articles on rights-based development. Similar to the one by Sam Hickey, below. If you only want to read one, I would recommend the one by Hickey. 

Rights-Based Approaches to Development by Sam Hickey

     A collection of articles on rights-based development that can get pretty detailed at times, but tries to unpack the often overly-complex jargon associated with this perspective of development. A good read to get a good foundation in this approach. The focus is on empowerment between rights holders and duty bearers--that is entities that have rights (for example citizens) and the entities that have the duty to protect those rights (for example governments). 

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity by William J. Baumol

     Capitalism is often given a bad rap without differentiating between different forms of capitalism that exist around the world. This book makes a case that some forms are good while others are bad. Baumol outlines these differences and explains why some work in some contexts and others do not.

Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo

     This is a good account of issues related to foreign aid and the unintended consequences of how it has been administered across Africa, focusing on dependency, impacts on markets and corruption. Beyond evidence supported criticism, Moyo also provides ways forward that are different that the previous actions of international organizations.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

     Freire's pedagogy addresses those who are poor and outcast in societies around the world, focusing on methods of education that help maintain established power structures. He presents methods of reshaping these structures to break down oppression and empower both those who are oppressed and the oppressors themselves. Though not the meat of this book, the point that stuck with me is that in an oppressor-oppressed relationship, both actors are dehumanized. It is only through restructuring that humanity can be renewed, not simply through switching positions. 

The Clash of Economic Ideas by Lawrence H. White
     This book is densely packed with information, making it a very good overview of the prominent and competing economic ideas of the past 100 years. With biographies, historical context, and clear explanations of economic theories, this book is a great resource for understanding the who, what, when, where and why of economic thought and how these concepts have influenced our world today.

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
     The ideas presented by Acemoglu and Robinson are a part of a vast rethinking of economic development and explaining the ways nations become rich or stay poor. For them, political and economic institutions are the primary explanation for discrepancies in wealth among nations. But what is the optimal path for developing good policy and also good political institutions? The book explores many examples, especially ones involving very similar locations with vastly different levels of economic prosperity. Examples include North Korea and South Korea, Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, and the colonies of North American and those of South America.
     Though the book gets slightly repetitive, it is enjoyable to read, with interesting historical and modern examples supporting the primary thesis.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

     Diamond offers a broad explanation of the distribution of wealth and power around the world based primarily on the environmental factors impacting the spread and development of the human race over the past 13,000 years. Though the book is saturated in facts seemingly unrelated to one another (perhaps a few are simply author's indulgence), Diamond constructs a relevant and believable argument for why some regions became the dominant players in the world and others were conquered. He touches on food production, the domestication of animals, transportation technology, and the effects of latitude and longitude in his exploration. A decent read that requires some page skimming, Guns, Germs, and Steel relates the study of history to sciences, geography, economics, and politics in a nice educational package.

To Repair the World by Paul Farmer

     This book is a collection of speeches Farmer has given over the last several years. They provide motivational insight into the interconnected approach necessary to confront the largest challenges of our world today. Though I don't agree with all of his approach to these challenges, there is much with which I agree. The thread that seemed most prominent to me is that of accompaniment. Through my work in Haiti, I am seeking to be in relationship with others to accompany them as they accompany me on a quest to improve the world in which we live. In sounds borderline fanciful, but I agree with Farmer that it is the best way to achieve success when confronting our world's most challenging questions. And though he barely mentions it directly, this idea is reflected in the calling presented in the Bible. There are many parts, yet one body.

The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier

     Collier addresses reasons behind the failure of the poorest countries in the world, representing about one billion people, and how the world can address this poverty. He specifically explains four traps these nations commonly fall into: the conflict trap, the natural resources trap, landlocked with bad neighbors, and bad governance in a small country. He then asses four tools for addressing poverty: aid, military intervention, laws and charters, and trade policy revision. He concludes by synthesizing these instruments and the explanation of the traps into a course for action. It's a short read, packed with logical explanations. Though lacking in transparent data, it is written in a more accessible way. Certainly a plausible approach to "the bottom billion."

When Helping Hurts Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

     Recommended to me by multiple people and given as a gift from David Christopher, this book provides a similar perspective to helping others as Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton. Many of the broader themes and ideas in this book outline a better perspective on mission work, both short term and long term. Corbett and Fikkert focus on being with others to enact positive change rather than direct our ideas to others. Though there are some lines and phrases in this book that make me question the cultural awareness of the authors, the broad themes and the connections to passages in the Bible were incredibly helpful. I also appreciated the questions before and after each section that encouraged outside thinking on the book's content.

Collapse by Jared Diamond

     Perhaps it's because I've already read one book by Diamond, and the two are on similar topics from slightly different perspectives, but this book was long winded with many examples for some simple yet reasonable arguments. His focus in this book is much more on environmental collapse, and there are some wonderful lessons here. Unless you're interested in more fact filled (and interesting) perspectives on other societies, I would recommend reading Guns, Germs, and Steel instead.

The Elusive Quest for Growth by William Easterly

     Easterly's economic perspective on failures and the potential for success in economic development is much more enjoyable to read than some of the others I've read, even if just for his more selfless approach. It also is at times more academic. He covers a somewhat chronological history of trends in economic development tried on poorer nations and spends the second half of the book talking about incentives and various ways growth can be suppressed--or encouraged.

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando de Soto

   This book points to the need for certain mechanisms in a capitalist society that are often overlooked (because they developed over time) but are vital to the operations of capitalism. Most important are the systems of documents (deeds and titles) that represent the value of property, allowing dissimilar property to be compared in transactions, and the ownership of property, allowing a history of that property to develop on public record. These documents allow "dead" capital to circulate in the economy. De Soto selected Haiti, among others, to study for this book. Really good read if you're interested in property rights, economic systems, and how developing countries might grow a bit faster.

Haitian History and Culture

For Whom the Dogs Spy by Raymond A. Joseph

This book is great for a perspective on recent (past 50 years or so) history in Haiti, written as a personal memoir by a gentleman who was heavily involved in the politics of Haiti from the Duvalier reign up to the end of 2014 with President Michel Martelly. Though it's hard to forget once into the book (the author is easy to set himself in high regard), remember that this is an autobiography and history is framed accordingly. Regardless, though perhaps even because of that, this is a fascinating look into the ups and downs of power, control and democracy in Haiti. It almost reads like a good spy novel too.

The Negro by W.E.B. du Bois

     An account of the history of the negro around the world, with sections focusing on different cultures, time periods, social movements and relationships. I learned quite a bit reading this book, and have greatly benefited from the perspective gained from reading it not just for living in Haiti but for understanding the U.S. and the rest of the world as well. This book matters for my living in Haiti, because the context of Haitian history impacts my entire experience here from daily interactions to issues related to work--and it is not possible to separate the history of Haiti from the history of the negro worldwide.

The Comedians by Graham Greene

     A peculiar story that somehow captures some of the unique characteristics to Haitian culture that are present today. Honestly, though, not one of my favorite books, yet perhaps worth the read.

Haiti: After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer
     As my first exposure to Paul Farmer's work, this book provided both a personal account of the aftermath and response to the Haitian earthquake in 2010 and an introduction into Farmer's way of thinking about Haiti. Though other shorter accounts of the earthquake are incomplete and varied, this book attempts to collect not only Farmer's perspective but the perspectives of many others, Haitian and non-Haitian. Farmer also includes insight into his work through Partners in Health in Rwanda and how the progress in Rwanda over the past 20 years may or may not provide clues to the future progress in Haiti.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
     Engaging and provocative, this book provides a thorough glimpse into the life, work and character of Paul Farmer through his personal life and work with Partners in Health in Haiti, Rwanda and elsewhere in the world. People either agree or disagree with Farmer's world view, but this account highlights some of the amazing work he and his organizations have done for the people in Haiti. Kidder writes well, and includes informative details about relevant topics, going deep enough to be educational but not so far as to become dry. An inspiration, aggravating, and motivational read that may challenge you in what you can be doing with others, for others.

Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue by John D. Garrigus

     Haiti was the second independent country established in the Americas (just after the U.S.), and it was first independent black-led republic. This book captures in detail a unique period of time for the French colony before Haiti. Beginning about forty years before independence in 1804, Garrigus accounts the social, political, economic and military structures of Saint-Domingue before and during the long revolution. The colony was by far the most productive for the French, and featured a large population of slaves of African origin. Relative to this large black slave population, the number of white French colonists remained very small. But in addition to these two populations, a segment of free people of color also formed in the colony, as the original slave structure was not based on racial lines but rather social class and property ownership. The class struggle and eventual development of racial tension and animosity are the primary focus of this book. It's worth a read if you're interested in colonial slavery or the formation and interaction of social groups. Saint-Domingue is a unique and fascinating case study. Be warned, the book can get dry with a lot of primary sources and stories included in the text.

Haiti Paul Clammer (Bradt travel guide, the only in-print tourist travel guide for Haiti, 1st edition, 2012)

     Warning: Read it, and you might want to come visit me! A wonderful insight into Haiti from a perspective that celebrates the culture, art, architecture, people and natural world that Haiti has to offer. Clammer includes historical elements that highlight tragedies and triumphs, descriptions of cultural and religious practices, and the creative side of Haiti. Reading a more typical tourist guide, like this one, on Haiti has altered the way I look at any country often simplified to an incomplete, depreciating one liner. 

All Souls' Rising Madison Smartt Bell

     Bell captures the more personal side of the time period surrounding the slave revolt/revolution in Haiti in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Disturbingly violent at times, filled with heartbreaking and revealing racism that speaks to race relations on a grand scale across culture and time. The book does drag on a bit (and it's just the first installment of a trilogy), but the characters and writing are fairly engaging. Keep in mind, however, that this is a work of fiction based loosely in Haitian history.

Eyes of the Heart Jean-Bertrand Aristide
     Simple and elegant. A short book from the former president of Haiti offering his perspective on the country.

In the Parish of the Poor Jean-Bertrand Aristide

     A collection of writings and sermons from Aristide during his stint as a priest in the late 1980s. It's important to keep in mind the time this was written and that this is just one individual's perspective. Otherwise, it's a fascinating single account of history in Haiti during that decade.

The Big Truck that Went By Jonathan Katz

     This is a personal account from the lone American AP reporter in Haiti when the January 2010 earthquake struck. At times suspenseful, at other times edgy and direct, Katz combines both heartfelt moments of reality on the streets of Haiti after the earthquake and criticisms of many involved in the recovery effort--or those who contributed to the conditions in Haiti before the earthquake that made the impact of the natural disaster so much worse than it should have been. Pretty good read--I like it as an account of the earthquake a bit more than Haiti: After the Earthquake.

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica Zora Neale Hurston

    Hurston delves into great detail of numerous voodoo ceremonies and services she experienced during a short time living in Jamaica and Haiti. This was my first exposure to voodoo, and I still have a lot to learn about it (if I even have access to learn everything). Her story telling is engaging, though sometimes the amount of detail is overwhelming making all of the intricate services blur together. Otherwise, it's an interesting account of just part of life in Haiti at one particular moment in time.

Masters of the Dew Jacques Roumain

   Originally written in French by this Haitian author, then translated to English by Mercer Cook and Langston Hughes, Masters of the Dew is a story of rural Haiti during a drought in the 1940s. It is the story of a Haitian who lived and worked in Cuba for 15 years before returning home to Haiti, bringing with him a perspective and skill set far beyond the community of his family. I found it very insightful into many aspects of the Haitian culture I'm experiencing today.

Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

     An autobiography about her father and uncle, this book was my first encounter with Danticat. She's a great story teller. In addition to telling a candid and engaging family story, this book provides really amazing insight into the personal consequences of the relationship between the U.S. and Haiti. 

Because We Are by Ted Oswald

     This is a fictional account of an orphan in Site Soley, a rough slum in Port-au-Prince, who ends up investigating a murder in her community. Overall, the content of this book is engaging, and a particularly interesting character appears in the second half. Oswald weaves in history, politics and development pretty well throughout the book, perhaps to the point of being heavy-handed. The writing style leaves a bit to be desired, however.

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois

     A wonderful and accessible account of Haitian history from colonial times through the mid 2000s--though it is a bit limited on content from Duvalier to present. It's well written and highlights common threads throughout history. Haiti is a very complicated place, and savoring this book is a good way to get acquainted with it. Highly recommended.


  1. Hi Alan

    Just wanted to let you know that I had to take a course that had Collapse by Jared Diamond. Will take it to New York if you want me to.

    1. Thanks for the offer! I actually just got a used copy in the mail, so I already have it.

  2. Alan - we met last week through Jane - You helped me by some oranges in the market. I have been home a week and can't stop thinking about Haiti. I got to your site via Jenks Farmer - an old friend. Excellent reading list. Keep up the good work. Jodie