The Idealist: Book summary and reviews of The Idealist by Nina Munk

The Idealist

Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty

By Nina Munk

The Idealist
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2013,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

"The poor you will always have with you," to cite the Gospel of Matthew 26:11. Jeffrey Sachs - celebrated economist, special advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and author of the influential bestseller The End of Poverty - disagrees.  In his view, poverty is a problem that can be solved. With single-minded determination he has attempted to put into practice his theories about ending extreme poverty, to prove that the world's most destitute people can be lifted onto "the ladder of development."
 
In 2006, Sachs launched the Millennium Villages Project, a daring five-year experiment designed to test his theories in Africa. The first Millennium village was in Sauri, a remote cluster of farming communities in western Kenya. The initial results were encouraging. With his first taste of success, and backed by one hundred twenty million dollars from George Soros and other likeminded donors, Sachs rolled out a dozen model villages in ten sub-Saharan countries. Once his approach was validated it would be scaled up across the entire continent. At least that was the idea.
 
For the past six years, Nina Munk has reported deeply on the Millennium Villages Project, accompanying Sachs on his official trips to Africa and listening in on conversations with heads-of-state, humanitarian organizations, rival economists, and development experts. She has immersed herself in the lives of people in two Millennium villages: Ruhiira, in southwest Uganda, and Dertu, in the arid borderland between Kenya and Somalia. Accepting the hospitality of camel herders and small-hold farmers, and witnessing their struggle to survive, Munk came to understand the real-life issues that challenge Sachs's formula for ending global poverty. 
 
The Idealist is the profound and moving story of what happens when the abstract theories of a brilliant, driven man meet the reality of human life.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Students of economic policy and altruistic do-gooders alike will find Munk's work to be a measured, immersive study of a remarkable but all-too-human man who let his vision get the best of him." - Publishers Weekly

"Trenchant and thought-provoking." - Kirkus

"Nina Munk has written a fascinating book about a fascinating man - and even more important, about a set of ideas that are intriguing and important." - Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large of Time magazine and author of New York Times Bestseller The Post-American World

"Jeffrey Sachs is a global phenomenon: no one thinks as big, makes a more passionate case for foreign aid, and works as hard to make the dream of ending global poverty a reality. This terrific book gives you a ringside seat on Sachs's tireless global quest to get donors, governments, international agencies, private firms, and poor farmers to buy into his vision of economic development. Nina Munk's portrayal goes beyond the man and his dream; it is a clear-headed depiction of the challenges the world's poorest face as they struggle to improve their lives." - Dani Rodrik, Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University and author of The Globalization Paradox

"A riveting narrative that must be read to understand why the over $700 billion pumped into Africa by the West since 1960 has achieved so little. This powerful book will shake up the foreign aid development community." - George Ayittey, President of the Free Africa Foundation, and author of Africa Unchained

"Nina Munk's book is an excellent – and moving – tribute to the vision and commitment of Jeffrey Sachs, as well as an enlightening account of how much can be achieved by reasoned determination." - Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and author of Development as Freedom

"A powerful exposé of hubris run amok, drawing on touching accounts of real-life heroes fighting poverty on the front line." - Robert Calderisi, author of The Trouble with Africa

"The Idealist confirms that in the quest to end extreme poverty in Africa, the truly wise and resonant voices are those of the Africans themselves." - Roger Thurow, author of The Last Hunger Season

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Nina Munk, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is a journalist and the author of Fools Rush In: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Unmaking of AOL Time Warner. She was previously a senior writer at Fortune, and before that a senior editor at Forbes. Her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Fortune, and the New York Times. She lives in New York.

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