BookBrowse Reviews The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The International Bank of Bob

Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time

by Bob Harris

The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 416 pages
    Feb 2014, 416 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

Buy This Book

About this Book



How much difference can a small loan make in the developing world? Bob Harris's memoir is a revealing look at the world of micro-finance.

The International Bank of Bob is part comic memoir, part informative travel journal, and, because we are introduced to so many people, a little like a speed-dating session. Still the book's organizing principle is simple and humane: The author, Bob Harris, who has made many loans through the micro-?nance loan organization,, decides to travel the world get to know the recipients of his loans. Harris sees how these loans affect their lives, and to meet the volunteers and representatives of Kiva's partners in the field.

Before becoming a micro-financier, Harris reviewed the most sumptuous and expensive food, drink and accommodations available on the planet for Among his assignments was a stay at the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai where "the World's Most Expensive Cocktail," at a cost of $7,438, is whisky served in a gold tumbler. The hotel had a vending machine dispensing gold bars, and "[goes] through five kilograms (eleven pounds) of fresh gold annually just in pastry decorations." The burnished excess of the Burj Al Arab afflicts Harris with "a severe case of wealth vertigo," and leads him to condemn the lack of "humane purpose" in the creation of hundred-dollar pastries. Harris also contemplates "the birth lottery," the arbitrariness of good or bad fortune that gives some people golden cups of Scotch while others, among them Dubai's immigrant construction workers, work twelve-hour days, six days a week, in horrific heat and humidity, for as little a $6 a day if they're paid at all (many must work for nothing for years to earn back labor "contracts.").

Harris resolves to use his earnings to help alleviate poverty from the bottom up, to strengthen struggling third-world economies, and to track what happens to his money. The personal nature of ("You could see the faces of individual people connected to your actions, along with short bios and descriptions of their plans."), as well as's high repayment rate, convince Harris to invest in a series of low-interest loans administered through local micro-finance institutions (MFIs). Harris travels to Peru, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Kenya, Rwanda, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Beirut to see Kiva's partner MFIs in action and to visit the men and women who have received his loans. He observes their work in hair salons, furniture shops, convenience stores and farms, without their ever knowing that Harris is their lender.

Harris is efficient and thorough in his explanation of micro-lending and its successes, failures and challenges. He is sensitive to the psychology of giving, including the tendency to view the needy as helpless victims, and the numbness and paralysis donors can feel when facing the vastness of suffering and need (still, this doesn't excuse Harris's use of "overwhelm" as a noun.) Harris repeatedly asks the reader to seek a loving connection to others and an affirmative attitude toward experience. However a discussion of current data on the effects of income inequality on health, crime rate, and general well-being would have bolstered Harris' exhortations with powerful facts.

Harris often likens the borrowers he meets in developing nations to members of his own white, Christian middle-American family, and equates their work to work in America. When the Rwandan shop-owner Yvonne "[fiddles] absent-mindedly with a box on the counter ...," Harris must tell us that "[his] own mom used to do the same thing sometimes" and compares her shop to a 7-Eleven. Observing exhausted construction workers in Dubai, Harris remarks, "The faces of the workers I'd seen earlier, echoes of my father's own face, flashed through my mind." I found these comparisons unnecessary, and even annoying.

In addition to endnotes, Harris also provides copious footnotes on a variety of subjects, many of which disrupt the narrative:

"The next day, I told my friend Jane about it, and one of us––neither of us remembers who––started joking that I now officially opened the International Bank of Bob. *" Harris insists on adding the following hardly relevant footnote: "*Jane is a Hugo Award-winning TV writer, some of whose work you may have already enjoyed..."

Although The International Bank of Bob is an engaging and clever title, Harris' purpose would have been better served with something a little less ego-centric. Still, he educates, amuses, and introduces readers to people we're honored to know, all while explaining the sometimes complex workings of micro-finance in a lively and lucid way. And yes, Harris inspired me to make two $25 loans, one to an enterprising yogurt-maker in Pakistan and the other to a group of merchants in Bolivia.

Reviewed by Jo Perry

This review was originally published in April 2013, and has been updated for the February 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book: Online Micro-Lending

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Golden Hill
    Golden Hill
    by Francis Spufford
    Spufford brings American history to raucous life through the story of Mr. Richard Smith, a ...
  • Book Jacket: Midnight at the Electric
    Midnight at the Electric
    by Jodi Lynn Anderson
    The world changes, but humanity stays the same. Whether a book takes place in the year 1510 or 2010,...
  • Book Jacket
    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles
    Paulette Jiles brings the landscape of late 19th century Texas to life in this novel long-listed for...

Win this book!
Win The Library of Light and Shadow

The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

"Possibly her best yet. A sensuous, sumptuous, and spellbinding novel." - Kirkus Reviews


First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Almost Sisters
    by Joshilyn Jackson

    A powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South.
    Reader Reviews

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T H Are B T O

and be entered to win..

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.