Every several months, I crowdsource book recommendations from my friends and colleagues and share them here with my readers. The book selections are quite eclectic. Here are a few, and I’ll post more recommendations in Part II tomorrow. Happy reading!
Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Edward Kritzler: I’ve been asked so many times, how a Jamaican family got the last name “Belinfanti” that I had to do some digging. It’s a sephardic Jewish name! A colleague recommended this book. No Johnny Depp and no Penelope Cruz, but far more interesting. A fascinating and colorful history of where the Jews went following the Expulsion from Spain in 1492–many went to Amsterdam and then from there to the West Indies with the Dutch West Indies Company. Pick up a phone book in Amsterdam and you’ll find more than one Belinfanti(e). Great stories about the various personalities/pirates and their exploits in the West Indies, including Port Royal, Jamaica.
The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches Between the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, by Eliza Griswold. The tenth parallel is the line of latitude 700 miles above the equator. Approximately 60% of the world’s Christians and 50% of the world’s Muslims live in this region where religious struggles seem to me engrained in society. It’s a fascinating book which takes a look at these struggles from various perspectives: religious ideology, natural resource availability and control, local and national government control and policies, and U.S. foreign policy among others. Interestingly much of the struggles and fighting that occurs in this area is not only inter-religion, but also intra-religion with denominations of the same religion battling each other. The author, Eliza Griswold, provides a different perspective than we typically see from traditional media. She provides geopolitical context, but more often gives us the personal view of how these conflicts impact the lives of those embroiled in them on a daily basis.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I’ve actually never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was taboo to read it when I was in high school, and my dad never put it on his personal summer reading list (yes, he used to give us summer reading apart from the school list). And so, I never got around to it. I recently read a profile of Harriet Beecher Stowe in Brave Companions, by David McCullough (could be on your summer reading list in its own right) that has made me put Uncle Tom’s Cabin on my summer reading list. I’ll let you know what I think.
I am also reading (as I have the menacing habit of indulging in several books at one time) What Works For the Poorest? by David Lawson, David Hulme, Karen Moore, and Imran Matin, BRAC’s Research Director and Africa Program Director. This book makes the important recognition that typical poverty reduction programs, and specifically those that use microfinance, do not always reach the poorest of the poor. It critically examines approaches used by different NGOs, including BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra-Poor (TUP) Program in Bangladesh, to determine what works and what future steps can be taken to increase efficacy. Although a denser read, definitely worthwhile for anyone working in poverty alleviation and international development! (of course, that’s after people have read Ian Smillie’s amazing adventure tale about BRAC, Freedom from Want.) Having just returned from Dhaka where I talked with a dozen women in the ultra poor program, I feel a renewed sense of commitment to find real pathways out of poverty for women who were married far too young and suffer incredible hardships. We owe it to them to get smarter about better ways to help.
Thomas Bird, President, Farm Capital Services, LLC; Chairman of the Board, Global Giving: The White Tiger is a Booker Prize winning novel by Aravind Adiga set in modern India. The angle of approach is quite unusual, consisting of a long letter written by a self-made Indian entrepreneur, to the visiting Premier of China. It is an interesting social commentary with repeating metaphors and images that are both educational, and make for a fun read.
Do You Think What You Think You Think? The Ultimate Philosophical Handbook, by Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom. I have been thinking about information lately … how we gather it and process it and use it for decision-making and forming opinions. This book is generally in that zone. It is partly a workbook with quizzes and such that help you determine whether or not your thinking holds together. I have been talking about it with my 20 year old son, and we are launching off in some unexpected directions.