Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: A Path Appears by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating OpportunityA Path Appears--Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
September 2014 by Knopf
400 pages--Goodreads

An essential, galvanizing narrative about making a difference here and abroad—a road map to becoming the most effective global citizens we can be.

In their number one New York Times best seller Half the Sky, husband-and-wife team Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn brought to light struggles faced by women and girls around the globe, and showcased individuals and institu­tions working to address oppression and expand opportunity. A Path Appears is even more ambi­tious in scale: nothing less than a sweeping tap­estry of people who are making the world a better place and a guide to the ways that we can do the same—whether with a donation of $5 or $5 mil­lion, with our time, by capitalizing on our skills as individuals, or by using the resources of our businesses.

With scrupulous research and on-the-ground reporting, the authors assay the art and science of giving, identify successful local and global initia­tives, and share astonishing stories from the front lines of social progress. We see the compelling, in­spiring truth of how real people have changed the world, upending the idea that one person can’t make a difference.

We meet people like Dr. Gary Slutkin, who devel­oped his landmark Cure Violence program to combat inner-city conflicts in the United States by applying principles of epidemiology; Lester Strong, who left a career as a high-powered television anchor to run an organization bringing in older Americans to tu­tor students in public schools across the country; MIT development economist Esther Duflo, whose pioneering studies of aid effectiveness have revealed new truths about, among other things, the power of hope; and Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede, who are transforming Kenya’s most notorious slum by ex­panding educational opportunities for girls.

A Path Appears offers practical, results-driven advice on how best each of us can give and reveals the lasting benefits we gain in return. Kristof and WuDunn know better than most how many urgent challenges communities around the world face to­day. Here they offer a timely beacon of hope for our collective future.

This book is ambitious.  I don't know that I've seen such a wide scope in a single book before.  In general, A Path Appears is about increasing opportunity, both domestically and internationally.  More specifically, it covers education, crime, poverty, malnutrition, gang violence, addiction, sex trafficking, early childhood intervention, prenatal care, family planning, agriculture, mentoring, literacy, charity, business, advocacy, human psychology, metrics, investments, marketing, and pretty much everything else under the sun that can be linked to aid work.  Kristof and WuDunn take a strategic, research based approach to determining the efficacy of aid groups and evaluating which groups make the most impact per dollar.

The book is peppered with suggestions for how you can get involved in making a difference.  If you take anything from this book it is the idea that ordinary people, not just millionaires, can make a significant difference in the world by making smart aid decisions.  Pick a cause, and the book probably describes a group that addresses that cause.

I was disappointed that the book didn't spend more time on sex trafficking or domestic violence. The accompanying PBS documentary dedicated an episode each to those two issues, and they are super important.  Sex trafficking in particular doesn't get the kind of attention it needs.  Looking at that decision from further back however, it makes a bit of sense.  A documentary on sex trafficking will pull in more attention and funding than one on micro nutrients and efficacy metrics.  And a chunk of people who watch the documentary will go off and immediately start reading the book (me), so I suppose it was an effective marketing strategy.

This book is important, yes, but it is also compelling.  Kristof and WuDunn are excellent story tellers.  They make you care about each and every one of the people they highlight and the many dozens of causes those people support.  They manage to capture the magnitude of these problems without making you feel helpless.  Rather leaving you drowning in a sea of unfillable need, they empower you with tools to do good.  A Path Appears is a must read for anyone who wants to make a positive difference in the world, whether in your own neighborhood or on the other side of the world.  And if you haven't read their earlier book, Half the Sky, do that right now.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Well hello, poor sad dusty neglected old blog.  It's been a while.  I never called, I never wrote.  Let's jump back into the swing of things with a review.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns--Rae Carson
September 2011 by Greenwillow
423 pages--Goodreads

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

This book has been floating around in my periphery for a while, but it looked like just another generic fantasy adventure, so for the longest time I didn't bother picking it up.  Boy, was that a mistake.  I've been missing out on a fascinating world, endearing characters, and a plot that is at times an intensely satisfying slow-burn and at others a compelling page-turner.  From the very beginning of the novel, even when not much was happening, I couldn't put the book down.

As interesting as the plot is, where Carson truly shines is in getting you to care about the characters.  From surly, little Prince Rosario to the genuine, sweet Humberto and even the aloof and weak King Alejandro.  You can't help but want to know more about them, and spend more time watching them live out their stories.

I also really enjoyed the development of the mystery surrounding the Godstone, its powers and mythology, and Elisa's place as God’s chosen one.  The way Carson wove in the previous stone-bearers, especially the ones who had failed, was really interesting.

The book certainly isn't perfect.  Carson saves most of the world building for books two and three, leaving the setting a bit underdeveloped in this first installment.  And the spinning Godstone bellybutton amulet at the end was more than a little bit hokey.  But at that point, I just didn’t care.  I have fallen for this series hook line and sinker.  I’ve devoured book two and am well into book three.


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