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Books About Poverty
Books, historically, impress on people in ways no other medium can. Their value is indisputable and has proven a necessity throughout time as a means to communicate and collect knowledge. Literature covers an array of genres, from horror to romance, technology to business—a book can really contain anything. In today’s complex world, people also use books to spread the news of relevant issues, and specifically, can spread the news of global poverty. Publishers have published hundreds of books about poverty in the last century alone, but a few have shone through in recent years. If anyone wants to become more informed about global poverty, the list of books about poverty below would be a perfect way to start.

5 Good Books About Poverty

  1. The End of Poverty” by Jeffery Sachs takes a look at poverty from an economic standpoint. The author, both an avid traveler and economist himself, utilizes both analytical research and personal experience in developing nations to provide an in-depth assessment of global poverty. His travels through Bolivia, India, China, Russia and Africa complete the picture of global poverty he tries to address. At the same time, he provides insight on how to escape poverty through the perspective of global economics. The unique economic standpoint permits not only a glimpse into the issues but also ideas of how to fight them.
  2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers” snapshots the life of a settlement just outside the airport of Mumbai, India. Author Katharine Boo eloquently follows the stories of various individuals living in the area as a way to highlight poverty in India. She also utilizes the narrative to explore controversial themes within the Indian context, from politics to economics to religion. As a nonfiction bestseller, the book won a National Book Award in 2012. With a central focus on the developing parts of India and a strong written backbone, this book about poverty offers great insight into a complex issue of the world.
  3. How China Escaped the Poverty Trap” captures the country’s development from a struggling nation to an economic powerhouse with a global standing. Taking into account China’s entire development holistically, author Yuen Yuen Ang frames his analysis with a combination of history, economics, politics and general sentiments of the Chinese throughout the years. In addition to an isolated look at China, Ang finds methods of comparison between other nations as they rose into prominence, such as the United States. This book about poverty showcases how a country can come up from poverty and become an established force in the world.
  4. A Poverty of Rights” analyzes Brazil’s governmental growth and the effect it has had on the nation’s poorest classes. Though the country has grown to protect most rights of its citizens, it seems that the country left out the lower classes during the developmental period, resulting in difficulty for these people to even survive in their own country. Author Brodwyn Fischer assesses the damage through both a political and legislative perspective, highlighting both the progress of the country and the challenges it still faces.
  5. Poverty in South Africa: Past and Present” explores the persistent nature of poverty in Africa, both of today’s times and of the past. Author Colin Bundy’s book about poverty, published in 2018, is able to provide an accurate account of the trouble times due to several factors. It takes a look at Africa’s society from various perspectives, including (though not limited to) historical, economic, financial and political. The book focuses on the root factors affecting poverty in Africa to try and answer the question of why the country has yet to develop further in today’s modern world. This work assesses Africa’s situation on a logical scale, allowing the reader to view challenges with an objective thought process.

Books have a way of capturing a concept more holistically than any other form of record. While they can contain basic information, authors also have the distinct ability to make an audience feel and empathize with the subject. As such, books are also the perfect way to discuss poverty. Readers are able to learn about the issues and also visualize them with immense detail. They are truly a way to spread the word about poverty.

Eleanora Kamerow
Photo: Unsplash

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Some stories are just too big to tackle in the newspaper – and global poverty is one of them. The past few years have seen an incredible amount of literature from authors who are experienced in the deeply embedded issue of poverty and are now putting their storytelling skills towards the fight against it. These three recently published texts provide a knowledgeable glimpse into the problems of the world today, and are perfect for a reader with a humanitarian mind.

1. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

A love story is not the traditional plot line for a novel delving into issues of corruption, violence, poverty and racism. Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz, however, expertly intertwines these in his account of failed and messy romance, set against the backdrop of an immigrant neighborhood in New Jersey. The novel follows the narrator, Yunior, across various stages of his adult life, as he struggles to navigate the difficulties of human relationships, further complicated by his racial, economic, and gender identity.

Through Yunior, Diaz challenges what it means to be a young Latino man from the Dominican Republic now living in the United States. This means breaking down a range of stereotyped assumptions, as well as internalized insecurities. Additionally, Diaz sheds light on the depth of poverty in both of the narrator’s home countries, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. Global poverty is a powerfully destructive force, which alters the characters’ lives in unexpected ways.  Still, though, it cannot destroy Yunior’s strong emotional attachment to his Dominican heritage.

2. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Images of Haiti, the western hemispheres poorest nation, have flooded the media in recent years, showing a nation struggling with natural disaster, political turmoil, and horrible living conditions. In her new novel, Danticat presents an alternate and more insightful image of family, love and community.

Danticat’s characters are certainly not immune to the structural problems of poverty and corruption. The novel focuses on the heart-wrenching decision of one fisherman to give up his daughter, Claire, so as to provide her with a better life. However, it also portrays individuals eager to fight back against the outside injustices that have augmented their situation, through political activism. Overall, Danticat presents a beautiful story illuminating the humanity and agency of the Haitian community.

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Poverty is often hidden in plain sight, as this non-fiction Pulitzer Prize nominee seeks to describe. Boo, a former journalist, gives a touching and tragic account of her time in Mumbai, where the poorest of the community live in direct contact with the most affluent, although their neighborhoods remain socially isolated.

The story is one of upward mobility, highlighting the unique hardships of a family from the Mumbai slums of Annawadi hindering their success. Boo describes individuals who have aspirations shared by many universally, such as finding a better job, wanting security for their loved ones and renovating the kitchen.  However, the starkly divided social dynamic accompanying poverty in India is distinctively interpreted.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, NPR
Photo: Extraordinary Experiences

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Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo spent years in Annawadi, a slum outside the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, India. With most people living without electricity or stable income in makeshift shelters, the slum stands in stark contrast to the bustling airport and luxury hotels a few miles away.  Over the course of her stay, Boo followed the lives of the people that call Annawadi home. She describes the stories she heard and the events she saw in her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Boo introduces us to many residents such as Asha, who uses the corrupt political climate to gain influence and prestige. Her daughter, Maniu, studies education and rejects many of the gender norms of her society.

Young children in the village compete for short-term jobs at the Mumbai hotels. These children are easily exploited and often work for next-to-nothing in stressful conditions before collecting garbage to sell as scraps and recyclables.

Corrupt police and vague laws govern the people of Annawadi. Mysterious deaths are not investigated, false accusations fly around without evidence and gangs run the streets. Religious tension is obvious as Muslim families are singled out in the predominately-Hindu village.

Though Boo paints a dark picture of poverty in India, there is still hope. International organizations are moving in to help the people in India, especially since the slums of the region are in dire need of schools, permanent housing and job opportunities. The children of the region believe that one day they will have permanent jobs in Mumbai, own a house and send their own children to school.  The young girls in the village also believe that the time has come to stand up for their rights and make a living for themselves.  Furthermore, children are becoming motivated to stay in school while families plan to move on to permanent housing projects.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, New York Times
Photo: Vintage 3D