8 Books about Poverty

8 Books abut Poverty you should read

Looking into books about poverty and international development, there are a few classics that are a must for everyone in the field to read. Many books have been written about the issues, and from many different angles. The list is long, but this is my selection of 8 must-read books about poverty, making it a collection of leading voices in the debate on International Development. Look into your local library or online.


Out of Poverty Paul Polak – CEO of International Development Enterprises (iDE), Windhorse International and D-Rev – has dedicated his life to finding practical solutions in the economical market for the Poor. In “Out of Poverty” he describes through a series of personal experiences the concepts and ideas that he has worked with to help lifting people out of poverty. His work is based on finding ways to inspire the poor to find ways in the economic market, by producing affordable products with a positive social impact. Polak’s book inspires to action, gives us a toolset for working with the poor. Through his experiences, you gain a deep insight on the daily struggles of the poor and you gain respect for the courage, dedication and hardship of the less fortunate.

“Development as Freedom” – Amarty Sen


Indian professor Amarty Sen – Laureate of the Nobel Price on Economics 1998 – published “Development as Freedom” in 1999, summarising his research and understanding of international development. Sen was among the first to recognise the complexity of fighting poverty and development issues. While many development efforts had been focused on economy, he mobilises the reader to change point of view. In his speech, Sen developed a list of factors to understand Poverty as the absence of freedom in political choice and absence of transparency in relations between people. Poverty also consists of lack of freedom of opportunities or lack of access to credit, education, health and economic protection. “Development as Freedom” gives you a much deeper and wider understanding of how capabilities and access to them scar the life of so many people. The book opens your eyes in terms of understanding the complexity of poverty.

“Dead Aid” – Dambisa Moyo

Dead AidAs a former banker working for Gloman Sachs, the Zambian writer Dambisa Moyo gained a deep insight in modern economy mechanics and how the international system is affecting the countries in the South. With a special focus on initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa, Moyo writes how International Aid has influenced the development and growth of poor countries negatively. Moyo lays out – through a long list of examples – how the rich countries have blocked the further development of Africa. She makes it very clear that Development Aid is a broken system and she argues for letting countries develop themselves without interference. She argues for a complete retreat of all current international aid and makes a convincing case for alternative solutions.  This book is a must read for everyone who is planning a career in the international development scene.

“The Blue Sweater” – Jacqueline Novogratz

The Blue SweaterCEO of Acumen Fund Jacqueline Novogratz wrote The Blue Sweater as her personal story in the scene of international development. Trough the description of her first steps with local initiatives in micro-credit projects in Rwanda to running one of the largest NGOs in the world you gain a deep insight in the problems of the poor and the impacts that can be made, when made with the right approach. Trough developing local business and local social business models, by creating and keeping dignity for the poor, Novogratz proves how empowering the creativity and dedication of local people can lead to great development. She demonstrates how to effectively bridge the gap between rich and poor with a system based on local initiatives, supported with loans (loans, not donations!) from donors in the North and so supporting local, social businesses to become self-reliant and with an impg act. As a reader you will find dozens of inspiring examples of people creating impact in their communities and as a result way beyond.

“Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” – C.K. Prahalad

The-fortune-at-the-bottom-of-the-pyramidC.K. Prahalad, together with Stuart L. Hart wrote this book with a solution-oriented mission in the international challenge of global poverty. While not going into top-down criticism, his approach is based on local and bottom-up efforts to improve the life of the Poor. Trough a long series of well worked out arguments and examples, C.K. Prahalad manages to bring a strong message of fighting poverty through increasing profits at the bottom of the pyramid. He argues that only people can liberate themselves and that the market at the bottom of the pyramid is unexplored and has huge potential for both profits and development on both local and larger scale.

“The Bottom Billion” – Paul Collier

Bottom_BillionIn his book “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It” Paul Collier, professor in Economics at Oxford University, explores how come poor countries fail to develop and thrive despite the international efforts that have been carried out. The book is a leading source in understanding poverty traps on a national scale. He describes how countries get trapped into poverty for a variety of reasons; conflicts, natural resources, landlocked and bad governance. In what seems a very objective analysis of the status quo of poor countries, he argues for innovative thinking in the international aid scene by mobilising for changing focus of aid agencies and for appropriate interventions on military, political and economical level.

“Poor Economics”– Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee

Poor_EconomicsBy far my favourite book on the list, and definitely a must-read book for anyone interested in working with the Poor. Written from the Poverty Lab at MIT, Duflo and Banerjee make a highly necessary and focused research of the international poverty reduction efforts. Duflo and Banerjee approach poverty reduction as a scientific social research. The Poverty Lab runs evidence-based randomised control trials with initiatives in the different sectors of aid work, resulting in a clear proof of which projects have impact and which don’t have. The book will give you a very good insight of how the poor really think and go through their daily struggles. You reach the understanding by evidence-based research and analysis. This eye-opening research ends up being a great manual for any NGO out there, giving evidence and explanations for which projects to create in order to generate maximum impact.

“The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good” – William Easterly

White Man's BurdenThe White Man’s Burden made Easterly into a leading voice in the criticism on the efforts of the West to develop the co-called poor nations. Through a series of clear data and arguments, Easterly demonstrates how extremely ineffective the international aid sector has been. As the title describes, Easterly goes into how the North and especially the white man has created the economic status of many of the countries in the South. As a reader you will get to understand how the methods being used to fight poverty do not work and even destroy economies of poor countries. Easterly argues for grassroots and bottom-up, indigenous efforts of fighting poverty.



You have a list about important books we should know about, or feel like we missed a book or 3. Please list them in the comments 🙂

Written by David Kerkhofs

8 Books about Poverty

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