The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty

Nina Munk. Doubleday, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-52581-7
Vanity Fair contributing editor Munk (Fools Rush In: Jerry Levin, Steve Case, and the Unmaking of AOL Time Warner) spent six years chronicling the Millennium Villages Project, the pet project that lauded economist Sachs (The End of Poverty) launched in 2006. The project’s goal was an audacious attempt to prove Sachs’s well-intentioned, but ultimately naïve theories about ending extreme poverty in Africa by focusing on a handful of carefully selected villages with the expectation that their halo effect would spread throughout the country. Munk artfully observes how Sachs’s infectious enthusiasm and optimism bring attention (and funding, including $120 million from George Soros) to the fledgling organization at home and abroad. Sachs ably illustrates how tactics like lacing mosquito nets with insecticides to fight malaria can make significant headway in achieving a larger goal of helping communities improve their circumstances and chances for development.” It’s a noble effort, but Sachs and his compatriots soon find that they wildly underestimated the difficulty of distributing those crucial nets, the impact of drought, as well as the learned helplessness of the recipients. All of these factors contribute to a less-than-ideal outcome. Students of economic policy and altruistic do-gooders alike will find Munk’s work to be a measured, immersive study of a remarkable but all-too-human man who let his vision get the best of him. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 04/29/2013
Release date: 09/10/2013
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