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Top International Development Books—From the Field

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In search of inspiring, motivating, knowledge-boosting books to add to our to-read piles this year, we asked our network to share the International Development book they always recommend. Ahead, graduate students, educators, analysts, activists, CEOs, and all-around successful International Development folk reveal the books that helped them get where they are today. Some chose powerhouse contributions to the field, while others were inspired by stories of entrepreneurship, education and regional examples of growth. Here are 20 books that we can’t wait to read and re-read! 

  • Development as Freedom – Amartya Sen

A favorite macro-lens book among many. One PhD candidate on working on economic development and climate change commented that it broadened the scope of what development entailed to human capabilities, political freedoms and the means to achieve a life “a person has reason to value.

  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty – Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson 
  • Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa – Dambisa Moyo
  • The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics – Tania Murray Li

A Masters in International Development candidate cited that the work is “lengthy due to its anthropological base, but the theory emerged from all that primary data collection is something you will remember every time you read about a new, exciting, amazing development project.”

  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World -Tracy Kidder

One Global Studies and Political Science Professor weighed in saying that “As an undergrad, I was moved by (the book) because it allowed me see the connections between politics, public health, and development.”

  • Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much – Sendhil Mullainathan
  • Postcolonialism, Decoloniality and Development (2nd Edition) – Cheryl McEwan

An experienced Development consultant noted that “While the first edition published in 2009 is very good, the second edition is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the complex link between postcolonial theory, decoloniality and development studies.”

  • Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed – James C. Scott
  • State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery – Atul Kohli
  • Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective – Ha-Joon Chang
  • Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail – Paul Polak
  • Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty – Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo 
  • Las venas abiertas de America Latina (The Open Veins of Latin America) – Eduardo Galeano
  • How China Escaped the Poverty Trap – Yuen Yuen Ang
  • Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty – Muhammad Yunus
  • Just Give Money to the Poor: The Development Revolution from the Global South – Joseph Hanlon, Armando Barrientos, and David Hulme

One Consultant and Political Science PhD highlights this book because it “explains that giving financial aid to poor people directly does work to alleviate poverty by empowering people to take their own choices on how they allocate money, rather than taking a paternalistic approach to aid.”

  • The Change Imperative: Creating the Next Generation NGO – Paul Ronalds
  • Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation – Yves Engler

An Antipoverty expert and OXFAM Canada member revealed, “I was shocked for example on how much “aid” Canada has spent on the continent over the year in so many ways.”

  • Ripples from the Zambezi: Passion, Entrepreneurship, and the Rebirth of Local Economies – Ernesto Sirolli
  • Grey Sunshine: Stories from Teach For India – Sandeep Rai

Applying for jobs or want to discuss post-PhD options? Our Ilkmade Experts are here to help. From deciding on which programs are aligned with your goals to application review and interview prep, we’ve got you covered. Book a free 15-minute consultation here to see how we can support you through the tough decisions.

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