There are hundreds of academic texts on humanitarian aid, several memoirs and numerous books criticising the sector. For those considering a career in the sector, and those still new to the sector, here is our list of ten books that together represent a good introduction to the challenges, criticisms, adventures and hope that together provide an insight.
In no particular order, are:
1. Dr Marcel Junod ‘Warrior Without Weapons’ 1982 – the memoir of an ICRC delegate from 1935 to 1945. Talks through the role of the ICRC, the Geneva Conventions, and about what being a humanitarian was like back in the early days.
2. Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire’s ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ 2003 – there are so many books on Rwanda but this one is heartfelt, harsh and highlights the problems faced by UN workers, particularly peacekeepers, in the field. Long.
3. Mark Duffield’s ‘Global Governance and the New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security’ 2001 – excellent, academic but searing critique of humanitarian aid. Essential explanation of the merging of the development and security agendas, pretty key if you want to understand contemporary ‘coherences’ or ‘stabilisation’ approaches.
4. George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ 1933 – a fascinating counterpoint as it covers Orwell’s first contact with poverty during the pre-WW1 period and describes the ‘aid’ efforts by the then charitable institutions – churches etc. These organisations are basically providing early cash transfers / grants, which provides a degree of historical perspective to the sector.
5. Samantha Power’s ‘Chasing the Flame: One man’s fight to save the world’ 2008 – partly because it’s such a romantic story, partly because it talks about increasing violence towards aid workers, partly because it’s a bit visionary, and it also covers crises not covered in some of the others above such as East Timor.
6. Michael Newman’s ‘Humanitarian Intervention: Confronting the Contradictions’ 2009 – an in-depth but logical discussion of the problems surrounding humanitarian intervention.
7. Linda Polman’s ‘War Games: The story of aid and war in modern times’ 2009 – a critical perspective of the sector. Harsh but true.
8. David Rieff’s ‘Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in crisis’ 2002 – a critical perspective of the sector. Harsh but true.
9. Fiona Terry’s ‘Condemned to Repeat?: The paradox of humanitarian action’ 2002 – academic polemic on the dangers of humanitarian aid.
10. Dr James Maskaylk’s ‘Six Months in Sudan: A young doctor in a wartorn village’ 2010 – easy read. Field level memoir by expat aid worker.
… and three you really shouldn’t:
1. Heidi Postlewait, Kenneth Cain and Andrew Thomson’s ‘Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone’ 2006 – self indulgent ‘must read’ that doesn’t live up to the hype.
2. Corinne Hofmann’s ‘The White Masai’ 2001 – too appalling to even merit a write up.
3. Beyond Borders 2003 – a film starring Angelina Jolie as an aid worker.