By Colleen Peterson

With an interest in poverty and development throughout college, I have read several books related to the topic and I was curious to read the book Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. In this relatively new book (2011), authors Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo present numerous studies, statistics, and conclusions on various topics related to the lives of those living in poverty. In contrast to other books I have read on the topic, the authors provide an extensive number of case studies and research on various factors related to poverty. While many authors base their claims on a few studies, Banerjee and Duflo present numerous studies in each chapter to support their conclusions. Not only do they provide interesting and unique case studies to read but they also present information in a way that connects the reader to those living in poverty. Instead of “othering” the poor, the authors describe the similarities between all people through the use of stories that explain why people living in poverty make the decisions they do, which is oftentimes the same process a person with financial stability would use. If we are going to create sustainable change in the lives of the poor, we must see the similarities between us in order to work with them rather than over them.

Although some readers may be overwhelmed by the number of case studies presented in the book, the authors adequately portray the fact that there are several interrelated factors that lead one into and/or keep one living in poverty. For each sub-topic, such as education, hunger, and policy, the authors raise multiple questions and provide the challenges and solutions for various communities in the world. The different cases do not leave the reader with a universal solution to eradicate global poverty but the authors succeed at displaying the uniqueness of each case of poverty. In addition, they give hope to the reader that there are many ways to alleviate this global problem but we must take the time to understand the current circumstances of each case.

Regardless of one’s academic background and knowledge, the various topics covered in the book ensure that the reader will connect with at least one or multiple sections. Despite the authors’ use of economic-based studies that highlight per capita growth, the book is easy to follow and understand without an economic background.

While I could elaborate more about specific frustrations or points of interest in the book, it appears more important to understand the overall message that one can gain from this book: While eradicating poverty may seem like an impossible goal to achieve, we must think critically about the ways in which we can work together—as elected officials, non-governmental organizations, communities, and individuals—to empower and help those most in need. While one may believe or assume they are radically different than the poor, we are much more similar than many authors tend to portray.  There may not be one solution to prevent or pull all people from poverty but progress can be made by using a patient, step-by-step approach in which sustainable change can occur.


Book Review:
Poor Economics
Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
2011 Public Affairs
ISBN: 978-1-58648-798-0


Colleen Peterson is an ELCA World Hunger intern.