A powerful portrayal of Jeffrey Sachs's ambitious quest to end global poverty
"The poor you will always have with you," to cite the Gospel of Matthew 26:11. Jeffrey Sachs—celebrated economist, special advisor to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and author of the influential bestseller The End of Poverty—disagrees. In his view, poverty is a problem that can be solved. With single-minded determination he has attempted to put into practice his theories about ending extreme poverty, to prove that the world's most destitute people can be lifted onto "the ladder of development."
In 2006, Sachs launched the Millennium Villages Project, a daring five-year experiment designed to test his theories in Africa. The first Millennium village was in Sauri, a remote cluster of farming communities in western Kenya. The initial results were encouraging. With his first taste of success, and backed by one hundred twenty million dollars from George Soros and other likeminded donors, Sachs rolled out a dozen model villages in ten sub-Saharan countries. Once his approach was validated it would be scaled up across the entire continent. At least that was the idea.
For the past six years, Nina Munk has reported deeply on the Millennium Villages Project, accompanying Sachs on his official trips to Africa and listening in on conversations with heads-of-state, humanitarian organizations, rival economists, and development experts. She has immersed herself in the lives of people in two Millennium villages: Ruhiira, in southwest Uganda, and Dertu, in the arid borderland between Kenya and Somalia. Accepting the hospitality of camel herders and small-hold farmers, and witnessing their struggle to survive, Munk came to understand the real-life issues that challenge Sachs's formula for ending global poverty.
The Idealist is the profound and moving story of what happens when the abstract theories of a brilliant, driven man meet the reality of human life.
Read an Excerpt
Maybe it’s having had the good experience of hearing, as I have many, many times, “Impossible, impossible, impossible, impossible, impossible—obvious.” If you’ve gone through that over a period of twenty-five years, it helps you to filter out a lot of what you’re told...
Praise for The Idealist
“The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty is a devastating takedown of Mr. Sachs’s technocratic fantasies. It is essential reading for anyone who thinks that brilliant people with the right interventions can save the world.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Nina Munk’s The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, is both a tragicomedy and a genuine tragedy, a fascinating portrait of an innovative thinker as well as a fair-minded examination of his methods. It’s also a testament to the enduring value of old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting—it should be read not just in policy circles but also at J-schools.”
“Munk artfully observes how Sachs’s infectious enthusiasm and optimism bring attention [to the Millennium Villages Project]…. 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”
“Nina Munk’s book is an excellent—and moving—tribute to the vision and commitment of Jeffery Sachs, as well as an enlightening account of how much can be achieved by reasoned determination.”
—Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and author of Development as Freedom
"Nina Munk’s incisive, moving and elegantly written report takes us to Africa to see first-hand that the poor don’t need one more central planner with the prescription for prosperity. What the poor need is what really made the rich rich – the legal devices to join their continent’s vast, dispersed natural and human resources into valuable combinations through their own collective action."
—Hernando de Soto, President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, and author of The Mystery of Capital
“The Idealist confirms that in the quest to end extreme poverty in Africa, the truly wise and resonant voices are those of the Africans themselves.”
—Roger Thurow, author of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change
"Jeffrey Sachs is a global phenomenon. No one thinks as big, makes a more passionate case for foreign aid, and works as hard to make the dream of ending global poverty a reality. This terrific book gives you a ringside seat on Sachs’ tireless global quest to get donors, governments, international agencies, private firms, and poor farmers to buy into his vision of economic development. Nina Munk’s portrayal goes beyond the man and his dream; it is a clear-headed depiction of the challenges the world’s poorest face as they struggle to improve their lives. "
—Dani Rodrik, the Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and author of The Globalization Paradox