The Well Read Rotarian: On A Literal Point of View

the-rotarian-cover-jul16The other day I got hold of The Rotarian August 2013 issue and it had this article that really captivated me. It was called “The Well-Read Rotarian”. It simply talks about books that have relevance on the six areas of focus of Rotary. During this Rotary year (2016-17) getting an opportunity to read some of these books may be enhance our knowledge on how best to achieve our theme for the year.


We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch, 1998

The author went to Rwanda months after the genocide, while the nation’s wounds, were fresh, to try to understand how the massacre of 800,000 people in 100 days, most at the hands of their neighbors, could have happened. “Every survivor wonders why he is alive,” a priest tells him. Gourevitch is writing a second book, examining how Tutsis and Hutus have worked together to help Rwanda recover, that’s slated for release next year, the 20th anniversary of the genocide.

 The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, 1990.

This collection of short stories describes a handful of U.S troops plodding through the jungles of Vietnam. A tale of kids with guns a long way from home, O’Brien book conveys the cost of war for everyone involved.

 First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung, 2000

Ung was five years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, resulting in the deaths of two million people. Her account begins as she watches two soldiers lead her doomed father from the family home, then continues with her years spent in labor camps and as a child soldier. Today, she has channeled her grief into work as an activist against land mines.


Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder, 2003

There is no outsider who knows Haiti and its ills better than Paul Farmer, and no writer better suited to telling his story than Tracy Kidder. The author spent months with the “poor people’s doctor,” sketching out Farmer’s journey from Harvard to Haiti. The account is as much about the challenges of global health as it is about the hard choices that such a life demands.

 Moloka’I by Alan Brennert, 2003

For centuries, leprosy was one of the most feared and misunderstood diseases on earth. Kalaupapa, the settlement in Hawaii, USA, where people were exiled once they exhibited any sign of the disease, embodied this prejudice. In this historical novel, a young girl is quarantined for life, but as she grows up, refuses to surrender to despair

 My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS by Abraham Verghese, 1994

In rural Tennessee, USA, in the mid-1980s, a young Indian physician treats the town’s first AIDS patients and the unexpected wave that follows. His memoir is an account of one community’s struggle to confront its prejudices.


Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind by Brian Fagan, 2011

The author travels from the water temples of Bali to the canals of ancient Egypt and Iran to the massive water system of the Maya and Angkor people, exploring how access to water has led to the rise and fall of civilizations. “History teaches us,” Fagan writes, “that the societies that last lonest are those that treat water with respect, as an elixir of life, a gift from the gods. We seem to have forgotten this compelling lesson”.

 The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George, 2008

We often ignore the subject of human waste for reasons of delicacy, even though there are seven billion eating, drinking, digesting humans who’ve got to go somewhere. The author balances humor with urgency as she looks at the evolution of the sewer, the rise of the robo-toilet, the 2.6 billion people who have no toilet at all, the struggle over public defecation in China and India, and even the $23.4 million toilet on the space shuttle.

 The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman, 2011

Most people agree that a water crisis is on the way, as the earth approaches eight billion inhabitants. For Fishman, the true cause of the crisis is that we don’t think about water. In The Big Thirst, he describes how we use this resource for myriad things: keeping our lights on, launching rockets, and making microchips, not to mention keeping our bodies (more than half water) alive. Fishman reports from Australia, India and the United States to find out how certain places address their water challenges. He is hopeful, noting that the looming problems will be “eminently solvable”, if only we stop ignoring them.


Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail by Paul Polak, 2008

“I hate books about poverty that make you feel guilty,” says Polak, who argues for a rethinking of the concept of aid. He lays out three myths of poverty eradication: that we can donate it away, that rising GDP will erase it, and that big businesses can help everyone. Rather, Polak says, the world’s poor need to be viewed as a market and treated like customers. His grassroots approach calls for helping the “dollar-a-day” poor to earn more income. Only in this way, Polak asserts, can they find their way out of poverty.

 Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo, 2012

The author set out to learn how anyone born in a Mumbai slum could possibly rise to middle-class stability. She spent almost four years reporting on the poorest workers in the booming Indian economy and their struggle to escape extreme poverty.

 Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen, 1999

For too long, Sen argues, economists have viewed development as a measure of material well-being – but that misses the point, he says. Sen wants to shift the debate so the goal is to raise GDP and to give more people more choices about their lives. He quotes Aristotle: “Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; it is merely useful of the sake of something else’.


Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, 1991

Part memoir and part family history, Wild Swans reveals what China’s transformation over the last century has meant to women. The author writes about her grandmother, a general’s concubine; her mother, who married a Communist Party official who fell out with Mao Zedong; and her escape to study in England. This book is a reminder of how a woman’s choices hinge on the choices that society offers.

By the Lake of Sleeping Children: The Secret Life of the Mexican Border by Luis Alberto Urrea, 1996

The piles of trash around the world grow taller with every year, as do the number of people who are scraping by on what they can salvage in these community dumps. Urrea tells the story of one such place in Tijuana, where the Dompe (the landfill) divides the living from the dead, the usable from the useless, and the things we need from the things we throw away.

 Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth, 2002

Worth, a nurse and midwife, describes the danger and pain of childbirth that women faced in the slums of East London in the 1950s – and that women today endure in the poorest parts of the world. A BBC series based on the book has completed its second season.


Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough, 2008

Geoffrey Canada set out to fix schools in impoverished neighborhoods by changing society. His innovative and controversial Harlem Children’s Zone is a laboratory for testing new theories that could be replicated nationwide. The effort includes a wide variety of social programs to drive kids toward college. This book reveals the deeper causes of poverty, and what it takes to dig them out and plant something new.

 Leaving Microsoft to Chang the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children by John Wood, 2006

As a high-flying executive leading Microsoft’s expansion into Asia, Wood was trekking in Nepal when he visited a school library: a huge room with a locked cabinet, containing a handful of treasured books by James Joyce, Danielle Steel, and Umberto Eco (in Italian), among other cast-offs from backpackers. The headmaster suggested that Wood might return someday with more books. And he did. Wood, whom the media have called “21st-century Andrew Carnegie,” left his job to start Room to Read, which has provided more than 11 million books to schools in 10 countries. His account is about global literacy, but it’s also a guide to creating a meaningful life.

 Courtesy of The Rotarian August 2013



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