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The Road to Hell

The Road to Hell

5.0 3
by Michael Maren, Carla Bolte (Designed by)

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A stunning personal narrative of best intentions gone awry, Michael Maren, at one time an aid worker and journalist in Somalia, writes of the failure of international charities, such as CARE and Save the Children, who he claims does anything but. Maren also attacks the United Nation's "humanitarian" missions are controlled by agribusinesses and infighting bureaucrats.


A stunning personal narrative of best intentions gone awry, Michael Maren, at one time an aid worker and journalist in Somalia, writes of the failure of international charities, such as CARE and Save the Children, who he claims does anything but. Maren also attacks the United Nation's "humanitarian" missions are controlled by agribusinesses and infighting bureaucrats.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Despite the overstated title, this book is a forceful and disturbing portrait of Western intervention in Somalia, plus an investigation of underscrutinized aid foundations. Perhaps because of the book's ambition, Maren's narrative is disjointed, but readers will find it worth the effort. "[D]oing relief and development work in the context of oppression is counterproductive," he asserts, and his personal experience in Somalia, where, after a Peace Corps stint in Kenya, he returned as an aid worker and journalist, bears this out. While the Cold War fueled aid to Somalia, much of the aid was channeled by local power brokers to further their own ends. Indeed, while Somalia was once self-sufficient, it is now chronically dependent on imports of foreign food. Maren is equally scathing about prominent charities such as CARE and Save the Children, which he terms mercenaries more concerned with self-perpetuation than actual famine relief. CARE, he charges, once shipped food to armed fighters in Somalia, while Save the Children "projects don't work." His portrait of the aid biz emphasizes that it is driven mainly by grain-trading companies eager to unload excess capacity, even as their advertisements feature starving victims. Maren's brief report from Rwanda suggests that there, too, aid is falling into the wrong hands and thus financing a war. Maren maintains that journalists are too dependent on such aid organizations to properly evaluate them, and he proposes that an independent agency be established for that purpose. (Jan.)
Library Journal
This book is a contribution to the growing critique of international aid, similiar in force of argument to Ian Hancock's Lords of Poverty, but both more focused and more tightly argued. Maren targets the deceptions of nongovernmental organizations in soliciting public donations and very effectively contrasts disaster realities against aid agency publicity and their abilities to protect and assist communities. Maren was an aid worker and journalist in Somalia during the famine and civil war there in the early 1990s. His firsthand observations and analysis of numerous documents of that international crisis provide a powerful and provocative account of the flaws, faults, and failings of U.S. charities, such as Save the Children and the United Nations in providing assistance in times of crises. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Bill Rau, Takoma Park, Md.
Kirkus Reviews
Maren hurls stinging accusations and makes them stick: He paints development agencies (such as CARE) as self-perpetuating opportunists, funding their significant overhead through the misery of the world's unfortunates.

Drawing on his own experience as an aid worker and journalist in Somalia and on the disastrous professional relationship there of aid worker Chris Cassidy with the relief organization Save the Children, Maren examines the economic and humanitarian damage done, ironically, by the very organizations that distribute free food or administer development projects in the name of famine relief. Somalia, of course, recently saw one of the world's largest mobilizations of humanitarian aid. But approximately two thirds of food shipments for refugees in Maren's area of Somalia were being stolen. Some of the stolen food was sold on the black market in order to purchase arms, which in turn escalated conflicts, often creating more refugees. Foreign aid destroyed what was left of local markets by flooding the country with cheap or free food, thus ruining the livelihood of many farmers. Others became "rich from food"; one Somali referred to his second wife as "CARE wife," because the overabundance of relief food he sold enabled him to marry again. Free food also created a disincentive for development- project participants. Somali nomads, for instance, traditionally disdainful of farming, were unlikely to take up agriculture when food was plentiful. Throughout, Maren unleashes caustic salvos against the relief industry—with substantiation. The book is tenaciously and passionately researched through interviews with key players and references to primary documents. Much of what Maren uncovers is shocking, some of it surreal. The agency AmeriCares, for instance, often serves corporate rather than relief interests; it sent 17 tons of Pop Tarts to Bosnia and 12,000 Maidenform bras to earthquake victims in Japan.

An uncompromising look at the thriving industry of relief agencies—which may do more harm than good to those they purport to serve.

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Free Press
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0.72(w) x 6.00(h) x 9.00(d)

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Road to Hell 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are very few books that can claim to fundamentally change the way you see the world. This is one of them. It brutally exposes the hypocrisy, corruption and inefficiency that will destroy forever the reader's attitude about foreign aid and overseas charitable work. A reader who wants to retain his belief in the myth that foreign aid actually benefits the poor and the starving of the third world should NOT read this book. It will shatter your illusions forever. After reading about how aid to third world countries ends up perpetuating the very conditions it is supposed to eradicate, how it enriches the corrupt elites of those countries and helps them consolidate their often violently dictatorial rule, and how a surprisingly large proportion of it ends up in the pockets of those actually running the charities, it becomes clear that foreign aid and charity may be part of the problem instead of the solution.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book will definitely challenge the way most of us view international aid organizations and domestic charities. Maren gives a thorough and straightforward history of international aid efforts and their true impact in the world. While much of the book is deservedly scathing of some organizations, Michael Maren handles the issue of charitable giving in a balanced and objective way. After reading The Road to Hell, it's impossible to view international aid in the same way. And that's a good thing. Americans, as a whole, could stand to leave their comfort zones (which include ignorance of international issues). I read this book, for the first time, almost a decade ago and since then I've encouraged countless others to read it as well. I highly recommend The Road to Hell for anyone who gives, of their time or money, to any charitable organizations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago