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Tsunami Chronicles

Reading and Review Pointers

At over 600 pages and 250,000 words, Tsunami Chronicles is not a small book. This was unavoidable. The depth, complexity and substance of the story demanded that it be explored at length. Even so, it does pose a problem for interested readers and reviewers. Which part should they focus on? What perspective should they take? While the foreword gives an overall feel for the contents of the book, this web page offers more by providing pointers to particular areas readers and reviewers might find of particular interest. 

American readers and reviewers might like to pay close attention to Chapter 23 on the USAID Aceh program and Chapter 32 on the reconstruction failures in Haiti due to European political interference. Chapters 26 to 28 on the politics of the World Bank and European Commission could also tantalise.

British readers and reviewers might also be interested in Chapter 26 as it offers some insights into DFID’s contribution along with the difficulties and lost opportunities involved in putting a government’s money though a Multi Donor Fund instead of spending it directly. However, given the ongoing UK debate about the relevance of the European Union, it is to Chapters 27 and 28 to which I would turn for a critique on the role of the European Commission. Chapter 31 on the drubbing given the World Bank as trustee for the Multi Donor Fund should also be of interest as DFID shared part of the blame if only by association.

European readers and reviewers might likewise be interested in the same chapters as their British counterparts—26, 27, 28, 31—as well as Chapter 9 on the European contribution to peace keeping in Aceh and Chapter 32 on how the European Commission made a mess of things in Haiti. Those who dislike how a bloated, self-important bureaucracy like the European Commission behaves will find some comfort in the general critique. Those who admire the Commission might like to vent their outrage at an audacious author who would dare criticize their great institution.

Norwegian readers and reviewers in particular might be interested in their country’s small but especially important contribution to coordination and UN system’s coherence mentioned in Chapters 25 and 36.

Australian readers and reviewers should be interested in Book 3, with particular emphasis on the discussion concerning the Australian aid program in Chapters 19 and 20. The meatier bits are in Chapter 20. Journalists from The Australian might like to use the critique contained in it to attack the author wholeheartedly while those from other news outlets might like to use the discussion to pillory The Australian. If Australian journalists don’t get too carried away with all of that, they might like to also read Chapter 22 for what it reveals about the management of the Australian Red Cross.

Reviewers covering Indonesia in particular and Asia more generally might take a special interest in Books 1 and 2, Book 5 in terms of on how Indonesia took on the world; Chapter 38 on Dr Kuntoro’s Mangkusubroto’s leadership, Chapter 40 on how Aceh’s recovery helped define Indonesia, and Chapter 41 that speculates on the nation’s future.

Disaster-prone countries should find Book 1 of interest, particularly if they dealing with armed conflict, Book 2 in terms of managing the internal political strains can severely test dedicated recovery agencies, Book 3 in terms of managing and protecting international technical advisors sent to help them, Book 4 in terms of the pressures brought by international involvement and the games that can result, Book 5 and particularly Chapter 31 for the stresses and cultural shifts that can plague disaster recovery, and Book 6 for its more abstract analysis of program dynamics, policies, enablers and leadership.

Donors, aid agencies, NGOs and multilateral agencies like the UN and World Bank might find Chapters 19 and 20 in Book 3, all of Book 4, Chapter 32 in Book 5, and Chapters 33-36 in Book 6 of greatest interest.

Consultants might be interested in the whole of Book 3 as it is all about the often highly-charged political role technical advisors play in disasters and development.

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