Recommended Reading

In this section of our website, as well as on pages related to specific topics, PIH intends to present suggestions for books, articles, films and other sources of information that might be of interest to people who share our commitment to health and social justice. These are not PIH publications (click here for PIH publications), nor does their appearance on this list imply that we endorse or agree with everything they say. What it does mean is that at least some of us found them informative, thought-provoking and, we hope, action-inspiring on matters of vital importance to the patients and communities where we work. This list is very much a work in progress that will grow over time to include more topics and titles.

 

HAITI

The Agronomist
A film that profiles Jean Dominique, a Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist. It includes historical footage of Haiti's vivid and tumultuous past; interviews with Dominique and Michele Montas (his heroic wife, life-long love, and extraordinary partner); and incorporates footage filmed before Dominique's assassination in April, 2000.

Aristide and the Endless Revolution
A complex historical truth emerges in Nicolas Rossier’s film, revealing the untold story of the 2004 coup in Haiti, as well as the systemic violence and human rights violations that erupted under the interim government. Through exclusive interviews with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Paul Farmer, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, Haiti de facto leader Gerard Latortue, Maxine Waters, Jeffrey Sachs, Noam Chomsky, Danny Glover, and many Haitian voices, the film explores the idea of the role of international interests in the tragic results leading up to and following the coup. The interviews also suggest that this was not the first nor the last time international interests have contributed to the historical poverty of Haiti.

Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
C.L.R. James

A classic and impassioned account of the first revolution in the Third World. Definitive account of the Haitian Revolution of 1794-1803, that became the model for Third World liberation movements from Africa to Cuba. It is simultaneously the story of the French colony of San Domingo, a place where the brutality of master toward slave was commonplace, and the story of a barely literate slave named Toussaint L'Ouverture, who led the black people of San Domingo in a successful struggle against successive invasions by colonizing powers, in the process helping form the first independent nation in the Caribbean.

Breath, Eyes, Memory
Krik? Krak!
The Dew Breaker
Edwidge Danticat

Danticat, an award-winning Haitian-American writer, evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people’s suffering and courage.

Caribbean Contours
Sidney Mintz and Sally Price, eds.

Essays on the history, politics, economics, demographics and culture of the Caribbean to provide an authoritative introduction to this complex and geographically fragmented region.

Caribbean Transformations
Sidney Mintz

Author points out that the Caribbean region was the first overseas outpost of European imperialism and capitalism and its people have been “peculiarly disenfranchised” beneficiaries of centuries of Western capitalist solicitude. Arguments based on an unparalleled range of fieldwork and social and cultural reconstructions.

Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment
Peter Hallward
For people interested in learning more about contemporary Haitian politics and U.S. policy, Peter Hallward's new book is one of the best books of its kind. Paul Farmer calls it "an excellent book, the best study of its kind."

From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean 1492-1969
Eric Williams

This arc of islands, separated by the languages and cultures of their colonizers, is joined by a common heritage and history: the story of sugar, which is inseparable from the history of slavery. A definitive work about a profoundly important but neglected and misrepresented area of the world.

In the Parish of the Poor: Writings from Haiti
Amy Wilentz (transl.)

“Haiti is the parish of the poor. In Haiti, it is not enough to heal wounds, for every day another wound opens up. It is not enough to give the poor food one day, to buy them antibiotics one day, to teach them to read a few sentences or to write a few words including their name…. The next day they will be starving again, feverish again, and they will never be able to buy the books that hold the words that might deliver them.” Essays, sermons, and speeches from the heart.

Life in a Haitian Valley
Melville Jean Herskovits

Groundbreaking anthropological account of Haiti as a tragic and revolutionary nation as experienced through the microcosm of the village Mireabalais.

Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader
Paul Farmer

Partner to the Poor collects his writings from 1988 to 2009 on anthropology, epidemiology, health care for the global poor, and international public health policy, providing a broad overview of his work.

The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier
Amy Wilentz
First person narrative of life in Haiti in the late 1980s, after Baby Doc Duvalier had fled and a military junta had seized power. Tells of the unrest and chaos that turned into mass strikes, riots, and other forms of violence among the Haitian peasantry and urban poor. Vivid and insightful picture of a country in turmoil, with exceptional descriptions of daily life.

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History
Sidney Mintz

While not strictly about the Caribbean, a fascinating exploration of how we as a people have identified with and sought to consume sugar over the past 1000 years and how that has affected us. Sugar is a highly labor-intensive industry. This need for labor caused the British to look to Africa and other places, including in Haiti, to find cheap or free labor. With sugar came slavery, and those slaves who did the plantation work generally worked in the Caribbean while the product they created was delivered to British aristocracy.

Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance
Beverly Bell
Narratives of women facing random arrests, sadistic torture, savage beatings and violent sexual abuse inflicted upon them by the state and by a sexist social structure. Historical and personal contexts for the narratives. A forum for indigenous women –mostly illiterate farmers, market women, labor organizer, a nurse, and others--to speak about their lives. United in their resistance to oppression. Inspiring resistance to the status quo. All are dedicated to the alleviation of poverty and believe that food, housing, and education are entitlements and that gender equity is inseparable from economic justice. Oral history.

When the Hands Are Many: Community Organization and Social Change in Rural Haiti
Jennie Marcelle Smith

Through their civil institutions and artistic expression, Haitian peasants, widely known as some of the world's most impoverished, politically disempowered, and illiterate citizens, debate the meanings of development, democracy, and the public good. Illustrates the philosophies, styles, and structures typical of social organization in rural Haiti with narrative portraits of peasant organizations engaged in agricultural work parties, business meetings, religious ceremonies, social service projects, song sessions, and other activities.

 

RWANDA

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
Romeo Dallaire
Former head of the late 1993 U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, Canadian general Dallaire's account of his failed mission recounts the horror of the genocide attempt against the Tutsis that killed 800,000 over three months. Failure of the UN to act as a horrifying—and entirely preventable—tragedy unfolded, is painted as unforgiveable and unfathomable.

The Silence
Gilles Peress

From the publisher’s website: In 1994 Gilles Peress traveled to Rwanda three times, observing and documenting the carnage among Hutus and Tutsis. He took jarring and intrepid photographs of genocide and a society in the process of self-destruction. This is not simply a book of news photographs…. The Silence is not just evidence of the Rwandan tragedy but a challenge to our conceptions about the deceptive stability of civil society…. Peress' images take us to the limits of life confronting us with the darkest sides of life.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda
Philip Gourevitch
Anatomy of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, in which more than 800,000 people were slaughtered “while the world looked on.” Provides a vivid history of the genocide's background, and an unforgettable account of what it means to survive in its aftermath. Documents the experience of tragedy through memories and interviews.

 

GUATEMALA

Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala
Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer

From the publisher's website: Bitter Fruit is a comprehensive and insightful account of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. First published in 1982, this book has become a classic, a textbook case of the relationship between the United States and the Third World. The authors make extensive use of U.S. government documents and interviews with former CIA and other officials. It is a warning of what happens when the United States abuses its power.

 

UNITED STATES

Iron-Jawed Angels
This film tells the remarkable and little-known story of a group of passionate and dynamic young women who put their lives on the line to fight for American women's right to vote. This true story has startling parallels to today, as the young activists struggle with issues such as the challenges of protesting a popular President during wartime and the perennial balancing act between love and career.

Sicko
In this 2007 documentary, director Michael Moore investigates health care systems and the plight of uninsured Americans. In the world's richest country, 45 million people have no health insurance, while HMOs grow in size and wealth. The film also explores the widespread use of antidepressants and their possible link to violent behavior. With his trademark humor and confrontational style, Moore asks the difficult questions to get to the truth behind today's health care.

William Sloane Coffin, An American Prophet
William Sloane Coffin, a progressive Christian, dedicated his life to the pursuit of universal civil and human rights and international peace. This film characterizes him as a man of incredible energy, intellectual prowess, charisma, and zeal for standing up for what is right. But what is most poignant is Coffin's commitment to justice. For him, the real "Axis of Evil" is environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash with weapons. He calls upon Christian congregations to wage war against global poverty and to join with people of other religions around the world in advocating global nuclear disarmament.

 

DEVELOPMENT AND GLOBALIZATION

Bamako
In this film, the impending divorce of bar singer Mele and her unemployed husband Chaka are juxtaposed with a mock trial against the World Bank and the IMF and the economic woes these financial institutions have inflicted on Africa. While African Civil Society spokespeople condemn the institutions, Mele and her husband struggle to save their marriage.

Life and Debt
Utilizing excerpts from the award-winning non-fiction text "A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid, this film is a woven tapestry of sequences focusing on the stories of individual Jamaicans whose strategies for survival and parameters of day-to-day existence are determined by the U.S. and other foreign economic agendas. The film shows the complexity of international lending, structural adjustment policies and free trade by revealing the day-to-day realities of the people whose lives they impact.

Lost Boys of Sudan
This Emmy-nominated documentary film follows two Sudanese refugees on an extraordinary journey from Africa to America. Orphaned as young boys in one of Africa's cruelest civil wars, the boys survive lion attacks and militia gunfire on their journey to a refugee camp in Kenya. From there, remarkably, they win passage to the United States. Safe at last from physical danger and hunger, but world away from everything familiar, they find themselves confronted with the abundance and alienation of contemporary American suburbia. 

Strength in What Remains
Tracy Kidder

Deo grew up in the mountains of Burundi, and survived a civil war and genocide before seeking a new life in America. In New York City he lived homeless in Central Park before finding his way to Columbia University. But Deo’s story really begins with his will to turn his life into something truly remarkable; he returns to his native country to help people there, as well as people in the United States.

 

FOOD, WATER, HOUSING

Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa
Stephen Devereux and Simon Maxwell, eds.
Sub-Saharan Africa's persistent food insecurity and vulnerability to famine has reached crisis proportions. Food insecurity is no longer simply a problem of agriculture and a failure of food production at the national level, but a failure of the economy to guarantee access to sufficient food at the household level. Draws on a variety of disciplinary perspectives, from agricultural economics to nutrition.

Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource
Marq de Villiers
More than half of the world's rivers are now so polluted that they pose serious health risks. One-third of Africa's people already endure conditions of water scarcity, and water supplies are in jeopardy in China, India, Japan, Spain, southern France, Australia, the southwestern U.S. and many other parts of Asia and Europe. Reviews the history, science, ecology, folklore, history and politics of water and warns of the looming global water crisis. It's not that the world is running out of water, the author  claims, but that "it's running out in places where it's needed most."

 

HIV/AIDS

A Closer Walk
A Closer Walk is the first feature-length film to depict humankind's confrontation with the global AIDS epidemic. This documentary explores the underlying causes of the disease; the relationship between health, dignity and human rights; and the universal need for action to counter the pandemic.

Coming To Say Goodbye: Stories of AIDS in Africa
“AIDS statistics are numbers with the tears washed off.” This film vividly weaves together the extraordinary stories of several families grappling with the ravages of AIDS in Kenya and Tanzania, where the problem is so immense that the poor are being left to suffer on their own. It also tells the stories of the activists, advocates, and medical workers who struggle to care for the suffering.

A Generation at Risk: The Global Impact of HIV/AIDS on Orphans and Vulnerable Children
John G. Williamson, Geoff Foster, Carol Levine, eds.
Millions of children worldwide have been orphaned or made vulnerable by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Despite significant action in the last few years by governments, international organizations, religious bodies, and NGOs, the vast majority of children made vulnerable by AIDS have not benefited from any assistance beyond their own extended family and community. Addresses these children's needs in education, community mobilization and capacity building, economic strengthening at household and community levels, psychosocial support, and civil rights. Critical reading for NGOs and health and education ministries making policy decisions on affected children's behalf. 

HIV and AIDS in Africa: Beyond Epidemiology
Ezekiel Kalipeni, Susan Craddock, Joseph Oppong, and Jayati Ghosh
Highlights HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa, recognizing it as a complex and regionally specific phenomenon rooted in local economies, deepening poverty, migration, gender, war, global economies, and cultural politics. Concludes that AIDS will not diminish in Africa until various inequities are addressed.

Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa
Stephen Lewis
In 2000, the United Nations laid out a series of eight goals—the Millennium Development Goals—meant to guide humankind in the new century. The author, the UN's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, advances real solutions to help societies across the globe achieve the Millennium Goals and shows how dreams such as universal primary education, a successful war against the AIDS pandemic, and environmental sustainability, are within the grasp of humanity.

Yesterday
In this film, Yesterday, a young mother in an impoverished African village, finds the odds stacked against her when she learns that she’s HIV positive. With her husband in denial, she must find the strength to raise her daughter, and fulfill her one life goal—to live long enough to see her child go to school.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS AND JUSTICE

Amistad
In this film set in 1839, a slave ship called Amistad traveled towards the New World carrying a cargo of captured Africans. While crossing the Atlantic, the prisoners stage a mutiny and take over the ship. They continue to sail, hoping to find help when they land. Instead, when they reach the United States, they are imprisoned as runaway slaves. They don't speak a word of English, and it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors, until an abolitionist lawyer decides to take their case.

Health and Human Rights
Jonathan Mann, Sofia Gruskin, Michael Grodin, George Annas, eds.
Anthology of essays covers issues including ethnic cleansing, world population policies, women's reproductive choices, the Nuremburg Code and AIDS and HIV policies and treatments. It is an essential introduction to the developing field of health and human rights.

Perspectives on Health and Human Rights
Sofia Gruskin, ed.
Anthology of articles illustrates the linkages between health and human rights as complementary approaches to the advancement of human well-being. A major contribution to the recognition of the centrality of human rights to global health challenges. Brings together theory and practice, and demonstrates how all human rights, especially economic, social, and cultural rights, are necessary for health and well-being.

Romero
Archbishop Oscar Romero stands between 1980s El Salvador's ruling military elite and a band of Marxist guerillas as a man with simple demands: freedom and justice for all people. In this film based on a true story, Romero braces for violence from both factions with quiet resolve.

The Torture Question
In this film, FRONTLINE traces the aggressive development of the Bush administration’s interrogation policy in the aftermath of 9/11, and ultimately how this policy led to prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Iraq. The film culminates in the political firestorm ignited by the shocking Abu Ghraib photos.

 

STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE

Blood Diamond
Set in 1999 during the bloody Sierra Leone Civil War, the film shows a country torn apart by the struggle between government soldiers and rebel forces. A local boy is forced into a child army, while his father enslaved to mine for diamonds, which are used to fund the war. The father meets a smuggler who sells diamonds to finance terrorists, and they set off on a dangerous journey together.

Born Into Brothels
This film won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. A tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art, Born into Brothels is a portrait of several unforgettable children of prostitutes, who live in the red light district of Calcutta, A New York-based photographer, gives each child a camera and teaches them to look at the world with new eyes.

Santiago's Children: What I Learned about Life at an Orphanage in Chile
Steve Reifenberg
Steve Reifenberg's memoir Santiago's Children: What I Learned about Life at an Orphanage in Chile documents the efforts of a young man to bridge his sheltered middle-class upbringing with his work with impoverished orphans in the slums of a country struggling to overcome a brutal political past. PIH co-founder Paul Farmer penned the forward for the book, and notes how Reifenberg's story mirrors his own.