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An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the Twenty-First Century Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 30, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; 1 edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717098
  • ASIN: B0046LUPXG
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #884,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, October 2008: Judging by his biography, James Orbinski is superhuman. As a med student in the late '80s, he spent a year researching pediatric AIDS in Rwanda, which opened his eyes to the human consequences of political failure. After cofounding the Canadian chapter of Doctors Without Borders, Orbinski embarked on relief missions to the world's most chaotic pockets, including war-torn Somalia and the refugee camps of Afghanistan. When reports of genocide filtered out of Rwanda, Orbinski led a small team that--with scant supplies--tended to the sick and wounded in Kigali. Within 14 weeks, 800,000 people were killed as the international community sat idly by, and Orbinski experienced a profound personal crisis. He emerged with a renewed commitment to his role as doctor, not only as a healer but as a voice for those who have been disastrously failed by governments. In An Imperfect Offering, he bears witness to surreal levels of suffering, and his actions seem impossibly heroic. But descriptions of his patients' courage and his own moral challenges make this story an exploration of what it means to be human, and what our responsibilities are to each other. Through his story, the suffering of millions is no longer unimaginable, and indifference is not an option. --Mari Malcolm

From Publishers Weekly

In this captivating look at humanitarian intervention in the 20th century, Orbinski, former head of the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), uses stories from his decades of service with the group to examine how to be in relation with the suffering of others. The author describes his time on the front lines of suffering in Russia, Somalia and Afghanistan. When Orbinski recounts his second term in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, the book reaches an emotional peak: it was his undoing, and struggling with the horror he has seen, he drifts into a netherworld of confusion, fighting to regain his footing as a man, as a doctor and as a putative humanitarian. His ensuing reflections on humanitarianism are as riveting as his personal thoughts, which include diary entries, recollections and correspondence with friends in the humanitarian and diplomatic corps. The book manages to be both personal enough to construe the human toll of political and social disasters without falling into the trap of maudlin, patronizing depictions of human suffering. Orbinski, who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for Médecins Sans Frontières in 1999 does credit to his organization and his humanitarian credo. (Oct.)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Terry on July 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
James Orbinski is an inspiring individual. His work ethic and passion are evident, his experience of both success and frustrations are fascinating as well as informative, and his stories are gripping if not terrifying. Given his experience in the field, in administrative roles, and in the politics of the humanitarian field give him an unique, authoritative perspective. It is a challenging read in that it forces you to confront many terrors and atrocities present today. He presents difficult problems with, at times, obscure solutions, but they are important ones for people to hear and to think about. I highly, highly recommend this book. James Orbinski is an incredible man, and his message, admittedly complex and unresolved, is an important one for anyone and everyone who is willing to hear it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By JSC Siow on October 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
An impassioned and often gut-wrenching account of Orbinski's experiences in the field with MSF. This book takes on a somewhat memoir-ish and confessional tone at times where Orbinski recounts his personal, highly emotional and private travails as he navigated moral boundaries in his encounters with convoluted political agencies, military and other forces in the course of humanitarian work. A must-read for anyone heading out to do humanitarian work - if only to dispel any preconceived or naive notions of doing-good without contextual/background understanding or incurring moral and emotional costs.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Desiree Fairooz on November 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Orbinski's account of his life's work with Medecins sans Frontieres / Doctors without Borders reads like a thriller. Orbinski's stories from his Irish-Canadian childhood as the son of very poor Irish immigrants give insight to his passion to help the less fortunate.

The memoirs of his MSF work in treacherous places like Somalia, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Sudan reveal the inner politics of providing humanitarian aid to developing countries especially those in conflict. What these doctors and healthworkers had to do and not do to make deals with tribal leaders in Somalia or Afghanistan exemplify what true dialogue, diplomacy, cooperation, tolerance and respect for the cultures of the regions look and feel like.

Although I skipped the chapters on Rwanda and Zaire, MSF's work to make HIV/AIDS drugs available to the poorest of the poor in the most challenging of environments is truly awe-inspiring. I gleaned some beautiful quotes of which I have committed to memory and will share with my activist colleagues:

"We are not certain that speaking out saves lives, but we are certain that silence kills." Philippe Biberson, President MSF France 1999

"No one can do everything, but everyone can do something." James Orbinski, the author and past International President MSF

An inspiring memoir that teaches not preaches. Be braver than I and read it in its entirety!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kathy A. Reid on November 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
An outstanding narrative filled with behind the scenes political details that open your eyes to the TRUTH. I have a much better understanding of how genocide happens and how governments make endless excuses despite all reports to the contrary. I am humbled by this book and enlightened. A very informative read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The g Factor on October 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Orbinski's stories about his career with Doctors Without Borders (aka Medicins Sans Frontieres) takes us to various trouble spots ranging from South America to Afghanistan and Ethiopia and he makes a courageous effort to help those affected by war and famine. Much of the book deals with the African nation of Rwanda, during the genocide of 1994 in which he witnessed unbelievable atrocities as a million people were slaughtered in a 100 days while the world basically did little more than look on. The United Nations actually reduced its commitment during the worst of the killings and managed to save only a handful of lives. The book does not flinch from describing terrible and unbelievably cruel acts but it is an important book to read - afterall the atrocities in Rwanda could be repeated again in a continent noted for less than competent governments, poor economic management and terrible acts of violence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Isaac Rodríguez Cázares on August 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
If for Benedict Anderson the concept of nation is an imagined community, for Orbinski humanity is a very real community fraught with a contradiction of empathy and self-destruction, especially along the fault lines of war and civil strife. This book makes an excellent case --that does not explicate but rather illustrates through an autobiographical narrative how human action at the grassroots level can have a significant impact on societal alleviation and amelioration-- for the premise that inclusion, not exclusion is the key to our survival as a species.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marsha M. Weese on March 20, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While I found Obiniski's experiences and observations to be first-rate, I was downright angry about the incredibly sloppy proof-reading of this book. There were error on every page, and I don't mean little persnickety ones. How a publisher could allow the egregious mistakes to remain is beyond me. For example: FAR was used as an acronym (Fellowship for African Relief) early in the book; thereafter, every time the word far appeared it was capitalized: "they were FAR away," "we saw FAR too many errors," etc. Frequently acronyms were capitalized appropriately for awhile and then appeared in non-caps for awhile and then suddenly would reappear in caps.

The mistakes were so numerous, blatant, and aggravating that I nearly stopped reading the book. Only Orbinski's talent and wisdom kept me turning the pages.
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