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Tropical Gangsters: One Man's Experience With Development And Decadence In Deepest Africa [Paperback]

by Robert Klitgaard
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 22, 1991 0465087604 978-0465087600
Selected as one of the six best nonfiction books of 1990 by the editors f the New York Times Book Review, this is a compelling and entertaining account of the author’s two-and-a-half year adventure in Equatorial Guinea, and his efforts to get this small bankrupt African nation on the path of structural development.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Robert Klitgaard is the author of Tropical Gangsters and Choosing Elites. A former associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, he is currently President and University Professor of Claremont Graduate University.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (July 22, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465087604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465087600
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #384,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book ever written on Equatorial Guinea September 27, 1999
This is really an excellent book on all levels and I am very glad to have found it. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer I could empathize with the author's trials and tribulations in trying to pull off some development work in a badly mis-governed country as well as his obvious liking and best wishes for the people he met. From this book you get a very clear and down-to-earth picture of a) Equatorial Guinea, one of the forgotten corners of the world, b)the development game played by donors and recipients, experts, expats, local bureaucrats and dictator's toadies and c) the problems the world, collectively, faces because poorer countries need help but richer countries don't really know how to deliver it. I finished the book wondering, as ever, if the whole development game is hopeless in all countries with autocratic or kleptocratic rulers who care not a whit for the welfare of their own people. "Gangsters" exist amongst the Western aid people too, they are not endemic merely in the Third World. The author was most certainly not one of them. TROPICAL GANGSTERS is a clear, well-written book, one of the best on the development process I have ever seen. I highly recommend it.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly informative and unique book April 17, 2003
It is not very common to find a World Bank economist who writes with a touch of humor, humility and eloquence, but that is exactly what you will discover in this unique book. The author was a World Bank advisor assigned to the tiny African nation of Equatorial Guinea in the late 1980's, a time when many African nations were beginning to flirt with market reforms and economic liberalization. This book is kind of like a personal diary of the time he spent there. It is written in an easygoing, informal style. He alternates between discussing his job- trying to develop an economic strategy that will enable E. Guinea to qualify for a World Bank loan- and discussing his recreational activities, which range from surfboarding to hanging out with African rock stars. He introduces us to many people- government officials, "experts" from the UN and other international organizations, and ordinary Equatoguineans. He seems to be particularly critical of the so-called "experts," many of whom are in this remote backwater merely because "they couldn't find jobs in their own countries." Many economists and other academics seeking a rigorous, theoretical analysis of African political economy might be frustrated by this informal style, but I think it adds an extra dimension to the story of economic reform in the third world. It helps remind us that these structural adjustment policies thought up in Washington D.C. are implement by real people facing real constraints in recipient countries. Klitgaard does an excellent job of relating the pressures faced by well-intentioned (and some not so well-intentioned) government ministers, as they must deal with corruption, apathetic bureaucrats, nasty military officers, and the poor infrastructure found in every developing country. Read more ›
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Author Nailed It June 14, 2006
I worked in Liberia for a year and could tell some of the same stories. Utter corruption at every level coupled with the average government fuctionary's well developed sense of his/her own importance makes dealing with them something that would lead Mother Teresa to drink. As the book makes clear, the state exists to serve the "elite", i.e. the gangsters. The author puts in all down in facinating detail. Haven't seen another book that captures what's wrong in Africa with such insight. Since the book was published Equatorial Guinea, the country that's the focus of the book, has come into a lot of oil wealth. The money has all disappeared into various off shore accounts owned by the gangsters in charge without benefiting the people one iota. Nothing ever changes. Aug 2008 update. I just read that Riggs Bank (now PNC) has been investigated because they have $375 million in funds that they were hiding for the gangsters.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a case-study of a complex topic July 7, 1998
As a development industry professional grappling with both the academic and personal conflicts inherent in foreign aid programs, I found this story to be quite interesting on a number of levels. First, it is a good introduction to what foreign aid programs and the lives of the expat directors are really like. It is, as one reviewer said, part travelogue, part textbook-- on the whole, enjoyable.
For those more interested in the development business, as it is often derisively called, this book stands in sharp contrast to most others on the subject, which sharply criticize programs of the type described here (Road to Hell, Lords of Poverty). It's nice to read a positive review of one's chosen field from time to time.
That said, the author, perhaps unwittingly, damns the efforts of the more prosperous countries more than the others when all is said and done. For after all the surfing stories and tales of friends made, he leaves the country no better than he found it having accomplished nothing at all.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent May 15, 2001
Tropical Gangsters gives you an interesting look into Equatorial Guinea through the eyes of an economist, but also a human.
If you're interested in development, foreign aid, etc you'll find this book fascinating. No groundbreaking theories are found here, but the practical side is conveyed clearly and precisely.
It reads like a diary of sorts, there are insights into cultural differences, personal life and political science questions.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars the harsh reality of international development
this book is as relevant and as timely today as in 1990 in laying out the harsh realities that international aid/assistance faces on a daily basis in many third world countries. Read more
Published 9 months ago by mvny67
2.0 out of 5 stars Outdated book - More Introductory
The book is boring and although it gives the perspective of the author and the difficulties of managing an economic development stabilization project, it does not happen like this... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Cale
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight
In this book Robert Klitgaard recounts his experiences as a foreign aid expert in the African country of Equatorial Guinea. Read more
Published on May 4, 2010 by James D. Crabtree
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book
engaging and informative. a must for those interested in economic rehabilitation of west african countries.
Published on August 1, 2005 by Amber Kaplan
4.0 out of 5 stars very insightful
(Memoir) Account of author's work as leader of
a World Bank project in Equatorial Guinea in
1987. Read more
Published on March 25, 2005 by David Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars The author as Foreign Aid Surfer Dude
What initially attracted me to Tropical Gangsters was surfing. As a surfer working at the time for AusAID, Australia's government foreign aid agency, I was fascinated by Robert... Read more
Published on February 24, 2005 by Darth
5.0 out of 5 stars Better not to tell what you saw
This was the cheer statement of an old spanish allien in EG: "people in your country is not going to believe you, they'll tell you're crazy man! Read more
Published on November 9, 2001 by chavira
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but less than the title suggests
Perhaps I have a warped perspective because I read Tropical Gangsters around the same time as reading accounts of Congo, Somalia, the Sudan, Rawanda and other African genocides,... Read more
Published on February 4, 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars T.G. makes development leap from the text books
As a student of Africa Klitgaard's book brought me back to the continent with its all too true depiction of how things "really work. Read more
Published on July 13, 1998 by
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