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The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster Hardcover – January 8, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 133 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“One of the Best Books of 2013” ―Slate

“One of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2013” ―Kirkus Reviews

“One of the 15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2013” ―The Christian Science Monitor

“One of the 20 Best Nonfiction Books of 2013” ―Amazon.com

“Katz's blow-by-blow reportage of the quake and its immediate aftermath is riveting. The book's deeper structure offers a concise and accurate history of Haiti from its revolutionary origins to the present day, and a clear and cogent analysis of how and why the massive, expensive effort to rebuild the country after the quake has, for the most part, failed… required reading for anyone who wants to understand Haiti.” ―The Nation

“Katz eloquently blends personal anecdotes and Haitian history with in-depth reportage to show how one catastrophe led to so many more, and how, three years later, Haiti has barely moved forward… One hopes that the policymakers involved in helping Haiti read this book and take it to heart.” ―Associated Press

“Gripping… forces a confrontation with the hubris and double standards of international aid...a critique made more powerful by the perspective it includes. Katz combines the knowledge of Haiti he built over 3-1/2 years working there with his understanding of outsiders' clichés about poor, impoverished countries.” ―The Christian Science Monitor

“Katz offers a frank insider's guide to Haiti.” ―The Financial Times

“Some of the scenes in Katz's book rival anything that you would find in Graham Greene's classic 1966 novel about Haiti, 'The Comedians.'” ―The Seattle Times

“Compelling ...damning ...wry...This is a book without heroes -- not Bill Clinton, the United Nations special envoy to Haiti; not Sean Penn, the Hollywood star who runs a huge camp there; not René Préval, the reclusive president; and certainly not the international community and its competing, self-aggrandising NGOs, which got so much so wrong.” ―Times of London

“Katz succeeds in transporting the reader straight into the midst of the events he describes so eloquently, without attempting to gloss over the harshness of everyday life in Haiti, both before and after the earthquake. He provides excellent background information on the country and its society, and his arguments are balanced and nuanced.” ―The Boston Globe

“A heartbreaking book.” ―The Huffington Post

“A top-notch account of Haiti's recent history, including the January 2010 earthquake, from the only American reporter stationed in the country at the time …An eye-opening, trailblazing exposé.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Wise, deeply reported… both a primer on how and why reconstructions fail, and an indictment of the benign paternalism that motivates donors, developers, and other do-gooders…a stark, compelling first-person account.” ―Justin Peters, Columbia Journalism Review

“Beautifully-written, brave, and riveting, The Big Truck That Went By tells the devastating story of the post-earthquake reconstruction effort in Haiti. Weaving together his personal experiences with the knowledge gained from his intensive investigative report, Katz offers us an autopsy of a global relief effort gone wrong. But the book also offers us a moving portrait of the courage, humor, and vision of the Haitians he worked with, offering a glimpse of the possibilities for a different future. Anyone seeking to understand Haiti's current situation, as well as the broader impasses of our current model of aid, should read this book.” ―Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

“With lucidity and great humanity, Jonathan Katz has written THE book on Haiti's devastating earthquake and its bungled reconstruction. For anyone who wants to know why the "international community" can't fix anything anymore, but who still hope to find solutions to global problems, this book is a must-read.” ―Jon Lee Anderson, bestselling author of Che Guevera: a Revolutionary Life

“A brilliant piece of writing… the best description of living through the Haiti quake I've read anywhere.” ―Jonathan Alter

“Katz is a great storyteller who enmeshes the reader in a lively web of history, incident, and examples of humanity pushing through disaster, hard luck, iniquity, and triumph to muck it up all over again.” ―The judges of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award

“The horror of the catastrophic Haitian earthquake of 2010, the adrenaline rush of being a reporter in the middle of dramatic events, the frustration of watching local politicians and poorly informed outsiders combine to paralyze the recovery effort, and the joy of finding love in the midst of the ruins: it's all here. Katz, the only American journalist on the scene when the earthquake struck, gives us unique insights into the plight of a close neighbor whose fate is vitally connected to our own.” ―Jeremy Popkin, author of You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery

“ Jonathan M. Katz has a passion for the truth. He has shown respect for the people of Haiti by seeking that truth throughout the earthquake and the aftermath... This is an important book, and a page-turner!” ―Mark Doyle, BBC correspondent

“With every page of Jonathan Katz's book I cringed, grr'ed and couldn't wait to turn for the next revelation. Hubris, America! Thought we could wave a magic wand and save Haiti? Non, merci. Bravo to Katz for telling the real story.” ―Laurie Garrett, author of I Heard the Sirens Scream

“Jonathan Katz's strength is his unique combination of heart, history and solid reporting, brilliantly married in The Big Truck That Went By. Readers experience the country through his personal roadmap, one that is both sympathetic and yet sharply critical of all that could have gone right, but didn't.” ―Kathie Klarreich, author of Madame Dread: A tale of Love, Vodou and Civil Strife in Haiti

“From the exploits of international stars like Sean Penn and native son Wyclef Jean of the Fugees, to the muddled planning that can result in unmitigated disasters like the cholera outbreak caused by insufficiently vaccinated Nepalese peacekeepers, Katz paints a thoroughly researched picture of (mostly) good intentions gone astray, leaving readers suspended somewhere between fragile hope and outright fury.” ―The Montreal Gazette

“Excellent…will reward any sensitive, curious reader.” ―The Dallas Morning News

“On Jan. 12, AP correspondent Jonathan Katz was about to leave Haiti after two years. He survived through sheer luck, camped out in the courtyard of an intact hotel, and stayed to record the impact of the disaster. His new book The Big Truck That Went By is the single most comprehensive and understandable account of what happened, and why.” ―The Tyee

“Katz makes an empathic, likable guide through this grim catalog of how help can harm… His agile, eye-opening firsthand account, engaging persona and sharp criticisms may help reform future relief efforts.” ―The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“[Katz's] on-the-ground experience makes for a rich account.” ―The San Francisco Chronicle

“Katz brings an on-the-ground flavor to his depiction of events that is more vivid than those in the more ponderous tomes published in the wake of the calamity… His minute dissection of the failure of most of the promised aid and the misdirection of much of what did arrive is a valuable contribution to understanding how the international community should respond to such crises in the future.” ―The Miami Herald

“Katz presents an engaging first-person account of the quake and the first year of the international response that followed.” ―Reason magazine

“Offers a compelling account that is alternately comic and tragic.” ―The Louisville Courier-Journal

“Katz was the only American reporter on the ground when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010…Debunks the assumption that a disaster leads to social disintegration or rioting and observes how media sensationalism prompted unwise giving.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A captivating look at Haiti's history, people and politics ... a great primer on the challenges of reporting the news in a disaster zone.” ―June Thomas, Slate book critic

“The despair and love of Haiti in one earthquake story.” ―The New York Times Magazine

“Essential... Katz exposes the machinations behind the international reconstruction effort, weaving in a firsthand account of the day of the disaster.” ―Los Angeles Review of Books

“Ultimately, Katz's book is both an eloquent and heartbreaking reminder that it takes much more than good intentions to end a humanitarian crisis.” ―The Financialist

“[Katz] is able somehow to create this story that has intense drama even when there's a press conference with Bill Clinton and some rich donors about how to get money to Haiti ... It's an amazing story of disaster and survival, and then government and bureaucracy, that I'm having trouble thinking of a comparison to ... Just buy it and talk about it with people.” ―David Weigel, Slate

“Julian Fantino, Canada's minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency, recently wondered why Haiti, with so many unemployed, is covered in garbage--despite all the aid money that has poured into the country since its devastating 2010 earthquake. He would probably learn a lot from this book.” ―Michael Petrou, Maclean's

“The best book yet on the earthquake and its on-the-ground consequences.” ―Haiti Support Group

“A vivid and disturbing account of how international aid donors, the United Nations and celebrity do-gooders tripped over themselves to help [after the Haitian earthquake] but ended up doing more harm than good.” ―Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Jonathan M. Katz was the 2010 recipient of the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism and the 2012 winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for The Big Truck That Went By. He wrote and edited for the Associated Press for seven years, three and a half of which he spent as correspondent in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Katz has also reported from the Dominican Republic, China, Israel, the West Bank, Washington, New York, Mexico, and around the Caribbean. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023034187X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230341876
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Haiti. Of all the nooks and crannies in the world, the Caribbean has interested me the least. I've only visited the British Virgin Islands once. In terms of literature, it is only V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas that has stirred some interest. Jonathan M. Katz has written a most illuminating book, fanning my very dormant interest in this area.

Katz was the only accredited reporter working full time in Haiti when the deadliest earthquake ever to strike the Western Hemisphere occurred on January 12, 2010. Though his home was largely destroyed, he did survive, largely unscathed, at least physically. He was personally confronted with the classic moral dilemma of a reporter in such a situation: should he provide as accurate a report of the devastation as possible, or should he personally assist in attempting to pull people from the rubble. He chose the former, and I would concur that this was the proper course. Proper reportage of the disaster should bring many more able hands, promptly. In our now "take it for granted" wired world however, getting the message out is difficult when much of the electronic infrastructure is also destroyed; Katz's relates these problems, and overcomes them.

His second chapter, fittingly entitled "Love Theme from the Titantic" provides an excellent sketch of Haitian history, most of which was unknown to me. The next chapter covers the relationships between whites and blacks, and the various gradients in between, both internal and external to the country.
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It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and nowhere do we see the truth of this more vividly than in Jonathan M. Katz's The Big Truck That Went By. Katz shines a bright, unforgiving light on the bureaucracy, politics, and infighting between NGO's that often due more harm than good over the long term with their emergency response to massive disasters.

The earthquake that devastated Haiti in January, 2010 generated one of the largest and most costly recovery efforts of modern times. And yet millions of donor pledges never made it to the people who needed it most. Pledged money was never released by the governments that promised aid. Donations made to international charities to help Haiti got spent on the charities' normal operating expenses. Unscrupulous businesses cut behind-the-scenes deals to make sure pledged money was used to by supplies and services from their companies at considerable profit. And all the while, the people of Haiti were left wondering if their own government was stealing all of the alleged money that was promised even though the local government had been stripped of any control during the reconstruction.

The book highlights the piecemeal, often offensively patronizing, way international disaster relief works. By refusing to give money directly to the Haitian government, citing concerns for corruption, donor nations instead force Haiti to submit to an international, third party committee to oversee how the money is spent. Of course, this results in even less transparency and accountability even as the Haitian government takes the blame for the lack of progress.
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It is impossible to finish "The Big Truck That Went By" without feeling despair and frustration. Jonathan Katz, AP correspondent, was finishing up his assignment in Haiti when the earthquake struck.

He re-creates the chaos that followed in uncompromising detail. He also looks back, so that the reader gains some perspective on the economic and sociological turmoil that turned Haiti into one of the world's most-impoverished nations.

Katz uses the earthquake and the subsequent arrival of thousands of aid workers as well as billions of dollars to explain why Haiti is still struggling to house its people, provide them with schools and medical care, and the possibility of making a living.

He doesn't flinch at uncovering the excesses of the government under dictators the U.S. supported. He shines his light on the neighborhoods, the "Blans," who live in relative luxury just above the "Negs," in their tin-roofed boxes they call home. He explains that Blan refers to any outsider, regardless of skin color, while a Neg is a Hatian, born and raised.

Through this book, Katz takes to task American foreign/economic policy and the lost infrastructure of a nation. A compelling account that gave me nightmares, "The Big Truck That Went By" argues for reform and oversight in a country close to home.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jonathan M. Katz makes a major contribution to the growing library of works describing Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010. The author, the only American journalist permanently assigned to Haiti when the earthquake hit, tells the story from the vantage point of a participant observer. The house where he lived in Petionville was destroyed, and he barely escaped with his friend Even. So Katz tells his own tale as well as the tales of those he knew and came to know over the next year.

It strikes me that in telling this story, the author must have found it both painful and therapeutic to recall the personal and national losses that accumulated once the earth stopped moving. Having lived in Haiti myself in the 1970's, and having returned three times since the earthquake, I found Katz's descriptions and conclusions accurate, fair and - as is almost always the case when Haiti is the topic of conversation - disappointing and discouraging. Haiti seems to bring out the worst of the "law of unintended consequence" on the part of those from outside of Haiti who promise to help. The help is either not forthcoming, or tied up in so much red tape that the aid seldom makes it to the level of the Haiti people so in need of opportunity to make a safe and sustainable life for themselves.

With journalistic precision and deep personal insight, the author chronicles the string of failures to respond to the opportunities after the earthquake to "build Haiti back better." Political intrigue, cover-ups by the UN and other NGO's when the cholera epidemic killed thousands of Haitians, the circus that surrounded the election to replace President Preval are all themes that weave themselves through this book.
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