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Bright Lights, No City: An African Adventure on Bad Roads with a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan Hardcover – July 17, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Mr. Alexander combines a high-energy travelogue with an insightful exploration of what it takes to turn an idea into a profitable enterprise. The result is a wonderfully entertaining business book.”— Wall Street Journal

“Entertainingly recounted but also full of eye-opening—and hair-raising—insights into the challenges of doing business in the third world.”— The Christian Science Monitor

"A great book. You should read it."—Kai Ryssdal, NPR's Marketplace

"Satisfies as both a business tale and a personal saga...Sitting down with Bright Lights, No City is like an amusement park visit...careening along, you're in thrall to the ride."—Fortune/CNN Money

“A former People editor’s memoir about accompanying his brother— co-creator of the Cranium board game – as he tries to start a business in Ghana”—People


"A zany, surreal terror ride into the bush...At times improbable yet always comic and wise, Alexander's tale of the brothers making a business pitch to Africans renews our understanding of service, need, and determination in the global village."—Publishers Weekly

"The author's colorful writing and humanitarian drive make the book well worth reading. An invigorating reality check for anyone thinking about starting a business in a developing country."—Kirkus

"Overflowing with wit, cultural insights, and colorful anecdotes, Alexander's work is an inspiring example of third-world renewal and an irresistibly readable, true-life travel story."—Booklist

About the Author

Max Alexander is a former executive editor of Variety and Daily Variety, and a former senior editor at People magazine. He has co-authored several books, ranging from a cookbook to business books. His writing appears in Smithsonian, Reader's Digest, Money and the New York Times. USA Today rated his first book, Man Bites Log, about his experiences moving from Hollywood and New York to a Maine farm, as one of the best nature books of 2004. He has edited many other books, including George Plimpton's last book, Shackleton. He lives in Maine.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1St Edition edition (July 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401324177
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401324179
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #935,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Saw the original review in the Wall Street Journal the day of its publication, ordered it from Amazon and it arrived in less than 24 hours. That way I could read it and suggest it to my summer social enterprise class. "Bright lights, no city" is a clever take on the original "Bright lights, big city" and a spot on manual for aspiring social entrepreneurs. Who would have thought that recycling, recharging and returning batteries would be both a social and financial solution? It takes an entrepreneur with the mind that could create Cranium and a previous life living in Africa to put it all together.

"Bright lights" is both an interesting, funny, human story, it is close to being a textbook for a social entrepreneur. Whit Alexander (and his author brother) engaged in a highly unconventional start up in perhaps the most unlikely of places. Rather than try to build a business in a wealthy country or market, Whit Alexander found and created opportunity amongst the people of a truly poor economy. It is part of the general notion of "the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" (without the fortune), where people have cell phones but no electricity, where they have an economy and not much of a formal market (see also, "The stealth economy"). Alexander does not condescend to these people, nor does he offer charity. Instead, using a creative combination of personal and financial capital, along with a clear-headed drive to serve an underserved market, he sells "brighter/louder" to a dark, quiet portion of the world economy, and learns how to better serve his customers through the natural market of customer feedback. Embracing the locals as well as American college interns (Brigham Young), Alexander and his crew of evolving market missionaries work small economic miracles.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thoroughly liked this consistently fascinating and funny account of a smart, compassionate entrepreneur committed to starting a battery business in Ghana, Africa. The founder is Whit Alexander, but his brother Max comes along for the ride, which is lucky for us. Max's journalism and sharp eye for the interesting and absurd (to Western eyes) detail makes us want to read all about it.

Whit, a co-inventor of the game Cranium, is convinced that Africa needs businesses that sell effective, essential products to people who earn $1-2 dollars a day. His research tells him rechargeable batteries sold on a rental plan by local agents fit this model, which he names Burro. He'll turn out to be right, but nothing in Africa is easy. Max's wonder at Ghanian driving habits/road conditions (deadly), restaurants (the menu has nothing to do with what's actually available, and watch out for cat dishes), languages, schooling, business practices, and pretty much anything else you can think of, is rendered in a wry, understated tone that's bemused and gradually, charmed.

It's this on-the-fly description of the culture and history of Ghana, interwoven with a readable business primer on the manufacturing/sales/marketing twists and turns Burro takes to better reflect Ghanian reality, that makes the book so valuable. It's great for those wanting to start a business overseas (the bits about China should be really useful), or those who'd like to fight poverty more effectively and permanently than massive infusions of aid have done. Most business founders would quit at any one of the obstacles Whit encounters; but he just figures out an alternative approach and goes on.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was thoroughly entertaining, and as someone who has traveled 4 times to ghana, gives the reader a great view of what is currently happening in west africa. As someone who teaches entrepreneurship, anyone who thinks about starting something---especially a social startup in the developing world--would be well served by reading. While I work with a non-profit in africa (Ashesi University, where some of Whit's employees came from) and also am a Microsoft Alum, I do not know Whit personally; though his reputation as a creative and driven leader is well known to those communities. His brother is an excellent writer, and his forays beyond the business, like a few days at a Farm, paint a particularly vivid picture of the country.

All in all, a very fun read that manages to inform as well. Think of it as a cross between kidder's mountains beyond mountains and a good man in africa.
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Format: Hardcover
I never thought a book about two brothers and rechargeable batteries in Africa would peak my interest, much less be so enjoyable. However, this book really does deliver with a wit and charm that I rarely experience. In addition, Burro's work and mission is very much in alignment with that of my teacher and mentor Buckminster Fuller. The combination creates a well written adventure that kept me reading from beginning to end.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating look at Ghana from a perspective not seen by many in the US. The author helps his brother begin and develop a startup in Ghana embracing the notion that the way to help a country and its people is to start profitable businesses that hire people and allow them to earn money. He sees a need in Ghana for reusable batteries and develops the product and more importantly in this country the infrastructure to distribute and recharge the batteries. He and his brother live in the country and by so doing share the common life of the people they serve. There are descriptions of trying new foods, the struggle to adapt to less than ideal living conditions and an optimism and desire for the enterprise to succeed. With two years of life in Ghana he shares insights that few Westerners glean on a quick trip through a developing country. I had the privilege of spending ten days in Ghana and I read this book after the trip. It added so much to my understanding of the infrastructure I observed and sometimes struggled with and often marveled at how it all seems to work .

It is a view of the country apart from that seen by most tourists (there is not much tourist infrastructure in Ghana). It is an insightful view of people struggling yet often happy without the benefits of our more advanced culture. It is a description of the challenges of dealing with a culture more "relaxed" than our own and one where getting by is on the one hand hard but on further examination aided by a communal effort. There is a community structure depicted so different from our own small towns. The author often glances humorously at the foibles he deals with.
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