Need your advice: is it worth doing a new edition of From Poverty to Power?

April 11, 2017

     By Duncan Green     

Through previous exercises in consultation, I’ve developed a great respect for the wisdom of the FP2P hivemind, so thought I would ask your advice about fp2p coverswhether to update From Poverty to Power (the book).

For those who haven’t read it, the book is a bit of a compendium on development, with sections on power and politics; poverty and wealth; human security and the international system. Initially published in 2008, the second edition of FP2P came out in 2012, complete with a new (brief) section on the ‘food and financial crises of 2008-11). The back cover blurb summarizes the book’s core argument:

‘FP2P argues that a radical redistribution of power, opportunities and assets, rather than traditional models of charitable or government aid is required to break the cycle of poverty and inequality. Active citizens and effective states are driving this transformation.

Why active citizens? Because people living in poverty must have a voice in deciding their own destiny and holding the state and the private sector to account. Why effective states? Because history shows that no country has prospered without a state structure that can actively manage the development process.’

2012 means that it’s looking a little old – stuff keeps happening, ideas evolving (including my own). If I don’t update it, it will enter that slow decline into oblivion that awaits the vast majority of books: universities will adopt more recent books on similar topics, old copies of FP2P will gather dust on shelves or continue to prop up computer screens in Oxfam offices across the world (I fear this may turn out to be FP2P’s most enduring legacy…….).

Probably the only person who cares about this is the author, so I’m wondering whether to do a third edition.

Case for:

  • It’s a lot easier to update an existing book than write a new one.
  • The book is established on a number of course reading lists, so the market is more certain than for a new book, and promotion won’t entail the kind of knackering promo tours that I’ve been doing for How Change Happens.

Case against:

  • The opportunity costs of time and effort, which I could be using for something else
  • Each new edition gets a bit more clunky, if you just update existing chapters. And the book is already very long (470 pages)

An option would be to rewrite the book, rather than just update it, but that is much more work, and runs the risk of making it look much more like How Change Happens, since that reflects most of my current thinking on aid and development. Paul O’Brien of Oxfam America nailed the relationship between the two books better than I possibly could: FP2P is all about the boxes in the theory of change diagram (active citizens, effective states); HCH is all about the arrows in between.

In particular, if you are familiar with the book or using it for teaching or any other purpose, what do you think? Any advice (e.g. on what needs to be changed, added or removed) in comments welcome, but it’s also time for a new poll, so here you go (and you can vote for more than one option).

[poll id=”49″]

And here’s the original trailer for the book, which I still love


April 11, 2017
Duncan Green