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International Development: A Postwar History.

International Development: A Postwar History. By Corinna R. Unger. (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2018. Pp. 272. $31.95.)

It tells you a lot about Corinna Unger's new book that Harry Truman's 1949 Point Four speech first appears not on page one, but instead on page fifty-six. For decades, scholars recounting the history of international development have often cited Truman's address as giving birth to the idea of development. In Unger's telling, the speech is the equivalent of one benchmark on a long and very tangled historical road.

Despite the book's subtitle, Unger's work covers the whole of the twentieth century (and more). This book rests on the foundation of a nearly two decades' long boom in historical scholarship on international development. It is thus welcome that Unger, a major contributor to this historiography herself, has taken up the task of weaving the literature together. The book opens by insisting on the importance of nuance. For Unger, the history of development consists of the stories of "development as a power tool used by an elite against the majority of the population." Nonetheless, she also cautions that depicting development solely as a series of attempts by elites to impose their will through top-down measures is incomplete, given that "for many individuals, social groups, and nations the promise of development was and is something very real" (9). In her telling, development history is defined by its contestations--over definitions of poverty, over the roots of inequality, over paths to industrialization, and many more.

The bulk of the book marches the reader through the twentieth century. Unger sees development as emerging from many currents connected to European colonialism and imperialism. Unger demonstrates how, especially in the wake of World War One, the struggles between anti-colonial movements and European colonial administrators gave rise to a variety of poverty amelioration efforts and programs. While it is clear that many notions of "underdevelopment" and "development" spring from colonial roots, Unger is also clear that many actors with divergent motivations have also contributed to development. Moving through the Cold War, the book delivers a pastiche of different narratives that, at times, can be overwhelming, but it also provides a helpful overview of the many facets of development. The main critique I have is that ideas and voices from the Global South could be even more prominent in earlier sections; as but one small example, there is no mention of the important work of Carlos Calvo, a late nineteenth century Argentine jurist who produced vital writings on foreign investment.

Unger's book ends with an appeal to historians that may generate some productive controversy. She correctly notes that many historians of development are skeptical that their studies can produce "lessons" for current development practitioners. In a welcome critique, Unger gently pushes back, stating that, "Historical perspectives can ... help us better understand which factors have contributed to making a project likely to fulfill its goals" or not (158). Such thinking is representative of Unger's insistence on history's importance. This is a book in which students, scholars, and practitioners may find inspiration to help them understand today's global inequalities.

Paul K. Adler

Colorado College

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Author:Adler, Paul K.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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