In the tradition of popular activist scholars like Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, J. Larry Brown has spent decades linking the findings of science to the realities of human existence. He gives us a candid look at what it means to try to do good things in a harsh world.
We are taken to the make-shift huts of refugees driven from their homes by the insane barbarism of the Lord’s Resistance Army. We stand with Brown where Livingstone once stood, at Murchison Falls overlooking the powerful Nile filled with hippos and crocodiles. We see the grinding lives of people who eat the same meal every day. But of all the obstacles faced by Brown and his colleagues, none is as nonsensical as the tone-deaf dealings of Washington. We see how the needs of peasants come last when the realities of their lives are no match for the machinations of Washington’s rigid routines.
— EARL SHORRIS
Contributing Editor, Harper’s Magazine
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Sometimes insisting that we live up to our highest ideals is the greatest form of public service. I urge all Americans to read Brown’s poignant memoir of hope—and call for reform.
— U.S. CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS
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Larry Brown has more original ideas in a week then most people have in a lifetime. And he has the energy to pursue these ideas against all odds. One of his consistent concerns has been the plight of the poor. In this book he has applied his formidable intelligence and great energy to think anew about the ways in which Peace Corps can be effective in assisting the poorest of the poor.
His is a story of great hope and great frustration. It is a book that holds promise for a renewal of the core values of the Peace Corps.
— AMBASSADOR SAM BROWN
Director of ACTION (Peace Corps and Vista)
Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
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Larry Brown has written a vivid, insightful and highly personal story describing the Peace Corps in Uganda and the life of a Country Director as the organization approached its 50th anniversary.
The volunteers Brown describes remind us of the power of JFK’s vision—individuals representing the best qualities of our nation working side by side with ordinary folks in villages across the globe to build a better and more peaceful world.
And the Washington that Brown indicts reminds us of the wisdom of Sargent Shriver, who argued that no Peace Corps staffer should serve more than five years. Colin Powell understood the problem of HQ arrogance when, at his swearing as Secretary of State, he said his guiding principle as a commanding general was “the field is ALWAYS right.”
— RICHARD CELESTE
Former Peace Corps Director, Former Governor of Ohio
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Bureaucracy in Peace Corps is like the dark side of the moon--everybody knows it’s there but who knew there was so much of it. Peasants Come Last [is] about Peace Corp’s bloated bureaucracy... [and] why three Country Directors in the Africa Region were fired in the final days of the Bush Administration by Acting Director Jody Olsen.
— HUGH PICKENS
Editor and Publisher, Peace Corps Online
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Peasants Come Last is a punchy and compelling narrative of Dr. Brown’s latest Peace Corps experience, providing a chilling perspective of the significant challenges faced by Peace Corps in such a post as Uganda with its history of megalomania and violence.
The book applauds and honors Peace Corps volunteers and staff in Uganda, explaining the worrisome dangers that must be faced in serving there and the concomitant concerns and challenges in supporting them. It is a well written and a very enjoyable read, providing context with fascinating anecdotes and salient conclusions...
Dr. Brown’s book provides a vehicle for his conclusions about the state of Peace Corps and the case for its renewal and revival. He mourns its mire amid a dominant climate of bureaucracy, a view consistent with that of many other recently returned overseas staff.
Peasants Come Last is interesting, compelling and credible. There are important lessons to be learned from it!
— KENNETH L. HILL
Former Peace Corps Chief of Staff
Three-time Peace Corps Country Director
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Throughout Larry Brown’s career, I have watched with awe as he compiled a stellar record of public service and academic achievement. Peasants Come Last is a crowning testament to his willingness to take on a bureacracy conceived in the best of ideals but which has become mired in its own pettiness.
This book is a clarion wake-up call to other agencies to honestly examine their own often destructive behaviors.
— SANFORD KRAVITZ PH.D.
Professor Emeritus, Brandeis University
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Florida International University
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As a Peace Corps Volunteer from the early days who went back again in to serve in 2005, I share much of Dr. Brown’s perspective. The Peace Corps of the early days wasn’t perfect, but it was generally flexible, humane, and invigorated by a passion to help the world. While volunteers and many staff are, fifty years on, still motivated by the same high ideals, the agency which manages them has become hidebound, authoritarian, and often apparently more concerned with protecting its own structure than with its mission.
More than that, though, shines forth in Dr. Brown’s book... I found a deeply moving irony in the contrast between Dr. Brown’s heroic efforts to actually deal with real problems on the ground and the mindless, humorless attitudes which the overarching bureaucracy used, first to try and tame his spirit... and finally to remove him in a most dishonorable way.
... I would highly recommend Peasants Come Last as giving about as clear a snapshot of Peace Corps today, warts and all, as I can imagine.
— PETER MONTALBANO
Former Peace Corps Volunteer
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Brown’s book, Peasants Come Last, underscores the essential disconnect between bureaucracy and the actual work done on the ground in any government-sponsored project—between people who have committed to spend years of their lives in Third World nations doing the complex and sometimes dangerous work mandated by the project, and the office careerists sitting safely at desks who shift lives and fates like pawns across a chessboard.
The Peace Corps is a prime example of an institution born of an idealism which rode the wave of social change and dynamic altruism that washed over the 1960s, but which tended to find itself increasingly in danger of being beached on the gritty sandbanks of bureaucratic procedure, political posturing, and the petty one-upmanship without which no office, federal or otherwise, would be complete.
...Yet for all his indictment of the artery-hardening of the Peace Corps on its fiftieth anniversary, Brown’s book is also bright with the same inspiration that led him to the Peace Corps in the first place. As he points out, the idealism that powered the Peace Corps in 1961 can be part of what rejuvenates the organization and its ideals in the next half century. That, and making sure peasants come first.
— GRANT HAYTER-MENZIES
Biographer and Historian