Book reviews at Zócalo Public Square

Last week, Zócalo Public Square ran the first book review I wrote for them. The inaugural piece was on  The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty by R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2006, Warren Buffet made a $31 billion gift to the Gates Foundation. He explained the generous donation this way: “A market system has not worked in terms of poor people.”

R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan, the dean and a senior lecturer at Columbia Business School, turn Buffet’s assertion on its head in The Aid Trap. Free markets, they say, are not the cause of poverty. Indeed, the market system and strong private business sectors are the solution to poverty.

“The market has not worked in poor countries because it never had the chance,” Hubbard and Duggan write.

For those who feel good about their charitable contributions, The Aid Trap is not an easy idea to stomach: The food and clothes and medicine rich countries send to poor countries, the money they put in the hands of government programs, even the wells enterprising students dig in villages during their summer vacations — this kind of long-accepted charity does very little to alleviate poverty. In fact, flooding the market with free goods makes it difficult for local businesses to compete and provides incentives for governments to maintain the status quo.

You can read the whole review at Zócalo. Hubbard and Duggan make a compelling argument to change the way we look at charity. Zócalo is dedicated to increasing public discourse, so please do weigh in and comment. I’ll be writing reviews regularly. The next review will be on Vali Nasr’s Forces of Fortune.

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News and Features

If you’re looking for a resume, you can find out more about my work on LinkedIn. Jump down the page for a complete list of publications. You can also find a list of my appearances as a speaker, moderator and panelist. I also keep an updated list of book reviews, if that’s what you’ve come here for.

Here is a sampling of stories I have written or worked on:

Public Radio International

Prize-winning editing: American Mosaic Prize for Valeria Fernández
2016, 2017

Edited two of the three works cited in prize for narrative journalism.

Investigative project and team management: Walls We Don’t See

Assignment, developmental and narrative editing, budget management, team management for multi-platform reporting project.

Entrepreneurial Journalism: Global Nation Reporting Fund
2016, 2017

Created a fund and brought in 50 new contributors for greater diversity, more on-the-ground reporting at PRI’s The World.

Multimedia, long-form editing: The children of H-1B visa holders are growing up — and still waiting for green cards
February 13, 2018

Engagement: Creator and convener of the Global Nation Exchange on Facebook

Run fellowship program to give leadership of the group to the most active of its thousands of member.

Enterprise/On-air: As Trump ends Obama-era protections for Salvadorans, a family in Minnesota has few good options to stay together
March 2, 2018

Investigation: The US has already tried registering Muslims. It didn’t work.
December 14, 2016

News Feature: ‘Detained because my name was Gonzalez’
March 25, 2016

Essay: I moved to Minneapolis for Prince
April 21, 2016

News: ‘For a lot of our families, having a son or a daughter who is gay maybe was a secret until this weekend’
June 13, 2016

Investigation/Editing: These asylum-seekers are being forced to raise their kids in immigration ‘jails’
July 29, 2016

News: Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only one to break barriers at the Democratic National Convention
July 7, 2016

News: The Department of Justice will stop contracting with private prison companies, but immigration officials won’t follow suit
august 18, 2016

News Feature: Who made the Iran deal happen? Here are some of the people behind the scenes.
July 14, 2015

Interview: A Filipino restaurant owner says shame may be one reason authentic Filipino food has not become mainstream
February 13, 2014

News: These open government advocates are suing the federal government for access to immigration data
April 10, 2014

Report/Infographic: Is Obama really the ‘Deporter-in-Chief?’ Depends on whom you ask
April 10, 2014

See more stories at PRI.

Pacific Standard (formerly Miller-McCune Magazine)

Feature: Global and Underground
July 27, 2012

A university in Iran connects to the rest of the world to give the minority Bahá’í community opportunities for higher education

Analysis: India, China, and the Importance of Storytelling
March 14, 2012

Katherine Boo’s debut book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is a powerful story set in a Mumbai slum, and a reminder of how important stories about ordinary people can be.

Feature: UCLA’s New School of Thought
June 23, 2010

A collaboration between UCLA and the Los Angeles school district aims for the kind of bilingual excellence that’s common in Europe.

LA Weekly

Feature: Haute Hijabis
June 21, 2012

Marwa Atik needs five pieces of trim, the kind embellished with pearls and black jewels. At a store in downtown L.A.’s Fashion District, boxes of trimmings line the walls from floor to ceiling, but Atik scans quickly and zeroes in on what she wants…. For the next five days, the designer will create elaborate hijabs, which are head-scarves for Muslim women, to display at an upcoming Irvine fashion show.

Feature: Geek Looks Like a Lady
February 16, 2012

It’s not that the PyLadies are intimidated by the men who dominate computer programmer events and workshops. It’s just that they got tired of feeling like outsiders.

Profile: Bollywood in L.A.: Naz 8 Cinema Manager on His Journey From Kashmir to Artesia
March 8, 2012

Growing up in Kashmir, Raj Singh loved going to the theater. “In Kashmir, I was watching two movies in a day,” Singh recalls. “Here, I have no time to see movies.”

Tina's Mouth: An Existential Diary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) "I'm an alien (but my parents are Indian.)"

Interview: Tina’s Mouth
January 23, 2012

A graphic novel that gives Indian American stereotypes the finger

Feature: A Man of Faith
January 19, 2012

The offices of L.A. Voice, where Umar Hakim is in residency, are on the third floor of the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles. So when it comes time for Hakim to offer his daily prayers, he finds a quiet room, faces Mecca and turns his thoughts to God.

Los Angeles Review of Books

Podcast: China, Apple Factories, Suicide, and Big Lies
April 26, 2012

Rob Schmitz is the Shanghai bureau chief for American Public Media’s Marketplace. He broke the story about Mike Daisey, showing that Daisey’s reporting on Chinese factory workers for This American Life was full of fabrication. He talks here with Angilee Shah about that story, about reporting in China, and about the problems trying to understand the vast, rapidly changing country.

DAME Magazine

News Analysis: Women and Guns: Hype vs Reality
April 12, 2012

Pro-gun organizations and retailers have been hailing the rise of women gun owners for years and the mass media has not been far behind. Reports about women with guns and stores that are seeing a rise female customers have been circulating newspapers since the 1980s. Today’s “pink pistols” are reminiscent of the Ladysmith handguns of 30 years ago. But is it true? Are women really a fast-growing group of new gun owners?

New America Media

News: Asian GOP Officials Ascend—With Little Republican Help
September 21, 2011

LOS ANGELES—Asian Republican politicians holding local offices around California want to increase their number. They met during the Republican Fall Convention in downtown Los Angles last Saturday to discuss how the GOP can help candidates get elected and court Asian American voters. (This article also ran in Hypen and AsianWeek.)

Huffington Post

News Feature: What Obama Missed in Indonesia
October 19, 2010

In a post-Suharto era, Islamist parties have contested freely in three national elections raising questions, sometimes anxieties, about how this majority-Muslim country will position Islam in its politics.

Mother Jones (Online)

News Feature: Happy Fred Korematsu Day
January 30, 2011

This weekend, American civil rights activists celebrate a new icon: Fred Korematsu, the Japanese-American who resisted placement in a World War II-era internment camp. It’s the first holiday in the US commemorating an Asian-American—and it’s proof to some judges and civil rights activists that a new generation of Asian-American leaders can’t be far behind.

Afaq Al Mustaqbal Magazine (Abu Dhabi)

Book Review and Q&A: Temptations of Power (English)
Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2010

A review of The Icarus Syndrome and short Q&A with author Peter Beinart, which was translated into Arabic and edited for length (PDF, Arabic).

UCLA Magazine (Web Exclusive)

Event: The Good Daughter
February 22, 2010

When Jasmin Darznik was naughty as a child, her mother Lili would say, “If you become like the girls here, I’ll go back to Iran to live with my Good Daughter.”

Far Eastern Economic Review

Investigative Report: Colombo’s Secret War on Terror [PDF]
March 6, 2009

Colombo — The Sri Lankan government is on the cusp of achieving what once seemed impossible. Its armed forces are crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the battlefield, having pushed the rebels out of their northern stronghold and surrounded them in a few coastal villages. The administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa hopes that destroying the Tigers’ organization will bring an end to the 26-year civil war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

News Feature: Colombo Blacklists Outside Observers (also in the Wall Street Journal) [PDF]
June 5, 2009

In Sri Lanka’s final push to rout the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), information about what was happening on the front lines was hard to come by. The last week of major military action focused on just a sliver of land in the northeast which was still occupied by what remained of the LTTE. But on May 11 the United Nations estimated that 50,000 civilians were still caught between government forces and the rebels. Gordon Weiss, U.N. spokesperson in Colombo, warned the world that the final surge, and shelling from both sides, was a “bloodbath scenario” coming true. And while Sri Lankan government officials decried what they saw as an alarmist and false analysis, international organizations and journalists were not allowed to see for themselves what was happening on the ground.

News Feature: Colombo’s Rough Justice for Tamils [PDF]
September 4, 2009

People mill about an office complex in Colombo, waiting for appointments with lawyers who are crammed into small cubicles. In one corner office, mothers and grandparents, wives and siblings, stream in one by one. Sometimes they have long, convoluted stories; sometimes their stories are very simple. One woman says her son was detained in a police search and cordon operation. Another traveled from London in search of her brother whom she believes is in police custody. One man says his cousin was arrested while buying a SIM card for his cell phone. There is, however, a common thread: They are all Tamils with family members who have been detained without charge.

Zócalo Public Square

Book Review: Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy
March 3, 2010

Demick addresses this darkness and the history that felled a once progressing nation, but Nothing to Envy is particularly compelling when it’s personal. Demick tells stories of North Koreans with whom Americans can empathize. Six real people fall in love, start businesses, and fight with their mothers —  all while struggling with hunger and brutal politics and, eventually, refugee life. It is a cinematic book, reminiscent at once of an epic war film and John Hersey’s classic reportage in Hiroshima.

Book Review: What Everyone Needs to Know About China and Burma
April 21, 2010

Think of the What Everyone Needs to Know series as Lonely Planet for the politically inclined — rich context for the diplomat, the observant traveler, or the news junkie.

See a complete list of my nonfiction book reviews.

Reporting on Health

Live Blogging: South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, in March, 2011

SXSW Interactive: Health Outlook
Mobile Health Applications: The View from SXSW Interactive (Storify)
Health Reform and Insuring the Creative Class
Examining health and Facebook with Aimee Roundtree
SXSW Interactive: A health wrap-up for journalists

Blogging: Interviews, updates and perspectives on the future of health journalism

Read more blog posts about health and media.

The China Beat

Feature: The Best Reporting on the Sichuan Earthquake You’ll Never See
October 25, 2008

Busan, Korea — Pan Jianlin’s documentary about the earthquake that struck Sichuan province on May 12 made a quiet debut on a Sunday morning, at 10 a.m., the third day of this year’s Pusan International Film Festival. With its not-so-great timing and grim title, Who Killed Our Children was a blip on the festival calendar’s 315 films and 85 world premieres. And if you happened to miss the documentary in Korea, it’s possible you will not have an opportunity to see it again.

Book: Contributer to China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers)

The Great China Roadtrip

Photography/Travel: Stories that aren’t about the Olympics
August, 2009

I joined Anka Lee on his great roadtrip during the 2008 Beijing Olympics — only to avoid the Olympics altogether and get a glimpse of China’s changing cities. The essays and photos were published and seen on Anka’s blog as well as on the website of NBC11 in Northern California. You can see all the photos on my Flickr page.

Asian Geographic

Magazine Feature: Treading Water: A North Jakarta Neighbourhood’s Struggle Against the Flood [PDF]
March, 2008
with photos by Jacqueline Koch

Jakarta — There is a neighbourhood in North Jakarta that stretches from a fish market in the south, and then around the Jakarta Bay to a waduk (man-made lake) in the north. It sits between the West Canal and the Muara Angke River. But it is not the kind of waterfront property that sets Jakarta’s hungry developers drooling.

Asia Pacific Arts

Culture: West by Way of East: Chandni Chowk to China
Jan. 23, 2009

A lot is riding on Warner Brothers’ culture crash Chandni Chowk to China. When the dust and incense clears, the surprise is that everyone leaves unscathed.

Culture/Multimedia: Infected by the Fever
Oct. 19, 2007

In the midst of touring and showcasing their new documentary, Dengue Fever invites APA to lounge in their shed-turned-studio, as the band experiments with beats and explains how Cambodianization breeds musical haikus.


Feature/Multimedia: Sixty-two years ago today (via Internet Archive)
Aug. 3, 2007

Steven Okazaki brings the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into the present in his new documentary about survivors.

News Feature: Thailand’s former foreign minister looks to the future (via Internet Archive)
Nov. 3, 2006

Kantathi Suphamongkohn says he saw the coup coming, but does not yet know what his next move will be.

Editing: Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election: Tamils explain why they will not vote (via Internet Archive)
Nov. 16, 2005

In this investigative report, winner of first prize in the New Media category from the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), Arthur Rhodes reports on Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka, for whom a ceasefire does not mean peace and an election does not mean change.

UCLA International Institute
News Feature: New Life for Indian Music at UCLA
Oct. 6, 2005

Visiting artists celebrate endowment of the Sambhi Chair in Indian music, bring more than music to courses.

Global Voices

Blogging: Reports and roundups of perspectives from a world of bloggers


Editing: Brides from Abroad
Nov. 2004

Manu Raju’s report on how immigration laws sanction domestic violence in South Asian American homes, which won a South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) award in the New Media category

Here’s a more complete list of publications I have written for:


My name is Angilee Shah and I am a journalist, editor and blogger. I work on stories as diverse as features about women in tech, investigative reports on Sri Lanka’s civil war, and scholar and journalist collaborations for a book on China. The common thread is always my interest in the world, the way people interact across cultures and boundaries and the endless variety of cultures to explore. Lucky for me, I was born in a generation that has Internet access, VOIP and budget airlines. These are the tools that allow me to work as a writer and editor on issues related to the broad topics of politics and culture. I am the social media manager at Public Radio International, where I focus on global health and development as well as immigration and culture I also help to conceptualize and design publications (I served as the community manager at, the social site of the USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships for two years and helped launch a magazine for South Asian American women). I am a consulting editor to the Journal of Asian Studies and the co-editor of a book of narratives essays about China, Chinese Characters, which will be published by UC Press this summer.

If you’re looking for a resume, you can find out more about my work on LinkedIn and read some of my writing in my Portfolio. You can also find me on Ebyline.

You can contact me by commenting here. Or via email or Skype:


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iPhone: Cracked but still good

i cracked my iphone

Last week I impulsively tweeted (twittered? I think that’s more clear) about the unfortunate accident my iPhone met with my bathroom floor. I guess it’s lucky that the damage is superficial, but I was floored by the outpouring of support I received from friends and strangers. So here’s the update: Everything still works and a smooth plastic cover is preventing me from cutting my finger when I play FS5 Hockey.

In truth, I don’t play games on my iPhone all that often, unless you consider Facebook and Twitter games. I have a friend who scrolls through the applications I’ve downloaded every time we meet, looking for new tools and tricks to help her make the most of this very expensive little device. I thought I’d post some of my favorites here. These are the applications that I think make my life much more efficient — they’re helpful for me, a Los Angeles-based writer who travels often, particularly in Asia.

more than politics

This week I’m revisiting one of my favorite books, the famous fictionalized account of the last months in the life of South American liberator Simon Bolivar by Gabriel Garci­a Marquez. I cannot recall the first time I read The General in His Labyrinth except that it was early in my college career and it opened my eyes to world literature. My notes in the book seem completely unfamiliar — I appear to have fact-checked the book, not just against history but also to spot the moments which are fantasies of the character Boli­var’s troubled mind. Now, I read the book differently. I am drawn to Manuela Saenz, whom the General loves with an incomprehensible depth. What is more incomprehensible is the way that she loves him, despite his pride and his descent, or maybe because of those things. Here is one of Garcia Marquez’s earliest introductions to Manuela:

Manuel read to him for two hours. She had been young until a short time before, when her flesh bagan to overtake her age. She smoked a sailor’s pipe, used the verbena water favored by the military as her perfume, dressed in men’s clothing, and spent time with soldiers, but her husky voice still suited the penumbra of love. She read by the scant light of the candle, sitting in an armchair that bore the last viceroy’s coat of arms, and he listened to her in bed, lying on his back, dressed in the civilian clothes he wore at home and covered by a vicuna poncho. Only the rythym of his breathing indicated that he was not asleep.

Since I last read this book, it has been used many times to describe the descent of a different general, Prevez Musharraf of Pakistan. The New York Times took the book’s title for an editorial calling on American to “disentangle itself from the sinking fortunes of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.” Both the London Review of Books and the Washington Post reuse the novel’s title to headline reviews of Musharaff’s memoir.

I think this is an overly simple trope that belies the depth of Garcia Marquez’s work. Indeed, the novel is about a general in his darkest hours, during the last days of his power. But what is most dark and beautiful here is not the political turmoil, not as simple as the news events that color newspapers’ accounts of Musharraf’s last days in charge. It is about how a liberator gets lost because, even though his days in battle are over, in his final days he is still at war within himself and his memories.

It was a bit of serendipity that I happened to unpack this book from my moving boxes. I am thinking a lot about the lasting impacts of war these days, both for those who commit themselves to war and those who find themselves in its path. Perhaps this is why Manuela intrigues me so much; even though she is not at the fore, she plays such an intimate role in the General’s life, plunged into his wars because of her love and loyalty. It is this personal part of war which is hard to capture in news reports and book reviews, and is perhaps best understood through the lens of fiction, Garcia Marquez’s lyrical account in particular.

Completely apart from The General in His Labryinth, I also spent time last week writing some film reviews. Versions of a review of Chandni Chowk to China appeared in The China Beat and Asia Pacific Arts, as well as a review of the newest Deepa Metha film, Heaven on Earth, which also appeared in Asia Pacific Arts.

(Sorry for the lack of accents in this post — my website needs some work on the back end so they don’t show up as funny characters.)