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Editorial Reviews

A 60-year-old rural Ethiopian villager seeking a second wife purchases 13-year-old Mahabouba for $10. Seven months pregnant by age 14, she flees savage whippings at home, running away to give birth alone. Labor lasts seven days. Mahabouba loses her baby, her pelvis rots; she can't control her bowels or bladder; she can't even walk or stand. Hyenas circle, lured by her blood. Then, Mahabouba, who is profoundly brave, crawls to a missionary one town over, inching forward on her arms. She lands at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and recovers there, at "puddle city", as the devoted, progressive staff fondly jokes, since patients drip urine all day long (floors are mopped many times hourly).

Pulitzer Prize-winning husband and wife journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn root out the barbaric injustices brutalizing Mahaboubas all across developing nations in Half the Sky, a magnificent, roaring abolitionists' plea to shoulder the burden of female oppression by empowering our fellow humankind. "This is a story of transformation," they urge.

Wife abuse; fistulas; sex slavery; honor killings; female genital mutilation (vaginal openings are sewn up with a wild thistle); illiteracy; sex-selective abortion; starvation; AIDS; and the epidemic of rape are among the hard, heavy contents of this book. Yet Half the Sky, as navigated by Kristof and WuDunn, transcends its narrative of despair with vivid, descriptive language and by balancing meticulous gumshoe reporting with intimate profiles in gender inequality. "What You Can Do" is the book's uplifting final chapter, ticking off immediate ways for listeners to connect with women in need.

Cassandra Campbell — whose low pitch and measured pacing lend dignity to the mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters whose horrors she's voicing — masterfully narrates Half the Sky. Campbell is a journalistic narrator, too much a pro to nuance her reading with shock or hysterical outrage. This restraint is most appreciated during exceptionally anguished confidences, as when Zoya Najabi of Kabul reveals her mother-in-law once shredded the soles of her feet with a stick "until they were like yogurt". —Nita Rao

Publisher's Summary

Two Pulitzer Prize winners expose the most pervasive human-rights violation of our era - the oppression of women in the developing world - and tell us what we can do about it.

An old Chinese proverb says, "Women hold up half the sky." Then why do the women of Africa and Asia persistently suffer human rights abuses?

Continuing their focus on humanitarian issues, journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn take us to Africa and Asia, where many women live in profoundly dire circumstances....and some succeed against all odds.

A Cambodian teenager is sold into sex slavery; a formerly illiterate woman becomes a surgeon in Addis Ababa. An Ethiopian woman is left for dead after a difficult birth; a gang rape victim galvanizes the international community and creates schools in Pakistan. An Afghan wife is beaten by her husband and mother-in-law; a former Peace Corps volunteer founds an organization that educates and campaigns for women's rights in Senegal.

Through their powerful true stories, the authors show that the key to progress lies in unleashing women's potential, that change is possible, and that each of us can play a role in making it happen.

©2009 Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (P)2009 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

"If you have always wondered whether you can change the world, read this book. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written a brilliant call to arms that describes one of the transcendent injustices in the world today." (Fareed Zakaria, author, The Post-American World)

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  • Overall

This unabridged book is abridged

The book itself is excellent, although very intense. Eye-opening about the extent of violence against women and girls, and inspiring in terms of the stories of people who have challenged the status quo and brought about important changes.

However, be aware that this unabridged book is abridged in some places. I was reading along in my Kindle version, while listening, only to discover that a section of text was left out. At the end of Chapter 4, the print version has this text included in the last paragraph, but it is eliminated from the Audible version: "In 2009, Mukhtar married a policeman who had long pleaded for her hand. She became his second wife, making Mukhtar an odd emblem of women's rights, but the marriage proceeded only after the first wife convinced Mukhtar that this was what she genuinely wanted. It was another unusual chapter in an unusual life."

I haven't been comparing the print and Audible versions systematically, but now I'm wondering what else was eliminated (censored?). If the book were listed as abridged, I would have no problem with text being left out. But the fact it's identified as unabridged and then eliminates text makes me angry and mistrustful of other Audible books. Add to this the fact that the text that was eliminated contains content that would be uncomfortable to many Western, Christian sensibilities and I get even more angry. Is someone censoring Audible's books?

75 of 77 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ella
  • toronto,, Ontario, Canada
  • 10-21-09

"Women hold up half the sky"

Women are the most under utilized resource in third world countries. By bringing you personally into each of the girl's lives, and describing in great detail each story as it unravels, you become entwined in their circumstance. You wonder if each one lives, dies or prospers through their terrifying story. Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn bring the plight of injustice and brutality of women in third world countries to your heart and mind through first hand experiences. You will read about sex trade and how the men who run the brothels keep the girls addicted to drugs, about gang rapes which often end up in mutilation, causing fistulas where feces and urine can no longer be contained, about lack of health facilities, birth control and education. You will read about violence and abuse of wives, not only by their misogynistic husbands, but also by their mothers in law, and you will understand what FGM is (female genital mutilation or "cutting").

This is not an easy book to get through, it is hard and real life, but not without at least giving you some hope to help. What I took away from this, is even I can make a difference. The authors explain in detail about micro financing and how you can loan small amounts of money, which will empower women to rise above their situations. They give examples of organizations who pair you up with real people so you can see first hand your positive results. Through Organizations like Kiva, Women for Women Int., Heifer Int., Girls Learning Int., American Jewish World Service and many others, you can actually make a difference in someone's life. When I was finished, I couldn't wait to do my part. In summary, although this book is enlightening, it is also preachy, but without bringing these stories into your soul, and tugging at your conscience and heart strings there would be no change in the world....change that is so badly needed.

19 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Book - But Not a Great Audio

Still listening to it but I am sorry I am hearing it instead of reading it. The narrator sounds like she is reading a menu. The subject is so compelling and overwhelmning but that is DESPITE the robot rendition. Maybe you can`t dramatize a non-fiction book and it would be inappropriate to have a narrator screeching and screaming but the flat automaton read style does not work. But this is just my personal take - the content is enough to change your mind forever.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


This is a book everyone needs to read... men and women! Well written, shilling, inspiring, and though provoking but more important action provoking! This is not just a book you ask someone after reading "what you think"- you ask "what did you do!"

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kelly
  • West Orange, NJ, United States
  • 03-04-10

It could be great, but it's not

I was really looking forward to this book because not only the subject matter, but the women facing extraordinary challenges need much more attention. This book could have been really amazing, but I found the narrator to be tiresome and monotone. There was no energy, no realness, no compassion in her voice, there were just words. In terms of the writing style, it was repetitive and at times it was preachy.

In all, the message is obviously worthwhile and the personal stories about individual women really make this book, which is why I gave it three stars and not less. But the narration was subpar and I gave up on it. I'm going to read it instead.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Starlet
  • San Carlos, CA, United States
  • 11-15-09

If You Care About Human Rights

Truly, a wonderful book -- if you care about human rights and, more importantly, want to read a riveting book at the same time, you will love it. There are many anecdotes throughout about real life situations that are happening today all over the world; in particular, the abuse of women. However, rather than just telling about the plight of women, the authors cite many positive examples of how providing women freedom brings benefits to nations, and refers to China as a glowing example. This book opens your eyes wide and it has changed my view completely and I will begin to focus more on causes that help girls and education. Reading some of the Amazon reviews for this book provides much information on how to get involved, written by people already involved and knowledgeable. The book is an eye opener because it is truly incredulous to hear about what goes on regarding women still, today, in many countries This is a must read for everyone. It must be understood by all how much of a sad waste of resources lies in bringing women into the fold of society in a positive way, instead of using them as slaves and worse.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Powerful stories

What made the experience of listening to Half the Sky the most enjoyable?

no theory but actual, very moving stories

What did you like best about this story?

variety of stories

Any additional comments?

This book makes you think and can touch you deeply. Why? Because these stories are real, they are narrated beautifully in a way that you can easily relate to the individuals in the stories. In addition, I have never listened to an audiobook or read a book where the English was so impeccable.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Highly Informative

If you could sum up Half the Sky in three words, what would they be?

Moving, informative, actionable

What did you like best about this story?

Specific examples of female abuse likely barely known by those who have not lived or had extend stay experience in poor countries - especially outside of the US, overall maternal health issues, and benefits plus lack of women education - sex trade is terrible...but many other terrible abuses.

Have you listened to any of Cassandra Campbell’s other performances before? How does this one compare?


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, because of interest BUT no practical becuause of time and need to absorb and reflect

Any additional comments?

First rate...held my attention and looked forward to next opportunity to resume listening.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Shook up my world vision

This book is an incredible expose that should be mandatory reading for everyone in the "free world." Others out there are not as "free" as we think!

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

A Must-Read for ALL Women

If you could sum up Half the Sky in three words, what would they be?

Heartbreaking. Provocative. Motivating.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

This book not only gives the listener/reader a window into the international plight of many females, but also directs one to many wonderful resources to begin to positively impact and assist those in need, even if from your computer.

Any additional comments?

Our Book Club read this as one of our monthly suggestions, very few of which are non-fiction, and all agreed that this had the most impact on us in a heartbreaking and motivating way realizing that everyone in America can, and should, help in a small, or big, way. We as a group now have chosen to make a donation by "passing the bucket" every month at our Book Club meeting to be a part of the change and solution through sponsoring education and Kiva micro loans for some of those in need.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful