If you don’t know much about Guatemala, then you’re not alone. But if you’d like to find out more about this country of extraordinary beauty and tragedy, then I invite you have a look at my new book What The Rich Don’t Tell The Poor: Conversations With Guatemalan Oligarchs.
You probably signed up to this blog because of your interest in the topics of my previous books, like empathy, long-term thinking or seizing the day. But long before I began writing on those issues, I was doing academic research on Guatemalan politics. Back in the early 2000s, I spent seven years interviewing members of the country’s economic elite or ‘oligarchy’ to discover how they think about poverty, violence, race and power, and how they have maintained their privileges in the face of change. What The Rich Don’t Tell The Poor reveals all that I learned, with the oligarchs speaking candidly in their own words.
We hear about Russian oligarchs and other superwealthy business elites in the media every day. But how much do we really know about them? Who are they behind a bland quote in the Wall Street Journal? My hope is that this book isn’t just revealing about Guatemala’s oligarchs, but offers insights into understanding and challenging elite power everywhere.
The book has an unusual publication history. It was originally written in 2006 – based on research in my PhD thesis – and I’ve now published it for the first time in its original version. As I write in a new 2022 Preface, although much has changed in Guatemala in the intervening years, it is staggering just how much has stayed the same. The oligarchs remain a formidable and largely unchallenged force.
Writing this book was actually my introduction to the topic of empathy – the art of stepping into the shoes of other people and looking at the world through their eyes – which I subsequently wrote about in several other books. Speaking to the oligarchs forced me to try to see the world from the perspective of people whose views and actions I deeply disagreed with, from their racism with respect to Guatemala’s Indigenous Mayan population to their support for paramilitary death squads in the long civil war. It was confronting. But also an extraordinary learning experience.
I would also hugely appreciate if you were able to spread word about the book on social media, and share details of it with friends, activists, scholars, journalists and policymakers with an interest in politics and economic power in Latin America and beyond.
Thanks for all your support.
PS. And if you’re wondering about the cover photo, it’s by the renowned Guatemalan photographer Daniel Hernández-Salazar and is called ‘Para que todos lo sepan’ (‘So That All Shall Know’). It depicts an angel created from two negatives: a young mestizo man and the shoulder blades of a murder victim from Guatemala’s civil war, found in a clandestine grave.