In This Review

The Confounding Island: Jamaica and the Postcolonial Predicament
The Confounding Island: Jamaica and the Postcolonial Predicament
By Orlando Patterson
Belknap Press, 2019, 432 pp
Purchase

Patterson explores the paradoxes of his native Jamaica in a series of stimulating essays. A historical sociologist, he burnishes his command of the scholarly literature on Jamaica by drawing from his experiences on the island as a young man and, later on, as a policy adviser. Patterson attributes neighboring Barbados’s superior economic performance to its faithful adaptation, in form and practice, of British governing institutions; in contrast, Patterson blasts Jamaica’s post-independence elites for their divisive politics, corruption, incompetence in business, and wasteful luxury consumption. Patterson is an institutionalist interested in how to create effective bureaucracies and leadership, a focus evident in how he appraises Jamaica’s excellence in track and field, for example. The sporting tradition that brought the world the sprinter Usain Bolt stems not from genetic factors but from good public health, strong athletic programs, and revered role models. Patterson locates the roots of the island’s high crime rates in the historical brutality of slavery, the country’s poverty, and gangland battles for political patronage. The book concludes on a hopeful note, sketching a rising generation of more capable democratic politicians and business executives.