How does the son of farmers from Benin become a professor of political science at Princeton University? A natural aptitude for mathematics, fostered by Benin’s surprisingly good rural primary schools, obviously helped Wantchékon. Young Léonard also appears to have benefited from a large number of relatives, friends, and mentors who believed in his talents and were willing to help him. His memoir’s most evocative sections deal with his career as a left-wing pro-democracy activist at the University of Benin in the late 1970s, which made him a celebrity in student circles and a target of the military regime of President Mathieu Kérékou. Wantchékon captures well the disillusionment of a generation of his compatriots as the promise of independence was overwhelmed by economic crisis and political repression. After being arrested, tortured, and imprisoned in northern Benin, Wantchékon managed to escape to Nigeria, then immigrated as a political refugee to Canada, where he discovered economics and began his ascent in North American academia. Disarmingly candid and generous to friend and foe alike, this book will leave readers with a smile.
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In This Review
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