Half the Sky

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Half the Sky Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nicholas Kristof's Half the Sky. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nicholas Kristof

Nicholas D. Kristof grew up near the small town of Yam Hill, Oregon on a sheep and cherry farm, and began his journalism career editing his high school newspaper. He attended Harvard University, then Oxford University for law school on a Rhodes Scholarship. During those years Kristof became enamored with travel, and Kirstof has traveled to 140 countries and lived on four continents. At twenty-five, he joined The New York Times, for which he was a correspondent in Beijing with his wife Sheryl WuDunn. His op-ed columns for The Times remain a key platform for drawing the public eye to oft-ignored human rights violations worldwide. Over his career, he has investigated overseas at great personal risk, including eleven trips to Sudan during the War in Darfur, which he was among the first reporters to call a genocide. Jeffrey Toobin, a Harvard classmate and journalist, has called him “the moral conscience of our generation of journalists.” The recipient of two Pulitzer prizes and many other awards. A third-generation Chinese American, WuDunn grew up in Manhattan. She attended Cornell, then Harvard Business School for her M.B.A., and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for her M.P.A. Having been on staff at The Washington Post and The New York Times, WuDunn’s career has been diverse and high-achieving: she was also a business executive at The Times, an evening news anchor, and a vice president at Goldman Sachs, among other roles. Much of her career has focused on emerging markets in China and the developing world, and on women entrepreneurs. In 2011, she was listed among Newsweek’s Women Who Shake the World. Like Kristof, she’s a champion of human rights and won a Pulitzer Prize in collaboration with her husband for their coverage in China on the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. WuDunn and Kristoff have collaborated to write four best-selling books.
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Historical Context of Half the Sky

While working as Times correspondents in Beijing, Kristof and WuDunn witnessed and later covered the Tiananmen Square Massacre, when some 400-800 advocates for democracy were gunned down by state military. (This was the coverage for which they won a Pulitzer Prize.) This event was horrific, but the next year they discovered a more insidious problem that claims tens of thousands more lives than the massacre did: a study found that 39,000 infant girls die annually in China, simply because they receive less care than boys. This means that more baby girls die each week in China than died at Tiananmen Square, and go virtually unnoticed. Gradually, Kristof and WuDunn realized explosive events weren’t always the most important issues to cover—their very reporting showed them the insufficiency of their reporting—and they begon to focus more intently on women’s rights issues. Kristof and WuDunn, then, respond not to a single historical event, but to a steady stream of injustices toward women. These injustices have happened since time immemorial, but only recently have they received global attention. And never so much as now.

Other Books Related to Half the Sky

Half the Sky shares some ideas and arguments with Kristof and WuDunn’s following book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, which focuses on pragmatic ways to help others in developing countries, and how such help can benefit the giver. The authors also cite David Bornstein’s book, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, which provides interesting profiles of social entrepreneurs who have spurred global progress, and gives evidence that it is, in fact, realistic for individuals to change the world. Another related text is Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, a memoir about writer Jacqueline Novogratz’s quest for an intimate understanding of global poverty, and for innovative ways to rethink aid. Her approaches include the model of patient capital investment, in which benefits of aid may be deferred, but have long lasting rewards. All of these texts combine inspiring narrative with practical suggestions for ways readers can participate in today’s urgent humanitarian movements. Another memoir, I Am Malala, tells the heroic story of teenager Malala Yousafzai’s crusade for girls’ education in Pakistan, which made her a target and victim of the Taliban’s retribution, as well as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate at seventeen.
Key Facts about Half the Sky
  • Full Title: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
  • When Written: 2008
  • Where Written: New York, NY
  • When Published: 2009
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Setting: Developing countries including India, China, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Congo, Somaliland, and Cameroon

Extra Credit for Half the Sky

Family Trip. Kristof and WuDunn have two sons and a younger daughter, whom they’ve taken on reporting trips. When the daughter was eleven, they decided to show their kids brothels in South Asia to expose them to the brutal reality of gender injustice.