The book is organized into four parts. After the initial introductory chapters (Part 1), the chapters proceed in a roughly chronological order.
PART 1: THE PARADOX
The introductory section sets out the motivations for the book, the key debates and themes with which it engages, and some of the debates about Bangladesh's achievements to date (Chapter 1, 'Bangladesh's Surprising Success'). Following this, background is provided, setting out some facts and figures of Bangladesh's success and showing why Bangladesh is seen as a success story (Chapter 2, 'From Malthusia to the Bangladesh Paradox'). It then unpicks the 'triple-lock' political settlement in Bangladesh with a close look at the substance of the development contract, through an examination of the Bangladeshi elite, its relations with the mass of citizens and externally with the international community and aid donors, and the perceptions, interests, and relationships among these groups (Chapter 3, 'The Elites, the Masses, and Their Donors').
PART 2: THE BASKET CASE
The second part takes us back to the period immediately following independence. It looks at how the context for development policy was set by the devastation of the war, the preceding decades of rural impoverishment and subsistence crises, the condition of the civil administration, and the aid- dependent international relations with which the strategically insignificant Bangla Desh was burdened. Drawing on the work of feminist scholars, it focuses in particular on the broken patriarchal bargain, the result of wartime rapes, widowhood, and abandonment, as the start of the state's early recognition of 'the woman problem', and its relatively strong emphasis on women's development (Chapter 4, 'The Breaking of the Patriarchal Bargain and the Emergence of the "Woman Issue"').
A chapter on the famine of 1974 puts this tragedy at the centre of the analysis (Chapter 5, '1974'). This critical juncture showed that the growing rural proletariat was relentlessly buffeted by market and environmental shocks, and that women were acutely vulnerable. The famine is treated as the single most important cause in a re-negotiation of the social contract that laid the foundations for the successful project of national development.
PART 3: THE TEST CASE FOR DEVELOPMENT
In the third part we start to see the national development project emerge. The after-effects of the famine and its lessons for development more generally are taken up in a chapter that discusses the politics of reforms in food security, and experiments with social protection and poverty reduction (Chapter 6, 'Never Again: The Long Shadow of Famine'). Next we turn to an exploration of institutional innovations such as NGOs and vertical campaigns to reach the rural masses with health, fertility control, and education. These pioneering development efforts were about changing the bodies and minds of the mass of Bangladeshis, and they came with strong commitment from the Bangladeshi elite, for whom the people had to be equipped to engage with development (Chapter 7, 'Making Bangladeshis').
PART 4: THE BENGAL TIGER
This brings us full circle to the idea of Bangladeshi development success. In the fourth and concluding section, we look at the changes in Bangladeshi society that are unsettling the old bargains and demanding a more challenging set of rights to be protected. We see a highly globalized population, with skills wanted in the wider world economy (Chapter 8, 'Aerotropolitans and Cinderellas: Bangladeshis in the Global Economy'). But these are generally low-level skills, learned in a public service regime that can deliver only basic services, creating a low-skill equilibrium trap. When they go abroad to work, as when they work at home, they are unprotected. Those not fortunate enough to have steady public or private sector jobs are the flexible workforce of global capitalism, chronically precarious as a result of that position. These groups are increasingly restive, prone to unruly politics and excluded from the mainstream policy agenda. In the conclusion (Chapter 9, 'Post-Malthusian Futures: Towards A New Social Contract') it is argued that to incorporate this group, the elite will need to agree to a re-settlement that makes more stringent demands than the basic protections of the past. This will include protecting workers from a world workplace that strips them of their citizenship and workers' rights, even while it struggles with the implications of climate change and global economic turbulence.