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A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide [Paperback]

Samantha Power
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Feb 2010

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction 2003

A shattering history of the last hundred years of genocidal war that itemises in authoritative, persuasive manner exactly what the West knew and when, and what it chose to do, and what not to do, with that knowledge.

Winner of the US National Book Critics Circle Award

‘The United States has never in its history intervened to stop genocide and has in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred.’

In this convincing and definitive interrogation of the last century of American history and foreign policy, Samantha Power draws upon declassified documents, private papers, unprecedented interviews and her own reporting from the modern killing fields to tell the story of American indifference and American courage in the face of man's inhumanity to man.

Tackling the argument that successive US leaders were unaware of genocidal horrors as they were occurring – against Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Kurds, Rwandans, Bosnians – Samantha Power seeks to establish precisely how much was known and when, and claims that much human misery and tragedy could readily have been averted. It is clear that the failure to intervene was usually caused not by ignorance or impotence, but by considered political inaction. Several heroic figures did work to oppose and expose ethnic cleansing as it took place, but the majority of American politicians chose always to do nothing, as did the American public: Power notes that ‘no US president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on.’ This riveting book makes a powerful case for why America, as both sole superpower and global citizen, must make such indifference a thing of the past.

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A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide + Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda + We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New Ed edition (26 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007172990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007172993
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 131,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Fascinating. An important book, a superb piece of reporting which cumulatively grows into a major political work, part polemic, part moral philosophy.’ Observer

‘Deeply researched and trenchantly argued. A devastating indictment not just of the American foreign policy establishment but of the country’s entire political class, the media and even the wider public.’ Niall Ferguson, Sunday Times

‘Power is part of an inspiring generation of political thinkers who are academically brilliant but who also know how to write.’ David Hare, Books of the Year, Observer

About the Author

SAMANTHA POWER founded the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and is now a faculty affiliate. From 1993 to 1996 she covered the wars in Yugoslavia as a reporter for US News and the Economist. A native of Ireland, she moved to the US in 1979 at the age of nine, and graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School.

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First Sentence
On March 14, 1921, on a damp day in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, a twenty-four-year-old Armenian crept up behind a man in a heavy gray overcoat swinging his cane. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Genocide Is Repetitive 29 Oct 2002
By taking a rest HALL OF FAME
It should be the easiest subject to have universal agreement on; Genocide is reprehensible and cannot be defended. The reality is of course much different for our species is the only one that kills, tortures, and maims its members without cause. Differences in religion, the desire to control land, natural resources, or hunger for power are not reasons to kill entire groups. The title of the book is, "A Problem From Hell", and it is an outstanding work by Samantha Power. She is not only a competent historian she spent years in the midst of one of the more recent examples of what could also be called, a problem of human nature. This Nation's Congress took 40 years to ratify the treaty on Genocide. It seems some Southern Congressmen were worried about culpability from Jim Crow that was still alive and well, others for the millions of Native Americans slaughtered because they were in our way.
She specifically covers the massacre of Armenians by Turkey, Hitler's murder of the Jews, Pol Pot's slaughter of Cambodians, Saddam Hussein gassing minorities in Iraq, the 1994 murder of 800,000 people in Rwanda, and most recently the Serb Nationalist's bid to join the roster of those who kill almost for sport. The mass killing is not sport however the individual conduct of the sadists who enjoy inventive killing is hard to read.
In 1915 The United States was not in a position to impose on Turkey. It is now 2002 and The United States deems Turkey an ally, a country that has refused to admit any Genocide took place. The United States has a congress that killed a vote condemning the Turkish Government because hours before the vote President Clinton, a lame duck President asked them too.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly informative 16 Dec 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Samantha Power won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her book and after reading it, you'll understand why. She must have put years of research into this book, in fact tome is more accurate. It is near obsessively thorough and she explains how the term genocide was created and where and by whom it was perpetrated from 1915 up to 2001. I consider myself pretty well versed in 20th century history but I confess to feeling dumbstruck at the scale and scope of the last century's attrocities. It is a thought provoking and enormously valuable guide to those of you who want to find what lies behind the "spin", lies and disinformation propagated by most governments. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Never again' should mean something... 5 Feb 2011
If there was ever a book I would make required reading for all heads of state and government leaders, this would be that book. Despite making much-vaunted claims of 'never again' when speaking of the Holocaust, Power shows that America and the West has indeed allowed genocide to occur, over and over again - in Iraq, in Bosnia, in Cambodia, in Rwanda. Only once has the West intervened to prevent genocide from occuring, in Kosovo, and then only largely because the world had already seen Milosevic commit genocide against the Muslims in Bosnia.

She argues that America repeatedly refuses to intervene unless the situation becomes politically untenable in not doing so. If American interests are not threatened, America is not interested - despite its moral repugnance at the acts occuring. America repeats ducks its responsibilities by arguing that there is no consensus to act, no movement from its European allies, no pressure on the home front - but should a government with the power to prevent a genocide from taking place wait until its hand is forced by outside intervention?

Power doesn't solely attribute blame to the U.S., but she is quite adamant that when a country positions itself as the leader of the free world, it is expected to, well, lead. And it's hard to argue with her, when this powerful, angry book shows time and again that American governmental officials have sat back and allowed genocide to happen. So much for 'never again'.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic History 17 Dec 2003
This passionately and eloquently argued book is an essential work of 20th century history. It is compelling from first page to last, written with academic precision in brilliant prose, and it well deserves the praise it has been awarded. Chronicling and scrutinising U.S. involvement in the genocides of the last century, Power paints a startling and damning picture of countless administrations and government officials in their employ. It is a vast, chilling, and important account of an aspect of our world that won't go away until we choose to do something about it. It is also a book about the many, many individuals who have worked assiduously to try and prevent genocides; here there is hope. With bravery and persistence people can make a difference, and intervention - whether NATO bombing or a simple phone-call - can, and frequently has, saved lives. Very highly recommended.
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