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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read this book
I implore everyone to read this book which details the horrendously corrupt ineffectuality of the United Nations who stood by when massacres were taking place in Rwanda, Srebenica and Darfur.
One of the co-authors, Dr Andrew Thomson, wrote a line in the book that has led to his dismissal, as reported recently in the Sunday Observer by Andrew Thomson (another of the...
Published on 3 April 2005 by Bond - Basildon Bond

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgence galore
My first recommendation is to read the other reviews, especially those who gave this book three or fewer stars. These give a good balance to the more enthusiastic five-star reviews.

As many other reviewers have spelled out the thread and content of 'Emergency Sex...', I won't waste anymore space on that. Instead, I'll cut to the strengths and weaknesses of the...
Published on 6 Feb 2012 by J. R. Pack


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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read this book, 3 April 2005
I implore everyone to read this book which details the horrendously corrupt ineffectuality of the United Nations who stood by when massacres were taking place in Rwanda, Srebenica and Darfur.
One of the co-authors, Dr Andrew Thomson, wrote a line in the book that has led to his dismissal, as reported recently in the Sunday Observer by Andrew Thomson (another of the book's authors), Thomson was lamenting UN negligence in failing Bosnian Muslims who it had promised to protect in its 'safe area' of Srebrenica where 8,000 men lost their lives. Thomson wrote, 'If blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers show up in your town or village and offer to protect you, run. Or else get weapons. Your lives are worth so much less than theirs.'
The UN leader Kofi Annan has had an easy ride from Left wing liberals who read constant uncritical accounts of his leadership in progressive newspapers like the Guardian. It is the job of the concerned and the commited of the left to construct real critiques of the UN before the right wing in America and England come to colonise the moral high ground on this issue.
Despite being reigned in by the dictats of the security council Annan has personally overseen the systematic corruption of his organisation in oil for food and sex for food scandals.
In a recent article Cain tells of his trip to the Rwanda genocide museum in Kigali where there is a reproduction of the infamous fax sent by UN commander General Romeo Dallaire imploring the then head of UN peacekeeping, Annan, for authority to defend civilians being slaughtered in their thousands. The museum also reproduces Annan's response, ordering only the defence of the UN's impartiality, forbidding him to protect desperate civillians waiting to die. While the UN withdrew as the massacres escalated - 800,000 Rwandans were left to die.
The authors moral courage in writing this book is to be celebrated and it deserves a wide readership. Hopefully serving as a timely reminder that real opposition to war, famine and corruption involves more than simplistic Bush-hating and buying centre left newspapers while self conciously advertising your hatred of Republican foreign policy.
I wish the authors every success.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgence galore, 6 Feb 2012
By 
J. R. Pack "julianpack" (Equatorial Guinea) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone (Paperback)
My first recommendation is to read the other reviews, especially those who gave this book three or fewer stars. These give a good balance to the more enthusiastic five-star reviews.

As many other reviewers have spelled out the thread and content of 'Emergency Sex...', I won't waste anymore space on that. Instead, I'll cut to the strengths and weaknesses of the book. On the plus side, it gives a reasonable inside account of the 'nineties, the decade in which humanitarian interventionism commenced in earnest, when the UN was riding high, and to which end the humanitarian business was booming - the UN created so many professional staff in this period, especially off the back of Bosnia, that they have been over-staffed for years as a result (not so easy to get people `out' once `in'). The decade that ended with the distasteful sight of 200+ NGOs lined up and raring to enter Kosovo in June 1999.

Of the three authors, the Kiwi doctor, Andrew, is the most worthwhile - as a medical doctor he actually has the most to offer in real, practical help; Harvard graduate Ken seems pushy, yet nave or perhaps an unwitting zealot for the new world order, something perhaps heading towards the 'Quiet American' of Graham Greene. Social worker Heidi, doesn't really have many redeeming features, other than a bit of pluck. In her rush to be different from the models that occupy her soon-to-be ex-husband's fashion industry world, she reveals her own vanities, as do her predictable sexual encounters. And so we continue in that vein.

The book starts well enough, and the device of alternating input from all three works best in Cambodia, where they first meet. I agree with the reviewer who said it felt as if the whole book had been written up by Ken. This literary device tends to run a bit out of steam by the time we get to Somalia - Ken and Heidi's parts provide some of the more lively/less purplely prose, in contrast to Andrew's flaccid Haitian debacle.

Each section has a brief introduction to cover what was happening in each place. Knowing little about Cambodia and only remembering the barest of details of Somalia, Rwanda, and Liberia, I found these welcome. However, this was soon spoilt by the Bosnian section - considering Andrew was there (albeit in the later stages), he seems remarkably ill-informed about the intricacies of the war there - it's as if he had just resorted to a CNN, Fox or BBC briefing: emotive and sensationalist. This spoilt the whole book and confirmed my initial suspicions that their, at times, lightweight sensationalism is the hallmark of the whole work.

Working for over two years with UNHCR in the Balkans I did meet quite a few people like this: lost souls in need of thrills, needing to feel needed and worthwhile; the wars become scaffolds for wilting egos. A local colleague told me that people generally viewed the so-called aid-workers as people who could not 'make it' in their own countries, that they were `on the run'. Indeed, I saw the irony of working in the UN refugee agency which was staffed by many self-motivated `refugees' from the US and western Europe. Many complained that once the shooting stopped, it became boring: they were gagging to get to the next `one'. These three seem no exception; I feel no sympathy for them: they put themselves in those places - they had choice, unlike the people they were supposed to be helping. Their own cynicism over the United Nations seems too little, too late to my mind - there is much truth in what they say, but they are as guilty as those they criticize.

In short, the basis of the book is factual: it is entertaining and informative to a certain level - the student of these conflicts will learn something; it's a reasonably pacy read. But it is self-indulgent and often maudlin; the thread-bare excuse for their debaucheries that it's either `emergency sex' or go off the rails, is near pathetic. It feels more that they came to those places for themselves, not for the people there. There are too many revealing comments: Ken can barely disguise that he appears jealous of the attention a colleague gets who has just lost someone close. Personally, for me the core of this book is contained in the episode when Ken recounts a rooftop sexual encounter with a French aid worker in Haiti, who at `the moment' whispers `je je je jouis' [I enjoy/am gratified] - the whole tenor of the book is more that the `jouissance' was all theirs!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been so much better, 8 Mar 2008
By 
Julia Flyte - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone (Paperback)
Saving lives while putting yours under risk sounds like the perfect material for a compelling memoir and the juicy title of this one sounds like it would deliver in spades. However I was ultimately disappointed by "Emergency Sex".

The book is written by three aid workers: Ken, a recent Harvard graduate; Heidi, a social worker from New York; and Andrew, an idealistic doctor from New Zealand. The three meet initially when they are all working in Cambodia and their stories intersect as they work together and separately on assignment in various `90s trouble spots: Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia. The book is written by each of them in turn and the pace is quick and lively. Parts are exciting (the description of being in Somalia when the Black Hawk helicopter was downed) or very moving (the description of the terrible atrocities in Rwanda and Liberia).

So it's an interesting read but somehow it failed to grab me. The book does convey what its like to be an aid worker: alternating fear, adrenalin, exhaustion, hopelessness, cynicism and only very occasionally the sense that you've made a small difference to the world. It certainly gives the flavour of how terrible things were in these places and how the UN could have done things better. However the three personalities never rang true for me. I didn't feel that I got to know these people. They all sounded curiously alike to me and I got the sense that Ken perhaps penned all three stories. Heidi comes across as Ken's fantasy girl with her limpid eyes and active sexual appetite. Andrew also comes across as Ken's fantasy of the heroic and noble doctor who windsurfs in his spare time. I'm not saying that these aren't real people, just that they never leapt off the page and became real to me.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because the nature of aid work is such that it's one long grind, the book dragged along for me. While I didn't mind it, I never felt the urge to pick it up and read more. I felt several times that I could have skipped 100 pages here or there and it wouldn't have made much difference. Really, you could flip open the book in a bookstore, read a few pages here and there, and get the flavour of the entire piece. It's not a bad book by any stretch, but it could have been much better with judicious editing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gritty and realistic, 4 July 2007
By 
A. Gibb (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone (Paperback)
Having sent some time in some of these places during my Air Force days I was interesed to see a different perspective of these places. This book is not only gritty but honest and even when times seem boring this only punctuates the frustration and fear felt when times you thought things could not get worse, they do. As the entries (this is written in a journal style) continue you are drawn into the small group and begin to genuinely care about them.
Some of the atrocities recorded here are hard to stomach but have to read so that even when you are safe and comfortable at home you can appreciate that because you can't see evil in the world, it doesn't mean it's not there. This book is proof that there are good people who care but are constantly having their hands tied by those who just don't want to look bad.
Read it, read it, read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally charged, frank and eye-opening, 9 Oct 2009
By 
B. Nunn (Sussex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone (Paperback)
It is a shame that this book was titled "Emergency Sex...", obviously it was just a publicity stunt in order to shift more copies because the outlandish nature of the title does not translate directly to the text. I do not deny however that the book is outlandish, the outlandishness stems from it's brutal honesty and humanistic nature, not from any crudities that the title may imply.

Anyone who has ever thought something about the UN, it's peacekeeping missions or the export of democracy should read this book before they come to any conclusions about any of these things, whichever ideological position they come from. The frank story-telling of the three protagonists reveals the failings of the UN on all three accounts and brings a human face to the UN. Personally having done research on the UN you could probably learn more from this book than you could spending a whole day searching the UN databases and experience a far more honest approach to the workings of the UN.

The premise of the book is that the three main writers start working for the UN, one for money, the others on a save-the-world crusade. They describe their work as they join UN missions across the world in Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and in the Balkans. Although the work is titled "Emergency Sex..." as discussed this probably doesn't accurately cover the futility of the work they conduct, whether it be knee-high in dead bodies from genocide, the blatant corruption of local officials or the death of a colleague, the book is very emotionally charged- perhaps it is the fact that the work is written by 'real-people' that the book can break down the barriers which distance you from the text on the page. The writing is no Dickens, but then it never intends to be, the work intends to humanise the work of the UN and shed light on work from the ground, from the real-ground. Written away from diplomats and self-assuring bureaucrats the book is written by an administrative assistant, lawyer and doctor and the book flicks between the everyday challenges they face and life away from home. This could be confusing but you are seamlessly flicking between their different lives on different continents.

There are some crudities, like Heidi's trip to Kenya, however, this does not distract from the main themes of the book. It is never explicit like some may be expecting it to be.

The book in many ways leaves you feeling sad and angry and like the two on the save-the-world crusade, somehow alienates you from the work the UN does and also from the work of the 'international community'. This book is a real eye-opener, it is also funny, emotional and honest. This may be one of the best books you read on world issues.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me laugh and made me cry....but more importantly made me think!, 1 Nov 2006
By 
Graeme Evans - See all my reviews
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For a person that has never really had a great interest in world politics, the United Nations or I'm ashamed to say humanitarianism, this book opened my eyes to a world that I had hitherto been ignorant! A world as ineffective in preventing genocide as it was 60 years ago!
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a massively important work, 16 Jun 2005
By 
i don't know what they teach in schools these days about genocide... when i was at school it was all how the holocaust was the darkest point in human history and how we should all learn from it, and how it could never happen again in these more civilised times... and i believed them.
This is the brutally honest account of three young idealistic UN workers who naively set out to make the world a better place in the 90s, drinking and partying they start off overseeing the first democratic elections in Cambodia, and end up confronting some of the worst horrors imaginable.
Well written and effective, with currents of dark wit... taking in places such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Liberia it pulls no punches in criticising 90s US foreign policy and the bureaucracy and failing of the United Nations.
It unflinchinly chronicles the failure of the west to stop preventable genocide.
Stories like this from the ground level, from people who were there, need to be told. A hugely important book.
it's easy to say 'never again' from our western comfort, but what's happening in Darfur now?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for dispelling some misunderstandings about the U.N., 9 Oct 2010
This review is from: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone (Paperback)
It's been a while since I read this book, and cannot vouch for its literary merits. However, it was certainly effective in cracking some holes in the U.N. wall of moral holiness... It brings the U.N. into the realm of world poltics - not much more than an impotent subject to be pushed around at will by the U.S. and its allies. Highly rewarding read in this sense.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emergency Sex, 6 Oct 2010
By 
This review is from: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone (Paperback)
There is a note to the reader at the start of the book. It says "The book does not, however, pretend to be about the nuances of international politics, and we are not claiming objective historical, journalistic, or academic accuracy."

Along with the title "Emergency Sex", sensible people should know what to expect.

I have no experiences of humanitarian aid work, but I am a student of the wars that this book covers, and at times I got shots of electricity down my spine as the authors explained events that I have read about in far drier academic analyses(such as the assassination of a human-rights investigator, in which the co-operation between Cambodian military officers and Khmer Rouge was glaring)

Read this book as it (to me, obviously) intends to be read - it's entertainment. I laughed, I didn't cry, but I was awed, a little shocked, and when I finished the book I had a profound sense of unease at my own feelings towards the events described in the book, and how I should think of these far-off wars. I am sure that this will be a book that sticks with me for many years to come.

I've no doubt there are far more objective and accurate texts dealing with this subject, but when taken in context I think this book is not a wasted read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real life rather than corporate, 20 Sep 2010
By 
F. Noronha - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone (Paperback)
How trouble-free it is to toe the corporate line and construct a bland story of life at work. Much more interesting to be given an outlook on three very real lives who have experienced a time with the UN that is so far removed from my own.

They aren't offering an all-out critique of the workings of the UN, of the rights and wrongs of mankind but it's about them and their life stories. And I found it extremely interesting. All three authors, Heidi, Ken and Andrew offer great insights. Well worth the read.
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