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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiddling while Rome burns...
This is a book that everyone should read, voluntarily or not, just to see how incompetent, ineffectual and complacent our 'leaders' really are.

The book is well written, clearly laid out around a number of themes and obviously heartfelt. Kofi Annan himself is obviously a decent man, hard working, caring and diplomatic. But to what end? This book is a record of...
Published 20 months ago by FictionFan

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More secretary than general
My guess is this one of those weighty coffee table books with a buying to reading ratio of about 5:1. In this regard, it shares some noble company with other autobiographies of the great and good. Which is a profound shame. For about half way though this book, suspicion that this is yet another attempt to (re)write history lest future historians take a less positive view...
Published 10 months ago by Ian Smith


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More secretary than general, 20 Oct 2013
By 
Ian Smith (Cessy, France) - See all my reviews
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My guess is this one of those weighty coffee table books with a buying to reading ratio of about 5:1. In this regard, it shares some noble company with other autobiographies of the great and good. Which is a profound shame. For about half way though this book, suspicion that this is yet another attempt to (re)write history lest future historians take a less positive view of this multilateral era, gives way to a growing admiration of a man who faces an impossible task. For the exercise of leadership requires followership, and the position of Secretary-General is more secretary than general; more servant than master. So it with increasing respect that I read of his attempts to steer a course through the messy politics of what many regard as the anachronism of the UN Security Council.

I am also exercised by the political imperative to engage with leaders who seem set on destruction of their own people, and/or rape their countries in the odious pursuit of personal wealth. Yet he demonstrates that to engage is not to condone. And his honest admission that UN diplomacy is rarely successful yet rarely wasted provides a reality check for those who seek a more ideologically pure role for the UN.

These are lessons that become clearer towards the end of 'Interventions', and I confess that I only truly began to appreciate this book - and this man - when I reached chapters 7 and 8, addressing wars and conflict in the Middle East and Iraq.

As with many books which attempt to provide a brief summary of events, the narrative becomes somewhat simplistic at times; on numerous occasions he uses the phrase, "I decided...", which surely belies the complex process of consultation required, and perhaps plays down the contribution of many who surely provided advice and ideas.

But this is a sobering and important read. And a fascinating insight into the world of the UN in the 21st century.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiddling while Rome burns..., 8 Dec 2012
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This is a book that everyone should read, voluntarily or not, just to see how incompetent, ineffectual and complacent our 'leaders' really are.

The book is well written, clearly laid out around a number of themes and obviously heartfelt. Kofi Annan himself is obviously a decent man, hard working, caring and diplomatic. But to what end? This book is a record of failure after failure, procrastination, buck-passing and extraordinary complacency; of societies riven by dictatorship and despotism while the UN agonises over methodology. A story of democratically elected leaders failing time and again to act in a way that would encourage improved security in the trouble spots of the world, failing to live up to promises on aid, failing to provide troops for peace-keeping missions, failing to do the one thing we pay them to do - that is, lead.

However good Annan's intentions may have been, even he can find very few successes to point to, and as head of an organisation with a $10 billion per annum budget and 44,000 staff (figures he gives himself) that's a fairly damning indictment of the UN and the international community in general. Drawing up policies and goals is one thing, living up to them quite another. But again and again Annan congratulates himself and the UN on simply coming up with a form of words or getting people round a table - the process is celebrated regardless of outcome.

As you may be able to tell, this book made me furiously angry - the resumé of some of the worst horrors we have witnessed over the last two decades, together with the description of blind-eye-turning or worse on a massive scale, may not be telling us much we don't already know, but it draws it together into a stark tale of failure and futility that made me question, for the first time in my life, whether there is any point to the UN at all. Not what Annan intended, but then unintended consequences seem to be a recurring theme of the book.

An important book - if we want an effective UN (and I do) then we need to be aware of how the people we elect are undermining and abusing its principles every day. And on that basis, highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable man in an impossible job, 7 May 2013
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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There's no disputing Kofi Annan's political stature or integrity of purpose. Nor can the challenges of his 10 years in one of the hardest jobs in politics be underestimated. I imagine that being UN Secretary-General is akin to being Archbishop of Canterbury - you are neither president nor pope, and so any effect you might have depends on the canny use of influence, impartiality and persuasion, rather than actual constitutional power. I can't even begin to imagine how frustrating and difficult the job must be, let alone doing it for so long.

That said, if Annan is to be believed from this account, there were some encouraging achievements from his time (East Timor independence from Indonesia, Kenya negotiations) despite the many debacles (eg Iraq War, Rwanda genocide while he was director of peace keeping). At times this book feels more like a case for the defence than anything else (but then perhaps all political memoirs are like that?). We certainly don't really get to know him as a man - there are precious hints of his upbringing (his father sounds a fascinating and remarkable person in his own right), little chinks of light into his own family. For instance, it would be fascinating to hear more about his Swedish second wife, Nane, who it transpires is the niece of the renowned Raoul Wallenberg (who rescued scores of Jews from the Holocaust), p258. So the book's subtitle seems a little misleading. "A life in war and peace" suggests something more autobiographical - instead what we get is more an account of "a career in war and peace". For all that, this book offers a fascinating window into closed rooms and private discussions.

Uncommonly for diplomats, he is pretty candid about where he sees blame lying for things - he is not beyond criticising his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and is robust (rightly) about the twists and turns leading up to the Iraq war. Most significantly, he felt he had a right to speak frankly to Africa's leaders about their failings - and was perhaps the only African in recent history, apart from Mandela, to have the stature to do this. The contrast he makes between Mandela and Mugabe is instructive - the former always understood that institutions are more important than the individuals that run them, unlike his Zimbabwean neighbour. However, is it too much to expect him to account for his own mistakes? I didn't really discover any of note in this book. Well I suppose you wouldn't expect that in a case for the defence, and that is perhaps where the flaw in this book lies.

Nevertheless, my respect for Annan only deepened on reading this book, as did my understanding of what the UN can be at its best. For much of the time, despite its controversies, profligacy and waste, and impotency, I feel sure the world is a safer place because of its existence. Not least because he makes an important case for the primacy of intervention over and above national sovereignty if humanitarian disaster is at risk.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Revelation, 23 Nov 2012
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Awakens a realisation of just how onerous and deep were the challenges confronting Kofi Annan during his tenure as UN Secretary General and who, despite the persistent lack of political will of member States, possessed a courage and tireless resolve to intervene in intra-State conflicts, tackle poverty and the HIV epidemic and by so doing, saved thousands of lives. An inspiration and revelation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Aptly titled memoir from the former UN head, 6 Aug 2013
By 
Andrew Sutherland "Sutho" (Surrey outposts) - See all my reviews
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I ordered this ona bit of a whim really... I figured anyone who'd won the Nobel Peace Prize and been head of the UN for 10 years must have something interesting to say. I also had a longstanding interest in the man's role in Rwanda ever since I studied the genoice in a previous life at uni. His memoir is called Interventions, as if to recognise that any assessment of his career will centre on his role in the UN's most ill-fated operations. In addressing them, it must be said that his candour is refreshing - there are detailed and frank reviews of his most difficult episodes, notably Rwanda, where Romeo Dallaire famously sought Annan's authorization for military action to arrest what he rightly foresaw as a possible genocide. Annan (in)famously turned Dallaire down. Annan's response here to subsequent claims that preventive military action by the UN at that point might have averted the genocide is revelatory - he actually admits that Dallaire's force was "a peace-keeping force, sent in a deliberately weak and vulnerable form to engender the trust of both sides." Blimey.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An insight into Kofi and the UN, 20 May 2013
By 
Thomas Pots "T Pots" (England) - See all my reviews
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This is partly a biography, partly an all-too-rare look inside the workings of the UN, the people wielding and often wasting, misusing, or abusing it. The catalogue of projects with which Kofi has been associated, and been leader of, is impressive by any measure, but so is the catalogue of the UN's failures - failures to act in time (or at all), and to overcome its internal politics and remembers the reasons for its existence.

Kofi's story is one of personal endeavour and achievement, but all the way through this book, I couldn't help but sense the shadow of failure looming over it all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written but Take Some of the Blame Mr Annan!, 19 Mar 2013
By 
C. M. Cotton "Chris Cotton" (Europe and USA) - See all my reviews
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I have studied political science, European Modern History, International Relations Theory, International Law etc, so I came to this book with considerable knowledge of what has happened and the constraints to organisations like the UN.

The book is well written but it has an obvious bias towards Mr Annan's point of view. The book examines the work of Kofi Annan & the United Nations. It illustrates the problems and intricacies of forming supra national agreements and engineering sufficient "Force" to ensure the agreements work. The author highlights many different issues from his tenure as UN chief and when things have gone wrong the prose tends to blame anyone but Mr Annan. I do have a problem with some of the analysis. Mr Annan should take some responsibility for many of the ineffectual policies which the UN was responsible for during his tenure. The UN has been racked since the beginning with division and vested interests vying to dominate policy. As Mr Annan is a career diplomat, surely he knew how difficult it would be, being Secretary General and the issues and problems he would face, before taking on the position. The book is nevertheless a fascinating account of what is the ineffectual nature of the UN and how difficult it is to create unanimity amongst its members.

This is a good book and it is very well written and I would consider putting it on my reading list for University students studying IR. The main issue I have is that Mr Annan tends to blame others before he blames himself. I would recommend this book with caution given its biased text.

Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frank and informative account from an extraordinary career., 17 Dec 2012
By 
bomble "bomble" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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Very few high profile characters in recent geopolitical history survived their tenure with their personal reputation intact. I suspect this is largely because so many of them feel that their reputation is defined by their successes and failures when, to me at least, it seems that it is their subsequent reaction to success and failure that really builds or destroys public perceptions.

Kofi Annan, therefore, stands out. There were plenty of failures in UN history during his many years of service and eventual leadership. Some of them left the whole organisation in disgrace and made it appear past its shelf life. What this powerful book shows is that Annan was able to see these events for what they were; was able to take responsibility for his part in failures; was able to examine himself and his organisation in light of these events and was ultimately able to learn from them. That, to me, is as close to a definition of greatness as a leader of an international diplomatic organism as one could hope to find.

The book pulls no punches and will infuriate certain parties (the usual suspects). Annan draws from his unique perspectives to elucidate conflicts that were more or less opaque to me as they whizzed by in headlines and dropped out of the public eye. His interventionist strategy had mixed success but it certainly comes across that he did his best to serve the peoples of the United Nations.

There were some sections of the book that lacked the electricity of his treatment of the Palestine conflict and the comparisons between wars in Iraq. Possibly this is a reflection of my degree of interest in these subjects. Similarly, he gives relatively little emphasis to the developing tensions over scarce resources and the environmental challenges facing all peoples - they look like a tack-on to the Millennium Development Goals. But this in itself reminds me that, as people climb Maslow's pyramid in times of conflict, longer-term needs cannot be met so the focus of the UN under Annan's SG leadership was to try to create peaceful spaces for progress on conflict.

Overall this is a powerful and educational read that is delivered with a pleasing humility from a man of such gravitas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Story of a Man of Peace, 7 Dec 2012
By 
K. Petersen "Ken" (Hemsby,UK) - See all my reviews
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This book is part biography, and part the story of the UN over the last few decades. As a biography, it confirms what most of us already knew: viz that Kofi Annan is a thoroughly decent chap who guided the UN through extremely difficult times when, under a lesser leader, it might have degenerated into an irrelevant dinosaur of an organisation. As a history of the UN, it shows the interesting way in which America has taken Europe's role as the bossy boots of the World.

Look back on the history of the World through the period from the sixteenth to the mid twentieth century and you will find Europe educating the poor savages of Africa, America, Australia and Asia at the barrel end of a gun. There was a genuine belief that domination by mainly Britain, France or Russia, with a little help from Spain, Portugal and Germany, would civilise the ignorant savages of other continents. Too late, we have realised the error of our ways and now, we do not have the power to stand up to the United States who, having once been in the strange place of part exerting and part suffering this patronising oppression, now dish it out with gay abandon.

Nobody can really believe that the Western Alliance had authority to invade Iraq, or that the many thousands of deaths have achieved any increase in World security. Guantanamo Bay and the overt use of torture by America but with implicit British agreement was, and still is, an absolute disgrace: and I say that as a supporter of Tony Blair! Kofi does not take sides, he tries to build bridges, even whilst being steam-rollered by those who see no one's view but their own. I was not there when these decisions were made so, I can only read the account of George Bush, Tony Blair and Kofi Annan and give credence to the most believable version. To my mind, this is it. For that alone, this book is well worth reading - and there is so much more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Organisation in Decline, 6 Nov 2012
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This book is written by a very decent man who tried his best in a thankless job to counter the growing tendency for states, the US in particular, to put national interest above world peace. Sadly, it is about an organisation whose influence is in decline. Hence, his memoir at times displays an understandable sadness.
It is an insightful account of never-ending conflict and peace deals. Kofi writes with dignity and humility about his attempts to find solutions to major international problems. He does not shrink from detailing his failures.
Kofi was born one of five children in Ghana in 1938. He was the seventh Secretary-General of the UN, serving two terms between 1997 and 2006.
As such he was involved in: the UN peacekeeping mission to Somalia in 1993 where US special forces were captured and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the appalling genocide in Rwanda where 800000 were murdered in 100 days, the failed peacekeeping operations in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, dealing with political change in many parts of Africa, contending with the never-ending eruptions in the Middle East, and in particular with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly and rightly he feels very strongly about the events that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Regarding the latter he, like many others, believes it was illegal and not in
conformity with the UN Charter. He was subjected to a barrage of personal attacks from Washington and London for holding this view.
He is highly critical of the failure to plan for the aftermath of the war, and describes the venture as a 'folly', a folly that has been a calamity for the Iraqui people. Kofi castigates Bush and Blair for flouting the authority of the UN and the Security Council. He expresses surprise that Blair claimed the Council 'had rendered itself illegitimate'. Perhaps if he known Blair better his surprise would have been less.
Kofi is also critical of war in Afghanistan. He writes that when the US pulls out of that country in 2014 it will do so: 'leaving the people of Afghanistan once again pawns in games great and small'. The evidence in fact is overwhelming that the intervention in Afghanistan was a monumental mistake and that billions will have been spent plus thousands of lives destroyed for nothing. It is an unwinnable war.
The following comment by Kofi ought to be studied by everyone concerned about America's recent belligerence on the international stage: 'For Washington to allow this evolution in its global security (i.e. acting how and whenever it wished) was not only a the historic failure of diplomacy but also a tragedy for the rule of law around the world'.
Kofi ends his memoir by saying that a UN that serves states and peoples will earn its place in the twenty-first century. I do hope he is right but he is clearly aware that there are some very big carp in the global sea that view the UN, like the League of Nations, as an irritating and irrelevant organisation when evil people are abroad or when your national interests are threatened (genuinely or not as the case may be).
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