William Shawcross's book provides an excellent general overview of some near-forgotten world crises and disasters, easily accessible to those who, like me, have no more knowledge than that gleaned from a twenty minute skim through the daily paper. It does go somewhat deeper than that and is full of personal encounters and thus wholly new information. It is well written and Shawcross has some of Beevor's talent for making a cliffhanger out of history. However, this book is not in the class of Stalingrad; he fails to draw a thread through chapter by chapter - the book is more like a series of individual and entertaining essays on a mass of horrific subjects. The book is disappointing in its failure to do more, in the end, than criticise and report. I know it is asking a lot of a journo to solve the world's problems but it would have been interesting had Shawcross given us his views on what might have been done to make a real difference, and extracted some conclusions about the errors that led to such terrible disasters. In a sense he does - he kind of concludes that if it was a disaster then it should have been done differently - but that is just 20/20 hindsight dressed up as analysis. William Shawcross is an intelligent and highly experienced man with unique access to the dramatis personae, and I expected more.
This book shows how little the average person knows about what is going on in conflicts around the world in OUR lifetime, both in front of the television cameras and behind the scences. It also starts to show how split the international community is even when genocide is occuring. Even though it covers some if not most of the conflicts in the post cold-war world briefly, it goes into just anough detail to make the reader want to know more.
Don't think for a moment this book will tell you about the UN. It doesn't. It tries to relate various recent conflicts in which the UN were involved, but it doesn't relate them chronologically. Instead Shawcross leaps back and forth through time with no apparent logic. He also jumps from country to country for no reason - when you are deeply involved in Sierra Leone he will suddenly lob you back into Bosnia, which is enormously frustrating. It's as if when the book had finished being written all the pages were dropped and the editor didn't bother putting them back in the right order before printing them. It's a real struggle to get through. My advice is don't bother trying.