The Washington Post
Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the Worldby Samantha Power
If there is a single individual who can be said to have been at center stage through all of the most significant humanitarian and geopolitical crises of the late/b>
From Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, an epic tale-part thriller, part tragedy-for our age, the political career and tragic death of the incomparable humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello
If there is a single individual who can be said to have been at center stage through all of the most significant humanitarian and geopolitical crises of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, it was Sergio Vieira de Mello. Vieira de Mello was born in 1948 just as the post-World War II order was taking shape. He died in a terrorist attack on UN Headquarters in Iraq in 2003 as the battle lines in the twenty-first-century's first great power struggle were being drawn. In nearly four decades of work for the United Nations, Sergio distinguished himself as the consummate humanitarian, able to negotiate with-and often charm-cold war military dictators, Marxist jungle radicals, reckless warlords, and nationalist and sectarian militia leaders. By taking the measure of this remarkable man's life and career, Power offers a fascinating answer to the question: Who possesses the moral authority, the political sense, and the military and economic heft to protect human life and bring peace to the unruly new world order?
Chasing the Flame brings us deep into the thorniest, least well- understood episodes of recent world history-the conflagration in the Middle East, through Vieira de Mello's troubleshooting in Lebanon in the aftermath of Israel's 1982invasion; the clean-up of the cold war's residue, through Vieira de Mello's taming of the Khmer Rouge and his repatriation of four-hundred-thousand Cambodian refugees in the early nineties; the explosion of sectarian and ethnic militancy, through his efforts to negotiate an end to the slaughter in Bosnia; the struggle to nation-build in war-torn societies, through his quasi-colonial governorships of Kosovo and East Timor; and the engulfing of Iraq in civil war and terror, through his tragic final posting as the UN representative in Baghdad, where he became the victim of the country's first-ever suicide bomb.
Readers of Chasing the Flame will recognize the particular mixture of deep reporting and incisive analysis that Power uses to imbue Sergio's life with significance, and lessons, for our own. In this exquisitely reasoned and imagined book, Samantha Power reveals Sergio Vieira de Mello's powerful legacy of humanity and ideological strength in an age sorely in need of both.
The Washington Post
The death of the charismatic Brazilian chief of the U.N. Mission to Iraq in a 2003 terrorist bombing symbolized both the U.N.'s haplessness-he died because rescuers lacked the training and equipment to free him from the rubble-and its idealism. In this sprawling biography, Vieira de Mello's life symbolizes the tragic contradictions of coping with humanitarian crises. Journalist Power, author of the Pulitzer-winning The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, follows Vieira de Mello through a U.N. career spent in hot spots like Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. His tasks were many: implementing peace accords, settling refugees, overseeing elections, running the government of East Timor. In each posting, he confronts a hydra-headed monster of communal violence and poverty, plus difficulties compounded by U.N. red tape, miserly budgets and uncaring Western governments. Agonizing dilemmas abound. Should refugees be fed or sent home? Should U.N. peacekeepers observe or intervene? Should past atrocities be prosecuted or overlooked? Playing by ear, Vieira de Mello charts an erratic course through these conundrums. Sometimes he's a human rights zealot, sometimes he cozies up to the Khmer Rouge; sometimes he negotiates with the Serbs, sometimes he wants to bomb them.
Vieira de Mello comes off as a charming diplomat, a canny politician and an inspiring leader, and the author celebrates his flexibility and pragmatism (while criticizing his failures). Power wants to extract lasting lessons for the international community's efforts to head off humanitarian catastrophes and mend failed states from his experience. Unfortunately, it's hard to discern through hisimprovisations any systematic approach to nation building or to such vexed issues as humanitarian military intervention and regime change. The lack of perspective isn't helped by the biographical format, as the peripatetic Vieira de Mello jets from one conflagration to the next, then on to a romantic getaway with a mistress or to give a murky speech on Kant. We get the impression that U.N. missions are inevitably a hopeless muddle unless Sergio, with his unique talents, parachutes in to fix things; the book may thus inadvertently encourage critics of the U.N.-style interventionism that Power supports. Readers will gain an appreciation of Vieira de Mello's gifts, but not the method to his magic. B&w photos. (Mar. 6)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003) was a career UN employee who died in Baghdad doing what he had long done: trying to bring relief to those in situations of international conflict. He had worked in most of the hotspots of the last quarter century, including Cambodia, the Balkans, East Timor, and Rwanda, and his success led to his increasing responsibility within the UN. A practical man of action, happiest doing fieldwork yet also a thinker (he had a doctorate in philosophy), he was keenly aware of the moral ambiguities in refugee situations, where bringing relief to the innocent requires working withthe malefactors rather than pursuing immediate justice againstthem. Power (global leadership & public policy, Kennedy Sch. of Government, Harvard) emphasizes these paradoxes and complexities and the varying adaptations that Vieira de Mello was forced to make to resolve the issues at hand. Her approach is similar to her earlier, award-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Most of her text covers the last six years of her subject's career, in great day-to-day detail, with his earlier years covered only briefly. Powers has brought to life, for both general and specialist readers, a complex figure who dared to take on the greatest challenges, always seeking to reach even higher. Highly recommended for all collections.
Marcia L. Sprules
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.32(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.38(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
What People are Saying About This
The best way to understand today's messy world is to appreciate the inspiring life and diplomatic genius of Vieira de Mello. Samantha Powers has done a brilliant job. This is a compelling biography of a fascinating man but also more: through his life and tragic death we get a better feel for how to deal with the challenges of religious extremism, refugees, terrorism, and ethnic struggle. If only he were still alive! Read this book and weep, read it and understand, read it and cheer. --Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
This book fascinates, both because of its subject, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the urbane U.N. troubleshooter who was regarded by many as the Secretary-general-in-waiting, and because of the infinite complexity of the issues Vieira de Mello faced in places like Lebanon, Kosovo and Iraq, where he ultimately met his death. Samantha Power has engaged in a work of vivid reportage that also contemplates with subtlety and depth the pivotal question that preoccupied Vieira de Mello: how the international community could intervene effectively in the many places that threaten to engulf the world in flames. --Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent
Meet the Author
Samantha Power is the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy Practice at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a foreign policy columnist at Time magazine. In 2003, her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and the Council on Foreign Relations' Arthur Ross Prize for the best book in U.S. foreign policy.
- Date of Birth:
- September 21, 1970
- Place of Birth:
- Dublin, Ireland
- Yale University and Harvard Law School
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book is something about cotton, not the Samantha Power book called "Chasing the Flame."
Great read. Really gives you back ground and in depth information on Viera de Mello and what drove him and made him so passionate to change so many people's lives.