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A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Unafraid to speak her mind and famously tenacious in her convictions, Eleanor Roosevelt was still mourning the death of FDR when she was asked by President Truman to lead a controversial commission, under the auspices of the newly formed United Nations, to forge the world’s first international bill of rights.

A World Made New is the dramatic and inspiring story of the remarkable group of men and women from around the world who participated in this historic achievement and gave ...

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World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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Unafraid to speak her mind and famously tenacious in her convictions, Eleanor Roosevelt was still mourning the death of FDR when she was asked by President Truman to lead a controversial commission, under the auspices of the newly formed United Nations, to forge the world’s first international bill of rights.

A World Made New is the dramatic and inspiring story of the remarkable group of men and women from around the world who participated in this historic achievement and gave us the founding document of the modern human rights movement. Spurred on by the horrors of the Second World War and working against the clock in the brief window of hope between the armistice and the Cold War, they grappled together to articulate a new vision of the rights that every man and woman in every country around the world should share, regardless of their culture or religion.

A landmark work of narrative history based in part on diaries and letters to which Mary Ann Glendon, an award-winning professor of law at Harvard University, was given exclusive access, A World Made New is the first book devoted to this crucial turning point in Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, and in world history.

Finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Riveting and important...Glendon tells this story with vivid detail and narrative drive.”
—The Washington Post

“Vividly written and evenhanded, A World Made New is an important, potentially galvanizing book, and in this frightful, ferocious time, marked by war and agony, it is urgent reading.”
—Blanche Wiesen Cook, Los Angeles Times

“A terrific story, and Glendon tells it well....An illuminating and unexpectedly timely book.”
—The New Republic

“The definitive account...Anybody concerned with the question of human rights in today’s world will need to read it and refer to it.”
—The New York Times Book Review

Merle Rubin
Mary Ann Glendon takes the title of her latest book from the conclusion of Eleanor Roosevelt's nightly prayer: "Save us from ourselves and show us a vision of a world made new." There is the irony of the quest for human rights: The worst enemies of human rights are human beings themselves. Yet in the aftermath of World War II, a group of far-sighted people brought forth a document designed, as Glendon puts it, "to improve the odds of reason and conscience against power and interest." On Dec. 10, 1948, without a single dissent, the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, though its principles have often been violated, the declaration has served as an inspiration and a rallying cry for people all over the world. The story of how this document came to be written and adopted is fascinating from a philosophical perspective, involving questions like: What is a human being? What is society? How do we balance civil and political liberties with economic and social welfare? It is equally fascinating from the perspective of diplomacy, showing how a group of individuals, disagreeing among themselves, shepherded the declaration through a minefield of international and interpersonal conflict. The difficulties were daunting. One of the participants, Lebanon's Charles Malik, wrote in his diary: "Intrigue, lobbying, secret arrangements, blocs, etc. It's terrible." A philosophy professor, Malik added: "Power politics and bargaining nauseate me. There is so much unreality and play and sham that I can't swing myself into this atmosphere and act." But that was before he met Eleanor Roosevelt. Indeed, Glendon's book reminds us that it is almost impossible to overestimate the greatness of Eleanor Roosevelt. In her role as US delegate to the UN, we can only marvel at Mrs. Roosevelt's combination of high principles and political adroitness. Her devotion to noble goals was equaled by her people smarts, as she parried attacks on US policies, defused tensions, and built bridges of consensus. The declaration was a group effort, and Glendon shows us what a remarkable group they were. Their numbers included Roosevelt and Malik; as well as P.C. Chang, China's Renaissance man; René Cassin, a key figure in de Gaulle's resistance; Carlos Romulo, a fiery Philippine anti-colonialist; and Hansa Mehta of India, who worked to ensure that the declaration would include the rights of women. Glendon deftly locates these players in the context of an increasingly fraught world. As representatives sought common ground, Arab nations were attacking the new state of Israel, Communists were seizing power in China and Czechoslovakia, and the American-Soviet wartime alliance was falling apart. A central bone of contention for the framers of the declaration was: To what extent, if any, should the provisions be enforceable? Was it simply, as some argued, a waste of time to issue a declaration that made no provision for punishing violations? Or, if the document were drafted as an enforceable covenant with real teeth, would the US and USSR withdraw their support? Glendon, a Harvard law professor and a critic of what she considers a combative approach to enforcing rights, defends the less rigorous approach that was in fact adopted. Only the more gradual effects of moral suasion and education, she believes, can lead to the changes that pave the way for legal enforcement of rights. And in this, she argues, the declaration has proved a qualified success, a beacon, showing people the way to a better future. Glendon mounts a persuasive defense of the declaration's universality. Its framers, as she shows us, consulted a wide range of traditions in defining human rights, creating a structure flexible enough to allow for cultural differences, yet forthright in its enunciation of the fundamentals. Current mantras of cultural relativism, she points out, give cover to authoritarian leaders seeking to silence criticism, while the growing number of Westerners who have ceased to believe in the idea of truth and falsehood may be even more dangerous. "It is one thing," she writes, "to acknowledge that the human mind can glimpse truth only partially, quite another to deny its existence altogether." Glendon's fine book enhances our appreciation of the men and women who sought and found a way to enunciate universals.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1947, in a world recently ripped apart by the Holocaust, a devastating war and mass displacement, the very idea of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights seemed both impossible and supremely necessary. As the specter of the Cold War loomed, a U.N. delegation, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, began writing what would become the world's first standard statement of human rights. Glendon, a professor of law at Harvard University, has written a compelling, at times thrilling account of how Roosevelt and her cohorts argued and cajoled one another through a series of intellectual, political and moral positions, finally hammering out a statement that was acceptable across national, religious and philosophical lines. While Glendon successfully traces the evolution of the document--which was ratified on December 10, 1948, after six drafts and much debate by the U.N. General Assembly--she also presents a richly textured portrait of a woman driven to public service while simultaneously grieving for her late husband. Roosevelt's politics were also at issue: at one point, she resigned from the U.N. over the U.S. government's initial disapproval of the creation of Israel. Glendon concludes with a legal analysis of the declaration and a lengthy discussion of its applicability today, when many non-Western nations (such as China) claim that the concept of "universal" human rights precepts precludes an acceptance of cultural differences. Glendon's work is a welcome addition to the realm of international law and to the growing body of literature on Eleanor Roosevelt's role in modern politics. Agents, Lynn Chu and Glen Hartley, Writer's Representatives. (Mar. 30) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first formal statement of what the phrase human rights actually entailed. Glendon (law, Harvard) has written a legislative history of the Declaration covering both the negotiation process and the ratification debates and process during the years 1946-52. The book is based on extensive access to the diaries and unpublished memoirs of many of the participants as they worked with the horrors of World War II fresh in their minds and against the backdrop of the rapidly chilling Cold War. While the content and phrasing of the Declaration are the product of the many fine minds and strong personalities who worked on it, Eleanor Roosevelt is here given full credit for facilitating the process and steering the group to a final agreement that incorporated the best from many cultural and religious traditions. Recommended for academic libraries and broad Roosevelt collections.--Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A worthy review of the history and impact of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights,"the polestar of an army of international human rights activists." Glendon (Law/Harvard Univ.; A Nation Under Lawyers, 1994) guides the reader through the drafts and redrafts of a document that has been compared to the Declaration of Independence and the French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man. As a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights and chair of the draft committee, Eleanor Roosevelt used her prestige and popularity to shepherd a document that affirmed the"brotherhood" of human beings in society and spelled out their rights to life, liberty, and"security of person," as well as more controversial civil, political, social, and economic rights. Her committee included Arabs and Jews, Chinese, Russians, and Brits, each with different definitions not only of"rights" but of the relationship and responsibilities of the state to the individual and vice versa. While Roosevelt was the best-known committee member, she wrote very little of the actual Declaration and, regrettably, came to be a mouthpiece for the US State Department on some issues. Nevertheless, she directed a hardworking group, with meetings running late into the night and discussions continuing at her teas and dinner parties. Glendon gives equal credit to committee members whose faith, determination, and skills at negotiating compromise built bridges between Moslem and Christian, for instance, over issues concerning women and marriage. The United Nations General Assembly accepted the Declaration without providing enforcement mechanisms, but this did not bother Roosevelt. She believed strongly that despite its lackoflegal muscle, it would serve as a"moral beacon" for all nations, and in concluding chapters Glendon argues that this is precisely the case. As much about the process and the players as the issues, but worthwhile, sometimes inspiring, reading for students of the shifting politics of human rights. (b&w photos, illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375760464
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/11/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 303,826
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. She led the Vatican delegation to the Beijing Women's Rights conference in 1995, the first woman ever to lead a Vatican delegation, and has been featured on Bill Moyers's World of Ideas. She is the author of Rights Talk; A Nation under Lawyers; Comparative Legal Traditions (a classic textbook on international law); Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, winner of the Scribes Book Award; and The Transformation of Family Law, winner of the Order of the Coif Prize, the legal academy's highest award for scholarship. She lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
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Read an Excerpt

Politics, it has been said, is “the arena where conscience and power meet, and will be meeting until the end of time.”1
Conscience so often fares poorly in such encounters that we celebrate the occasions when Power gives her more than a tip of the hat. In April 1945, as delegates from fifty lands gathered in San Francisco for the United Nations founding conference, Power was much on display. Battleships leaving the Pacific harbor with men and matériel were a grim reminder that the war with Japan was still raging. The tides of war in Europe, however, had turned in favor of the Allies, and the “Big Three” (Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) had begun jockeying for the positions they would hold in the new world order. As part of their planning for the postwar era, the Allies invited to the San Francisco conclave all states that had declared war on Germany and Japan by March 1, 1945.

The Allied leaders had agreed in principle on the need for an international organization to prevent future aggression, assure the stability of frontiers, and provide a means for resolving disputes among nations, but the most vigorous supporter of the idea was Franklin Roosevelt. The American president was mindful that the failure of the first such organization, the League of Nations, was due in no small measure to President Woodrow Wilson’s inability to convince the Senate to ratify the treaty establishing it. A driving force behind the League’s formation after World War I, Wilson had been bitterly disappointed.

To prevent a repetition of that debacle, Roosevelt had begun speaking to the American people about his hopes for a new world organization during the war. “Nations will learn to work together,” he insisted, “only by actually working together.”

In a radio address on Christmas Eve 1943, he emphasized that the main purpose of such an organization would be to keep the peace. The United States had no interest, he said, in Allied domination over other nations: “The doctrine that the strong shall dominate the weak is the doctrine of our enemies–and we reject it.”3

Now, with the confidence born of approaching victory, Roosevelt believed the time had come to make up for the mistakes of the last peace. Shortly after his inauguration in January 1945, he told Congress of his hopes to replace the old international system of “exclusive alliances and spheres of influence” with a “universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join.”4

Eleanor Roosevelt had long shared those hopes. When her husband asked her to accompany him to the opening session of the UN founding conference in April, and on a trip to England and the continent in May, she was delighted–not least because his enthusiasm allayed her growing anxiety about his health. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins had objected that a trip to the war zone would be too dangerous, but the president replied that he expected the war to be over by then. He had long looked forward, he told Perkins, to a victory tour with the First Lady at his side: “Eleanor’s visit [to England] in wartime was a great success. I mean a success for her and for me so that we understood more about their problems. . . . I told Eleanor to order her clothes and get some fine things so that she will make a really handsome appearance.”5

With spring flowers in bloom and war’s end at last in sight, an exuberant president began to prepare for the San Francisco conference.

The features of the future UN that were of most interest to the Great Powers had been settled already at two much more exclusive meetings. In the summer and fall of 1944, representatives of Britain, China, the United States, and the USSR had met at Dumbarton Oaks to do preparatory work on what would become the UN Charter. One month earlier, at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, the Allies had established the main institutions of the postwar economic order–the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).

Determined to avoid Wilson’s main error, Roosevelt actively courted Republican support for the United Nations. When the time came to choose representatives for San Francisco, he made a point to include prominent GOP leaders: former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Soviets went along with the project, but without much enthusiasm. Their chief concern for the immediate postwar period was to protect the frontiers of the motherland from renewed aggression. On the eve of the Normandy invasion, according to former Yugoslav Communist Party official Milovan Djilas, Stalin told Djilas: “Perhaps you think that just because we are the allies of the English we have forgotten who they are and who Churchill is. They find nothing sweeter than to trick their allies. . . . Churchill is the kind who, if you don’t watch him, will slip a kopeck out of your pocket. . . . Roosevelt is not like that. He dips in his hand only for bigger coins.”6

George F. Kennan, a shrewd observer then serving in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, sized up Russia’s position this way: “Insofar as Stalin attached importance to the concept of a future international organization, he did so in the expectation that the organization would serve as the instrument for maintenance of a US-UK-Soviet hegemony in international affairs.”7 That arrangement could be satisfactory to the Soviets only if Britain and America accepted the sphere of influence the USSR was establishing in Central and Eastern Europe in the summer of 1944.

Churchill and the British Foreign Office were skeptical of the Soviet Union’s value as a partner in promoting future peace and wary of Stalin’s expansionist aims. Anthony Eden, Churchill’s foreign minister, viewed Soviet policy as “amoral” and the American attitude as “exaggeratedly moral, at least where non-American interests are concerned.”8

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Preface xv
Chapter 1 The Longing for Freedom 3
Chapter 2 Madam Chairman 21
Chapter 3 A Rocky Start 35
Chapter 4 Every Conceivable Right 53
Chapter 5 A Philosophical Investigation 73
Chapter 6 Late Nights in Geneva 79
Chapter 7 In the Eye of the Hurricane 99
Chapter 8 Autumn in Paris 123
Chapter 9 The Nations Have Their Say 143
Chapter 10 The Declaration of Interdependence 173
Chapter 11 The Deep Freeze 193
Chapter 12 Universality Under Siege 221
Epilogue: The Declaration Today 235
Notes 243
1. The Secretariat's June 1947 Draft (Humphrey Draft) 271
2. The June 1947 Draft Revised by Cassin (Cassin Draft) 275
3. The June 1947 Draft Revised by the Full Commission 281
4. The Commission's December 1947 Draft (Geneva Draft) 289
5. The Commission's June 1948 Draft (Lake Success Draft) 294
6. The December 1948 Third Committee Draft 300
7. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10, 1948 310
Index 315
Photo and Illustration Credits 335
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