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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 8, 2012
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2012
I have rarely read a book more eloquently written while being highly accessible at the same time.
By giving us the opportunity to look at the recent history of wars and carefully brokered peace deals from inside the UN, I finally understand what I failed to grasp when atrocities were happening. It's one of those insightful books that are hard to put down. Former Secretary General Kofi Annan sheds light on the workings of the UN, especially the Security Council and the Peace Keeping Operations, without trying to conceal the failings. His candid way of explaining how and why peace operations failed, shows what a great and intelligent man he is.
I feel privileged to have read his memoir; without this book I would have never understood how 800.000 people could die in Rwanda without us being able to prevent it, or how the world could abandon Somalia. He explains history we all have been part of.

His book should be a must-read for AP history students and is highly recommended for all who want to understand recent wars from the inside. At the same time it's also a very informative read for those who otherwise aren't interested in the day to day activities of the UN. By reading this book your eyes are being opened.

I'm highlighting sentences while reading this book; there is so much I want to fully understand and remember. I highly recommend this book!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2012
There were a lot of questions that I had regarding world events that this book provided answers for. The answers are seemingly of a neutral point of view; which is also very helpful; specifically questions on Rwanda and Congo.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2012
A very accurate picture of what is going on at the United Nations. Annan is world class person interested in protecting all people on the planet. I would recommend this book to everyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2013
I received this book as a present and was perhaps prepared for a somewhat
long and half-boring (although surely interesting) read about world politics.
On the contrary, I found myself almost unable to put the book down, and
finished it in a few days. Kofi Annan strikes just the right balance between brevity and detail
to paint an illuminating picture of the world's main conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s,
and the forces that shaped their cause and outcomes.

I found the most interesting parts to be his description of the psychology driving
global leaders, from the importance of self-respect and dignity that motivate
many leaders (sometimes leading them to take disastrous decisions), to the (at first glance
inexplicable) reasons the Iraqi's did not cooperate with UN weapons inspectors
(one reason being Iraq's fear of Iran and Israel and wanting to maintain a
shadow of a doubt about having nuclear weapons to deter these neighbors).
Kofi Annan has obviously a great grasp of diplomacy and how a deep understanding of
human psychology is the only way to achieve agreements.

It was also refreshing to see that even the UN's general secretary views the structure of
the security council as a weird old relic from WWII that has to be changed.
Overall, it is a frank assessment of strength and weaknesses of the UN, successes and failures during his tenancy, and a good history recap of the last 20 years of world conflict (and their historical background).
Highly recommended.
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on January 13, 2014
I recently bought this book as a Christmas present for my dad but after reading the prologue chapter, I ended purchasing the kindle version for myself! This is a very candid and thought provoking account of Kofi Annan's experiences as Secretary General of the UN. The book starts off with a quick biographical chapter on his early life in Africa and US education, then the next few chapters dive into the global conflicts around the world involving UN Peacekeepers (Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, etc). After these first few chapters my interest level waned as the book began to sound more like a UN speech, but my interest picked up again with the last few chapters on middle east peace process, Iraq and Afghanistan. That is probably just because I'm more interested in the conflict rather than a philosophical discussion about the purpose and scope of the UN or the global fight against poverty.

The book reminds you on how difficult it is to run the UN when the member states have such divergent ideas and political motivations. Often the book recounts the UN's failures and very few of its success stories. I would not say that he blames others for the failings of the UN but rather he mentions the difficulties of getting the security council to act given the different member state agendas and priorities (these are his memoirs afterall and the narrative comes from his viewpoint). Kofi certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the US. George W Bush doesn't come off looking very good, and although he says some positive things about Clinton, the Clinton administration was a roadblock to many UN efforts (i.e. Rwanda). Some of the most interesting parts of the book are when Kofi recounts behind the scenes conversations/memos with world leaders.

I give the book 4 stars out of 5, mostly because I can be a harsh grader and 2 of the 8 chapters really didnt hold my interest as much as the other 6. I would definitely recommend this book to those who like biographies, historical accounts, or those interested in politics and international affairs.
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on August 1, 2013
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.

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on August 9, 2013
For many many years I have admired Kofi Annan for his courage, steadfastness
and wisdom so when I saw he had written his book - I had to read it.
I am his age - I have worked in Africa and Asia for 45 years helping mankind
so have reality on what he is talking about.... though he gave many details of
disaster after disaster he had to handle he probably did not even give us
10% of the worries and problems he had and had to deal with on a 24/7 basis.

Yes I admire him - to hold his position literally and otherwise for so many years
and face what he did and do what he did - is quite something.

It was very wonderful too to hear his account of the time he grew up in Ghana
ya I understand that very well too - that was a very, very special time -

He is like my brother - he even married a Swede - I am Danish and married a Ugandan - at a time when that was not so common - so yes - Kofi Annan is like my brother.

He is blessed - in a world with so many who have prostituted themselves to
Power - so many who have sold themselves to evil it is quite extraordinary to
have here in Kofi Annan one who didn't.

For me it was a very personal experience to read Kofi Annan's book as I also
politically am very engaged - and here and there got some of the missing holes
filled in.

So thank you Kofi Annan for being who you are and doing what you did.

Bente Petersen
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on December 17, 2012
Kofi Annan's honest account of the most important events of the past 20 years is presented in a very clear and concise manner. His points of view are strikingly objective and neutral. He explains the failures of the United Nations, but he makes it clear that the United Nations is like an empty bus without its member States, its passengers. The failures of the United Nations are attributable to its member states. In this book, Kofi Annan chastised the US Government for its unreasonable expectations and its foreign policy in the Middle East. There was only one important aspect that Kofi Annan did not cover sufficiently well and that is his son's involvement in the food for oil programme. Until today, no one really knows for sure whether Kofi Annan knew about his son's involvement and chose not to deal with it or whether he really did not know anything about it. I was hoping he would answer the most fundamental question: why would any multinational company involve Kofi Annan's son if it is not to get to Kofi Annan himself.
I recommend this book to all those who have an interest in international politics and especially to all those who were or still are employed by the United Nations Secretariat.
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on July 7, 2014
This is a great book, and I feel like I know Koffi Annan personally, for anyone who wants a life in diplomacy this is definitely a good guide. Conflict resolution is tackled in an effective way, with a human face, the highlight for me was the East Timor resolution, I believe that remains one of Koffi Annan's greatest achievements. So many lives have been changed by the work he has done because of his ability to bring social issues to be discussed in the Security Council. I look forward to reading the next books by Annan.
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