- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 4, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416560963
- ISBN-13: 978-1416560968
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,376,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Traveling the globe as the U.N.'s under–secretary general for humanitarian affairs and its emergency relief coordinator from 2003 to 2006, Norwegian diplomat Egeland has seen the best and worst of what humanity has to offer; in this emotionally and politically charged tome, he bluntly summarizes his findings. From crises as varied as genocide in Darfur, the 2004 East Asian tsunami and the religious fanaticism keeping Israel and Palestine in conflict, Egeland is concerned about innocent lives forever altered in these situations, and actively—and unabashedly—bemoans the lack of financial aid from larger nations. Tracing his passion for social justice to age 17, when he spent a summer volunteering for Colombia's El Minuto de Dios, the special envoy, now a married father of two daughters, has been around enough presidents, dictators and NGOs to insightfully share his outlook on the conditions of the world, share fascinating details of conversations usually held behind closed doors, yet also concede mistakes made by both himself and the U.N. Though Egeland's clipped and often clichéd prose can distract from the point he is trying to emphasize, he is a strong storyteller and an essential and candid eyewitness to the last three decades' tragedies. (Mar.)Â
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It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of a billion lives could, indeed, rest in the hands of one person, especially when that individual was the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. Yet even with all the resources available to him, Egeland reveals that exercising such power in the face of tsunamis and earthquakes, genocide and civil war, was frustratingly futile when it also had to counteract resistance from both the loftiest government officials as well as the lowliest guerilla warriors. Through tantalizing insider accounts of fragile negotiations and impassioned personal declarations of outrage and disappointment, Egeland evokes the immediacy and intricacy inherent in the massive international efforts undertaken to provide essential comfort to victims of the world’s most devastating manmade and natural disasters. From Beirut to Baghdad, Bogota to Banda Aceh, Egeland’s engrossing and provocative account revisits notorious global hot spots, chronicles the strengths and weaknesses of multinational diplomacy, and offers candid assessments for the future of humanitarian crisis management. --Carol Haggas
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But this book is about much more than monetary pleas. If success is garnered first through listening and understanding, then empathy is the most crucial element of mediation--an element Egeland proves he has. We see empathy weaved throughout ten engaging chapters of life-experience, which, with a very human touch, cover a sometimes surprising gamut of topics filled with reason and emotion.
We empathize with Egeland as a human who falls ill from stress or a bad experience with food, who waits in excruciatingly long airport lines, who travels on public airplanes, and who catches a tragic CNN headline flashing across a public television set, announcing the death of a close friend and colleague, Sergio Vieira de Mello. We share the backlash and emotional roller coaster following the Indian Ocean Tsunami, where Egeland is first misquoted as saying the US, specifically, is "stingy" in its efforts to fund world humanitarian aid. We join his frustration in unsuccessfully communicating with a belligerent President Robert Mugabe who would rather engage in name-calling than negotiate for peace. Most surprisingly, through it all, Egeland maintains a keen sense of humor and a positive outlook. Yet the main focus of this book is not on him, but on the people he strives to help.
Egeland recounts the many personal stories of those he meets throughout his journey, as well as the scenery and politics surrounding any given situation. In chapter seven, he explains his role in the hopeful signing of the Oslo Accord. In chapter nine, on page 210, Egeland relates a gruesome tale told to him by a former LRA child soldier from Gulu, Uganda. In this same chapter, on page 214, he explains his deep sentiments when a survivor names her baby after his wife, and he is asked to support the child's preschooling. At times, the photos, especially to those who were fortunate enough to attend his book tour lecture (captivating in color and on screen), are an even stronger visual reminder of the juxtaposition of tragedy and hope, as seen in the humble dignity of seated Burkinabe victims who gather with UN members for an outdoor meeting. We can feel the immense poignancy in chapter six after reading Egeland's quote about the 2006 Israeli-Palestinean conflict: "As we rise to shake hands, [Fouad] Siniora adds a final request: 'Remember our blood is as precious as Israeli blood.' 'I know,' I say" (141). Again, empathy unclouded by prejudice is needed to understand the depth of their words.
In light of his writings, we cannot, in a modern and supposedly enlightened world, lose sight of our past or the pain and suffering of our fellow humans in the present, nor can any one nation turn a blind eye or make a successful attempt at pushing a unilateral agenda. Though Egeland is often quite serious with his words, he remains hopeful for the state of the UN: "In spite of these brutal challenges, I believe there is reason for optimism. The coming years can and will see a revival of multilateral action, because the largest disasters, wars, and crises cannot be handled by any nation on its own. In this regard no nation is exempted" (218).
If anything, I would lesson stars in my rating in my wish for even more content about an immensely intriguing and inspiring man who should gain further recognition as a world role model, especially in the United States, where intuition, experience, and wisdom are often met with disrespect, suspicion, and defensive posturing. But maybe, as busy as Mr. Egeland is in trying to change the world, he does not have time to further elaborate at this moment.
Despite the catalog of human misery the book recounts, I found it generally an optimistic read. As Mr. Egeland says, we now have mechanisms for dealing with disasters such as the 2006 tsunami that didn't exist a generation ago and he relates the successes in minimizing human loss in his accounts of various earthquakes and hurricanes. One of the messages is that the UN does good work and, despite its imperfections, it would be a much poorer and more dangerous world without it. He offers a number of solutions to help improve its function and effectiveness.
This is a necessary and important book because it offers a much deeper insight into the world of international relief than we see on CNN or in the disappearing international coverage in our newspapers. It's also a necessary counterpoint to the know-nothing anti-UN crowd, one of whom was recently our ambassador to the organization.
Endelig, sier jeg takk for ditt arbeid and bra gjordt, Herr Egeland.