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A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity Hardcover – March 4, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.) 
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From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416560963
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416560968
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,407,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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The title of this book's first chapter, "Always Speak the Truth," sums up Jan Egeland's ethos. A call for transparency, an area where leaders often fail their citizens and the world, is what awakened me to Egeland's gift as a humanitarian worker following the Indian Ocean Tsunami in late December of 2004. Never in speeches or his writing, do I sense that Egeland equivocates to cover up hidden political agendas. He operates on equal terms for multifaceted conflicts by assessing visible damage and engaging in discussion, basing his formal opinion upon first-hand accounts of victimization and statistics offered to him by his advisors. This book is called, after all, A Billion Lives--"lives" being the operative word. Suffering human beings do not care about percentages and figures, they want their voices to be heard. Action, of course, must follow all talk, and this is where Egeland urges the world to help, since funding, assistance, and active participation by all countries are crucial elements in facilitating the United Nation's mission.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
This is my second biography of a top level United Nations humanitarian official (after Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World) and the subject matter makes for surprisingly riveting reading. Unlike the image of a desk-bound UN bureaucrat, some of these guys put their lives on the line, out in the field in remote jungles, working with some of the worlds most recluse and violent groups, and dealing with massive crisis at the center of a global event like the Indian ocean tsunami. If there is a single hero that saves the world, probably the closes the world has is the UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, or the UN Emergency Relief Chair (these boring titles don't do the job justice).

Jan Egeland, a Norwegian, worked at the UN from 2003 to 2006 and this is an eyewitness account of the disasters and problems he dealt with during that period. Egeland is probably most familiar to American readers as the man who called the US "stingy" after the 2004 Tsunami when the US pledged only $15 million in aid - the details of this incident are fully revealed in the book but suffice it to say he was mis-characterized by right-wing fanatics. Other conflicts Egeland discusses include: Ivory Coast, Iraq, Columbia, Darfur, Lebanon, Zimbabwe and Uganda. These are very personal accounts and in some cases Egeland is the first person to meet with rebel groups, it's fascinating and revealing how they live and operate.
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Format: Hardcover
I heard Mr. Egeland give an address in Minneapolis on public radio and was so impressed I went out and bought the book. I was not disappointed. It is a down in the trenches account of dealing with disaster, tragedy, injustice, conflict and poverty all over the world. It is also one man's account seen from his perspective, with all of the advantages and biases that entails. It is, however, an enthralling read and I found myself marveling at the courage he's displayed while dealing with some of the world's most violent and despicable thugs. I was particularly heartened by the attention he paid to the Palestinian dilemma since I've worked with humanitarian groups in Gaza and the West Bank and this is an area of interest to me. When he says this is a conflict that worries him, we should all be worried.

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.
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