In this perfect match of author and subject, Pulitzer Prize-winner Samantha Power tackles the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello, whose work for the U.N. before his 2003 death in Iraq was emblematic of moral struggle on the global stage. Power has drawn on a staggering breadth of research (including 400 interviews) to show us a heroic figure and the conflicts he waded into, from Cambodia's Khmer Rouge to the slaughter in Bosnia to the war-torn Middle East. The result is a peerless portrait of humanity and pragmatism, as well as a history of our convulsive age.
For those of us outside "the family" -- as career United Nations workers call their own ranks -- it is probably impossible to imagine the thoughts and feelings now associated with August 19, 2003. Nor, to tell the truth, do many of us try. On that date, a suicide bomber drove a truck into UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 people. By now everyone in the world recognizes the date "9/11," and the subway attacks in London during the summer of 2005 are now often referred to as "7/7." But the UN bombing (carried out, like these other two, by Al Qaeda) faded from the world's memory without so much as the trace of a historical shorthand expression.