Synopses & Reviews
From Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, an epic tale-part thriller, part tragedy-for our age, the political career and tragic death of the incomparable humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello If there is a single individual who can be said to have been at center stage through all of the most significant humanitarian and geopolitical crises of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, it was Sergio Vieira de Mello. Vieira de Mello was born in 1948 just as the post-World War II order was taking shape. He died in a terrorist attack on UN Headquarters in Iraq in 2003 as the battle lines in the twenty-first-century's first great power struggle were being drawn. In nearly four decades of work for the United Nations, Sergio distinguished himself as the consummate humanitarian, able to negotiate with-and often charm-cold war military dictators, Marxist jungle radicals, reckless warlords, and nationalist and sectarian militia leaders. By taking the measure of this remarkable man's life and career, Power offers a fascinating answer to the question: Who possesses the moral authority, the political sense, and the military and economic heft to protect human life and bring peace to the unruly new world order? Chasing the Flame brings us deep into the thorniest, least well- understood episodes of recent world history-the conflagration in the Middle East, through Vieira de Mello's troubleshooting in Lebanon in the aftermath of Israel's 1982invasion; the clean-up of the cold war's residue, through Vieira de Mello's taming of the Khmer Rouge and his repatriation of four-hundred-thousand Cambodian refugees in the early nineties; the explosion of sectarian and ethnic militancy, through hisefforts to negotiate an end to the slaughter in Bosnia; the struggle to nation-build in war-torn societies, through his quasi-colonial governorships of Kosovo and East Timor; and the engulfing of Iraq in civil war and terror, through his tragic final posting as the UN representative in Baghdad, where he became the victim of the country's first-ever suicide bomb. Readers of Chasing the Flame will recognize the particular mixture of deep reporting and incisive analysis that Power uses to imbue Sergio's life with significance, and lessons, for our own. In this exquisitely reasoned and imagined book, Samantha Power reveals Sergio Vieira de Mello's powerful legacy of humanity and ideological strength in an age sorely in need of both.
"Surely the life and death of Sergio Vieira de Mello is a good place to begin a serious debate about the proper way to manage world order in the future."
- Francis Fukuyama, The New York Times Book Review
"The strength of the book lies in Power's use of Vieira de Mello's life (and death) as a well-placed window on the international community's successes and failures.... An ambitious effort...[that] succeeds brilliantly"
-James Mann, The Washington Post
"Her book [has] the dramatic quality of a leaked memo. . . . Sergio Vieira de Mello, with his flaws and heroism, represents us at our best and at our most helpless."
-Paul Berman, Slate
"[A] detailed and sympathetic biography . . . thoughtful."
"Power presents a fiercely precise, extraordinary dramatic biography. . . . Strongly argued, lacerating, and utterly human, this invaluable history will be the catalyst for soul searching and debate."
"Deeply and impressively reported."
-Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times
"Chasing the Flame is an impressively researched book. Power's notes include references to more than 400 interviews, and she cites everything from interoffice emails to Vieira de Mello's high school term papers. Casting a wide net provides Power with memorable details that capture Vieira de Mello's charisma and complexity: a bottle of Johnny Walker hidden in his desk, a plastic bag full of foreign coins for payphones . . . she nimbly excavates colorful artifacts from Vieira de Mello's life."
- San Francisco Chronicle
"A masterful biography."
"In meticulous, unsentimental prose, Power portrays Vieira de Mello not as a martyr but as a man who knew too much, a tragic emblem of squandered opportunities in Iraq. . . . In eloquently asking who will keep [the flame] alive, Power proves herself a worthy candidate."
"Chasing the Flame is a brilliantly researched biography about an extraordinary man."
-The Times (UK)
"Power, who combines humanitarian passion and a girlish capacity for hero- worship with analytical rigor, a clear prose style and a gift for narrative, has written a remarkable book. It is not only a gripping story, which takes on the awful fascination of a Greek tragedy as it approaches the catastrophic ending. . . . It also forces the reader to think about some of the most uncomfortable issues in contemporary politics, without offering an easy or simple solution."
-The Guardian (UK)
"A compelling work, culminating in a brilliant and moving reconstruction of Vieira de Mello's doomed last mission in Iraq, and the frantic, disorganized rescue efforts to pull survivors from the bombed-out Canal Hotel as his life seeped away in the rubble."
-The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
From a Pulitzer Prize-winning author comes an epic account--part thriller, part tragedy--of the political career of humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello and his tragic death in 2003 in a terrorist attack on the UN headquarters in Iraq.
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.
About the Author
Samantha Power is the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.