United Nations : A History

United Nations : A History

Obama and the United Nations by Stanley Meisler (PDF)

With four new chapters, this updated edition completes the story of the UN’s last sixty-five years, its successes and turbulent past.

Beginning with the birth of the U.N., when Roosevelt, Stalin, Truman, and Gromyko set the stage, United Nations: A History brings us a cast of profoundly important and colorful international players: the brilliant Dag Hammarskjöld, who became the most daring, imaginative Secretary-General the U.N. ever had; Nikita Khrushchev, who electrified the General Assembly as he pounded his shoe in protest over Congo; Ralph Bunche, the grandson of a slave and "the Jackie Robinson of American diplomacy," who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his U.N. work in the Middle East; and U.S. ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who walked out of the General Assembly over the Third World's anti-Zion resolution. United Nations: A History is a story filled with action and heartbreak.

United Nations: A History begins with the creation of the organization in 1945. Although its aim was to prevent war, many conflicts have arisen, ranging from the Korean War to the Six-Day War, to genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. Stanley Meisler’s in-depth research examines the crises and many key political leaders. In this second edition, Meisler brings his popular history up to date with accounts of the power struggles of the last fifteen years, specifically spotlighting the terms of secretaries-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Kofi Annan, and Ban Ki-moon. This is an important, riveting, and impartial guide through the past and recent events of the sixty-five-year history of the United Nations.

United Nations: A History is available at the following booksellers...

Amazon.com, Amazon.ca (Canada), Amazon.de (Germany), Amazon.fr (France)

paperback isbn: 0802145299
Atlantic Monthly Press (Grove/Atlantic)


"Stanley Meisler tells the story of the United Nations, its promise and its problems, with clarity and authority. He brings to life the history of the world organisation and a half-century of America's hopes for and frustration with world government. Read the chapter on Katanga and you will see the U.N.'s recent failure in Somalia foreshadowed. You will learn why China is almost by chance one of five permanent members on the Security Council, how the council's veto power was adopted at Stalin's demand, why Adlai Stevenson left his post as U.S. ambassador in lonely despair, how Kurt Waldheim hid his past to become Secretary-General, how the Bush administration maneuvered the United Nations into supporting Operation Desert Storm and much, much more. This is the definitive account of the United Nations for a general audience, told by a master."
Jim Hoagland, chief foreign correspondent, Washington Post

"Meisler ... avoids the ideological debates and instead offers a straightforward history. In an account sprinkled with rich anecdotes and colorful portraits of figures like Dag Hammarskjold and Adlai Stevenson, Mr. Meisler tells the story of interventions around the world, from the murky interludes in Congo and Somalia to the more clear-cut actions in Korea and the Persian Gulf. He repeatedly illustrates the limits of the organization's power, showing that it never fulfilled the hopes of its supporters or confirmed the fears of its detractors. But his account also debunks two widely held beliefs: that the United Nations was gridlocked and irrelevant through the cold war, and that it has been spectacularly incompetent since the cold war's end."
David Callahan, New York Times Book Review

"A strikingly readable, accurate history of the UN's first half century. [Meisler's] made the organization's relatively un-lionized heroes - such as Ralph Bunche, Dag Hammarskjold, and Brian Urquhart, inventors of global peacekeeping - come alive... Meisler crisply escorts readers behind the scenes to witness the personal collisions, nobility, and foibles of major actors and bit players in many of the major crises of the nuclear age, global decolonization, and the cold war. And he traces in vivid personal terms the UN's fledgling attempts to spread care for children, preservation of the planetary environment, and protection of human rights worldwide. These are warts-and-all annals. Bureaucratic bumbling and clashing national ambitions are not overlooked."
Earl Foell, former chief editorial writer, Christian Science Monitor

"A solid, straightforward appraisal of the world's greatest attempt at peace-making. Stan Meisler has the storyteller's gift for important and rich detail that makes history come alive. An extraordinarily interesting and informative book."
Paul Duke, journalist and former moderator of Washington Week

"I laughed and cried at this wonderful telling of the United States' love-hate relationship with our most famous child, the United Nations. It's a story Americans should read before it's too late - or just because Stanley Meisler, one of the best foreign correspondents we have, writes it so well."
Richard Reeves, syndicated columnist and author

"... From the start the United Nations, as Stanley Meisler shows in his recent book, had to operate pragmatically on political assumptions very different from those envisaged by its founders... Meisler rightly says, 'It could boast a distinguished and action-packed history,' even if it was not what the founders had in mind..." [complete review]
Brian Urquhart, former Undersecretary General of the United Nations, The New York Review of Books

"Balanced and insightful, this book is a must for anyone who wants to understand where the U.N. has been and, more importantly, how we might best use its potential for the future."
Thomas R. Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

“Meisler recounts an exciting story of the U.N.’s origins and agonies. Using an engaging biographical technique, he focuses on the U.N.’s key players.”
Blanche Wiesen Cook, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"An excellent easy-to-read history of the UN with particular emphasis on the great crises and on the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of the Secretaries-General."
Christopher Spencer, former senior advisor, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

"...as Stanley Meisler's excellent political history of the UN underlines, America was largely responsible for the UN's birth and, as the leading power in the Security Council, is now partly responsible for its decline - and not just because it does not pay its bills..."
The Economist

"The Korean War. Suez. The Congo. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Six-Day War. The Persian Gulf War. Somalia. Rwanda. Bosnia. Meisler, who reports on foreign affairs and the United Nations for the Los Angeles Times, surveys 50 years of U.N. diplomatic triumphs and failures."
Library Journal

"This lucid, popular version of the first 50 years of UN history by former Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent Meisler is organized around the various crises the UN has faced since its inception: Israeli independence, Korea, Suez, the Congo, Cuban missiles, Vietnam, the Six-Day War, the Gulf war and also includes chapters on the various secretaries-general. Meisler doesn't pull any punches in assessing the policies and personalities of the world organization, excoriating former secretary-general Kurt Waldheim for concealing his past ('it seems like a fortuitous metaphor for the United Nations to be led during the 1970s by a Nazi and a liar'). Yet he is fair-minded in his presentation, opining that 'Though cautious, [Waldheim] was an adequate and active secretary general.' This up-to-date account concludes with chapters detailing the UN's travails in the quagmires of Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. A handy primer for those who want to know the score but haven't taken the time to unravel the byzantine workings of the world organization."
Publishers Weekly

watch Stanley Meisler discuss the history of the United Nations on C-Span

see also: Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War


Obama and the United Nations (pdf)
Hopes and Realities (pdf)
International Affairs Forum, Center for International Relations
January 18, 2009

Transparency at Ban Ki-Moon’s United Nations
News Commentary - January 22, 2007

Kofi Annan at the UN: An American Waste
News Commentary - December 4, 2006

Defaming Kofi Annan
News Commentary - September 10, 2006

It works well. Tweak it.
Los Angeles Times Commentary - November 6, 2005

Bolton and History
News Commentary - March 24, 2005

United Nations in Crisis: The American Challenge
News Commentary (Crayenborgh Lecture) - May 7, 2004

Badgering the United Nations
News Commentary - March 2, 2003

Man in the Middle: Travels with Kofi Annan
Smithsonian Magazine - January 2003

Kofi Annan and the Nobel Peace Prize
News Commentary - October 30, 2001

The Revenge of Boutros Boutros-Ghali
News Commentary - July 21, 1999

listen to Stanley Meisler discuss the United Nations
National Public Radio (NPR) - December 11, 1996

Getting Rid of Boutros-Ghali
News Commentary - October 18, 1996

900+ United Nations related articles by Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times Archives - 1985 to present

see also:

United Nations: The First Fifty Years by Stanley Meisler

first edition
United Nations
The First Fifty Years

by Stanley Meisler

paperback isbn: 0871136562
hardcover isbn: 0871136163
Atlantic Monthly Press (Grove/Atlantic)
search inside the book

Hot Spots: Inside Look at the United Nations and Global Crises

Hot Spots: Inside Look at the United Nations and Global Crises
Hot Spots is a primer of the United Nations in action, offering detailed descriptions of what it tries to do and how it succeeds and sometimes fails. There are snippets of famous scenes in U.N. history, including Adlai Stevenson's speech during the Cuban missile crisis. The CD-ROM also runs liberal excerpts from Stanley Meisler's United Nations: The First Fifty Years and other major sources of U.N. lore and history.