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Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan writes of decades spent pursuing the elusive goal of world peace.

A Life in War and Peace
By Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh
Penguin Press
512 pp.

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Is the United Nations a promoter of world peace and global human dignity? Or, since its creation near the end of World War II, has it served mostly as an ineffective debating society – a multi-governmental bureaucracy that will never achieve true efficacy?

Perhaps no one is better qualified to grapple with these questions than Kofi Annan. He spent nearly his entire adult life employed at the UN, ultimately serving as secretary-general, the top job, from 1997 until 2006. On the other hand, perhaps his lifelong devotion to the institution makes it impossible for him to see it clearly. (When elected to the highest UN position, Annan became the first secretary-general, of seven total, to rise up the ranks from the inside.)

Interventions, Annan’s interesting memoir, reflects both the invaluable knowledge of a UN insider and the limited perspective of an employee who has never worked outside the UN mind-set. Put another way, Annan’s book contains plenty of cognitive dissonance. The accounts related by Annan, however, are worth every minute spent reading them. Nobody alive can quite match what he has heard and seen. As a bonus, he names names of national rulers and less well-known diplomats. For readers who want to identify heroes and villains, the book provides plenty of material.

There is also a large amount of personal information about Annan, although this is more a book about issues than it is a revealing memoir about Annan’s private life. After an opening chapter about Annan’s privileged “African beginning,” the chapters cover, in succession:

•The trials of peacekeeping in regions torn by civil war (Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia)


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