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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2003

National Book Critics Circle, Nonfiction, 2003

In her award-winning interrogation of the last century of American history, Samantha Power - a former Balkan war correspondent and founding executive director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy - asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow “never again” repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Drawing upon exclusive interviews with Washington’s top policy makers, access to newly declassified documents, and her own reporting from the modern killing fields, Power provides the answer in A Problem from Hell, a groundbreaking work that tells the stories of the courageous Americans who risked their careers and lives in an effort to get the United States to act.

©2007 Samantha Power (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

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  • Kazuhiko
  • TUXEDO PARK, NY, United States
  • 03-14-15

The problems that we turned away from

When I plan listening to audiobooks, I try to alternate the ones that I want to read (for fun and pleasure) and the ones that I need to read (for knowledge). This book definitely belongs to the latter group. Who wants to read about genocides? For 22 hours! But I am glad that I read it because the book gave me a good review of all the major genocides/atrocities in the 20th century. This makes me more responsible for my actions in the future problems, but I would rather know about these facts than remain ignorant. So, yes, I am glad that I read it.

The book mainly focuses on U.S. foreign policies (or lack of) about these genocides and how the politicians at the time acted. Naturally, politicians are reluctant to choose unpopular policies with unknown risks, especially when there are serious domestics problems. There are of course examples of failed foreign interventions. But, to me, the problem is that the people may not always be aware of what is going on in a remote places in the world (though this may be less of a problem now because of the Internet). Of course, people would demand better domestic economy and national security policies over foreign interventions. But at what cost? We as citizens need to be better educated about what goes on in other countries and demand any necessary intervention actions from politicians.

This was a difficult book to read emotionally. But this must have been a really difficult book to write. The book does amazing job of depicting facts and events as they were (well researched) with minimum emotional interpretations. I have tremendous respect for Samantha Power for this.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Patrick
  • Vacaville, California, United States
  • 11-05-12

Powerful

This book is good history in a way so few are. The stories are compelling not just for what they entail but the degree of frequency they show genocide to occur in merely the past century. And having been published before the tragedy of Darfur it shows we still haven't learned. Its great also for showing several heroes most people are likely not even aware of. Most prominnently William Proxmire, Senate successor of Joseph McCarthy. Amazing work. And I am rarely so powerfully surprised by history works anymore. A difficult topic. But worthy of everyone's attention and expertly handled by both author and narrator.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A dark lesson in dramatic irony

I'll start with what I liked about this book. The first part of this book where it tells the life story of Raphael Lemkin, a truly inspiring and heroic figure, was very good and I'm happy to have learned about him. The book's account of the Cambodian genocide was quite good as well, speaking as somebody who didn't know much about that particular conflict.

I had serious issues with much of the rest of this book, it's perspective on America's role in the world, and ultimately with the very unpleasant legacy of its author.

A major issue this book suffers from is its titular obsession with the American politics of foreign genocides. The worst of this plays out in the second half of the book, almost entirely devoted to crisis in the Balkans.

Going in I was hoping to get a better understanding of the Bosnian conflict, especially since as a journalist at this time the conflict was Power's focus. Unfortunately that's nearly impossible from this book, as every single attempt to explain the conflict in Bosnia is immediately derailed by a largely irrelevant Bob Woodward-esque report on what this congressman or that Clinton official said about the conflict in this or that meeting. It's clear Power's main resource was White House and congressional officials, so if you want quotes about the conflict from those people, this is a great resource. If you want a broader coherent overview of the conflict, this isn't your book.

The writing also suffers from Power's very transparent facade of objectivity. While she rarely says outright that military intervention is the best way for America to address genocides, its heavily implied in nearly every passage. Her heroes in Washington deliberations are the people pushing for intervention, the villains are the cowards who oppose it. While most experts in genocide studies caution that military intervention should be an absolute last resort in genocide prevention, such ideas are given almost no consideration.

This plays out most clearly in the case of Iraq. The book goes at great length to advocate for proponents of sanctions against Iraq in response to the genocide of the Kurds. What the book does not mention is that the sanctions were implemented after the conflict in Kuwait, which led to two successive UN officials resigning in protest, calling the sanctions themselves genocidal.

The darkest aspect of this book though is probably Power's later career. She went on to join the Obama Administration's National Security Council where she advocated for the American intervention in Libya, now a failed state with reported open-air slave markets. In Obama's second term she became the US diplomat to the UN. When civil war broke out in Yemen she gave American support for sanctions against Houthi-controlled regions of the country. This was subsequently used as cover for a Saudi-American blockade on Yemen, a country dependent on 90% of its food from outside sources. A mass famine and cholera epidemic broke out as a result, which meets the UN criteria for a genocide and continues to this day. It's a particularly strange twist of fate that the author of a critically-acclaimed book about genocide prevention went on to herself be instrumental in a genocide, but to quote a much better book, it's "the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil."

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Good book about a bad thing.

If you're looking for a feel good book look elsewhere. If you're interested in the history of this subject this is a good place to start.

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history lessons to learn not repeat

worthy topic and thorough work by the audit author. listen then send it to your friends.

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Eye opening

This story is difficult to listen to because of the horror of humanity (inhumanity). It has given me faith though. Faith in the capacity for cruelty of the human and also faith in the ability of man to stick his head in the sand so as to avoid any responsibility for stopping it.