This is a review of Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power. Allen Lane, 2008.
Most United Nations officials do not make for engrossing literary subjects. Samantha Power, however, has found an exception. The Yale-educated Harvard Law Professor was previously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for her work “A problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”. She recently served as a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, but resigned after suggesting that Hilary Clinton is a “Monster.”
Power’s latest book is about Sergio Viera de Mello, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Iraq, who died tragically in 2003.
One hardly expects a book devoted to a UN official to be an engrossing read. However, Power does a brilliant job, crafting a compelling biography. Not only does she show the witty and romantic side of Vieira de Mello, but she fully illustrates Mello’s experiences when it comes to the reconstruction of war-torn countries, painting a detailed picture of both success and failure.
This book illustrates the clash of pragmatism and principles. Power highlights the complexities of Vieira de Mello’s career and personal growth: he was both an idealist and someone who sat down at a dinner table with the Khmer Rouge if he thought it practical.
Vieira de Mello’s life makes for a mesmerizing narrative. A life-long philosophy student, he got out of the ivory tower and took on the world. He was also a bureaucrat who freely exhibited basic human kindness and charm. And finally, a man who worked toward peace – and died as the result of a suicide bombing.
One can hope that Barack Obama will read Samantha Power’s excellent biography of this excellent, if complicated, figure. There are many lessons to be learned from the life, and death, of Sergio Vieira de Mello.