A monumental life, spiritual and intellectual more than purely biographical, of the great Swedish diplomat and author.
Dag Hammarskjöld (1905–1961), writes Lipsey (Angelic Mistakes: The Art of Thomas Merton, 2006, etc.), was “formidable in his time, somewhat forgotten now.” The second secretary general of the United Nations, he was also an author of note whose book Markings sold widely across the world—and, the author is careful to record, some 185,000 copies in its first six months in the United States. Lipsey makes a convincing case for why Hammarskjöld should not be “somewhat forgotten”: His spiritual yearnings and conviction that the U.N. could serve as a vehicle for true Christian compassion may seem a touch arcane now, but his activist stance and equal conviction that all humans are indeed created equal lend the office and institution a certain nobility. Lipsey argues that, more than mere inspiration, Hammarskjöld, once a diplomat with an economic portfolio, brought useful specific ideas to the business of international human rights, among them the importance of sanctuary and his capacity for “lightning-like” assessment of unfolding crises. He died a half-century ago in one such crisis, in the Congo, where an ugly civil war was raging; Lipsey devotes a considerable number of pages to this conflict as a kind of exemplar of all the things the U.N. is meant to ameliorate. Another episode he covers thoroughly is of current interest again more than 50 years later, namely the flight of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese invasion of Tibet, which the U.N. could not satisfactorily resolve.
A good and indispensable man, Hammarsjköld “understood and respected the need for heroes.” In this lucid, well-written biography, he certainly emerges as one.