RALPH BUNCHE by Brian Urquhart

RALPH BUNCHE

An American Life
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The first full-dress biography of Bunche--and one that brings to life the many achievements of a remarkable diplomat. Drawing on access to Bunche's private papers and to knowledge gained during his stint as Bunche's assistant at the UN, Urquhart (A Life in Peace and War, 1987; Hammarskjold, 1972) offers a nuanced portrait of an exceptional man who began as a militant critic of white America and ended as a member of its establishment. Bunche, the grandson of a former slave, graduated from UCLA in 1927, earned a doctorate at Harvard, and helped Gunnar Myrdal research his landmark study, An American Dilemma. During WW II, the future UN undersecretary general served with the OSS, moving in 1944 to the State Department, where--in his capacity as head of the section dealing with colonial affairs--he participated in the founding of the UN and the drafting of its charter. In the wake of his appointment to the UN Secretariat, Bunche negotiated the 1949 armistice between Israel and its Arab neighbors, a feat that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. As the secretary-general's chief troubleshooter, he directed missions to defuse the Suez, Congo, Cyprus, and other crises. Though a world-class statesmen widely esteemed for his mediation talents, the globe-trotting Bunche (who died in 1971 at age 67) remained a second-class citizen subject to racial discrimination in the US--where he was visibly, if judiciously, active in the civil-rights movement. Throughout, Urquhart provides perceptive accounts of Bunche's many appearances on the international stage, plus valuable perspectives on his relations with a close-knit family. As additional archival material becomes available, scholars will no doubt pay closer attention to Bunche's extraordinary accomplishments as a peacemaker. But be that as it may, Urquhart's scrupulously documented, wide-angle narrative bids fair to become a standard reference on the man. (Photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03527-1
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993