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DUNANT'S DREAM by Caroline Moorehead


War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross

by Caroline Moorehead

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-7867-0609-0

An eloquent examination of the evolution of the Red Cross from its modest inception in the mid-19th century to its present status as the world’s preeminent relief organization. In 1859, Henri Jean Dunant, age 31, an idealistic scion of a prosperous Swiss family, visited the battlefield at Solferino, Italy, where in a single day 6,000 had died and more than 30,000 had been wounded. Horrified by the suffering he witnessed and by the inability of the medical personnel to cope with the sheer numbers of victims and the gravity of wounds, Dunant published A Memory of Solferino (1862), a book whose graphic battlefield descriptions appalled and animated its myriad readers. By 1863 the society that would become the Red Cross was born. Dunant’s Dream is a masterwork, a book of immense power and consequence. Moorehead, a columnist for the Independent in England (Bertrand Russell: A Life, 1993, etc.), the first researcher allowed to explore the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, has emerged to tell a compelling story—both broad in scope and rich in illuminating detail, both compassionate and critical, poignant and depressing (humanity’s inhumanity has rarely been so sharply delineated). On display are Moorehead’s comprehensive knowledge of world history and politics; her formidable scholarship; her lucid, felicitous style; and her impressive ability to make comprehensible the most complicated international conflicts, the most enigmatic personalities. Unafraid to censure, she repeatedly calls the organization to account for its relative silence during the Holocaust and for the conservative “stodginess” that has sometimes made it slow to adapt to crises. Most riveting are Moorehead’s stories of the quiet heroism of individual Red Cross volunteers—nurses, surgeons, stretcher-bearers, ambulance drivers—who have struggled at enormous personal risk to bring relief to soldiers, refugees, orphans, political prisoners, victims of natural disasters—to all who recognize the Red Cross as a symbol of hope. Dunant’s Dream is a major work by a gifted writer. (32 pages photos)