A revealing investigation of the complexities of UNESCO’s mission.

A FUTURE IN RUINS

UNESCO, WORLD HERITAGE, AND THE DREAM OF PEACE

Dissension and controversy have plagued the identification and care of World Heritage sites.

Meskell (Anthropology/Stanford Univ.; The Nature of Heritage: The New South Africa, 2011, etc.) examines the origin, mission, and impact of UNESCO’s World Heritage program, offering a well-researched argument that UNESCO has become “a mere shadow of its former ambition for peace and mutual understanding between peoples.” The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was founded in London in 1945, responding to the war’s “programmatic devastation of culture and heritage.” Its lofty mission was to foster peace, provide humanitarian assistance, and promote intercultural respect. This utopian goal included saving archaeological and cultural sites throughout the world, deeming them treasures for all of humanity. Meskell notes, to her regret, that archaeological research soon became subsumed “and heritage more likely to be considered architecture.” Rather than support excavations, which had the potential to reveal knowledge of the ancient past, UNESCO’s World Heritage program shifted to preservation and restoration of monuments that attracted tourism. Once described as “the laboratory of ideas,” UNESCO evolved into an “agency for branding” when it created a list of World Heritage sites that provoked competition among countries vying for the prestige of having a site inscribed. Because European nations were prominent in vetting the World Heritage List, non-Western countries felt slighted. Meskell portrays UNESCO as a bureaucracy mired in paper: “handbooks, manuals, guidelines, and other documents in multiple languages”; thousands of pages of documentation must be provided to support an application for inscription. Acceptance to the list sometimes causes unforeseen problems, as with Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Temple, for example, when inscription “inflamed a long-standing history of violence” between Cambodia and Thailand and involved the U.S., as well, when companies, such as Chevron, coveted access to natural gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand. The creation of World Heritage sites, Meskell asserts, has “implications for power, authority, and legitimation” that may expose a “collision of worldviews” and even incite “dystopian scenarios” where terrorists or dissidents intentionally target listed sites.

A revealing investigation of the complexities of UNESCO’s mission.

Pub Date: July 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-064834-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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