Biography of the handsome Brazilian intellectual who served as the UN’s top troubleshooter from East Timor and Bosnia to Iraq, where he died in a terrorist car bombing.
Pulitzer Prize–winner Power (Global Leadership/Harvard School of Government; “A Problem From Hell”: American and the Age of Genocide, 2002) draws on more than 400 interviews to offer this detailed portrait of charismatic Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948–2003), whom she first met in 1994 while working as a young reporter. A diplomat’s son, Sergio (as he was generally known) earned a doctorate in philosophy at the Sorbonne and took part in the Paris student revolt in May 1968. He joined the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1969 and remained with the organization until his death. Writing with a keen understanding of international affairs, Power traces each step of Sergio’s career: early humanitarian postings in Sudan, Mozambique and Peru; his initial encounter with terrorism in 1981 as a UN political advisor in Lebanon; and later work in Hong Kong and Cambodia that made his reputation as a pragmatic negotiator. Power describes a man who was always learning, reaching out to everyone from taxi drivers to thugs in the belief that to resolve problems all must be heard. An elegant charmer in his starched shirts and tailored suits, Sergio was a ladies’ man who frequently bedded colleagues and a deeply loyal UN official who neglected his wife and two children. Power shows how his winning ways, knowledge of Kantian philosophy and deep regard for the dignity of both people and nations made him a force for change. Her description of failed attempts to rescue Sergio from the rubble of the UN’s quarters in Baghdad, where he was Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special representative, is both riveting and heartbreaking.
A well-rendered account of one of the UN’s best in pursuit of “the flame of idealism that motivated many to strive to combat injustice and that inspired the vulnerable to believe that help would soon come.”