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Book cover of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

by Samantha Power

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 688
Paperback
ISBN: 9780061120145






Available to Buy

Overview of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

In her award-winning interrogation of the last century of American history, Samantha Power—a former Balkan war correspondent and founding executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy—asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Drawing upon exclusive interviews with Washington's top policy makers, access to newly declassified documents, and her own reporting from the modern killing fields, Power provides the answer in "A Problem from Hell," a groundbreaking work that tells the stories of the courageous Americans who risked their careers and lives in an effort to get the United States to act.

Winner for the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Synopsis of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

A character-driven study of some of the darkest moments in our national history, when America failed to prevent or stop 20th-century campaigns to exterminate Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Iraqi Kurds, Bosnians, and Rwandans .

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Some books elegantly record history; some books make history. This book does both. Power brings a story-teller's gift for gripping narrative together with a reporter's hunger for the inside story. Drawing on newly declassified documents and scores of exclusive interviews, she has produced an unforgettable history of Americans who stood up and stood by in the face of genocide. It is a history of our country that has never before been told, and it should change the way we see America and its role in the world.

About the Author, Samantha Power

Samantha Power is an activist/journalist whose powerful history of 20th-century genocide, A Problem from Hell won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. Through her writing, she continues to keep the world's attention focused on humanitarian crises and human rights abuses around the world.

Reviews of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

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Editorials

Lawrence H. Summers

“[A Problem From Hell] challenges our conscience and should influence what we do in the future.’’

Aryeh Neier

“[Power] is one of the most striking talents to emerge in the human rights field in a long time.”

Former UN Ambassador

"One of those rare books that can change one’s thinking...very painful reading, but it has to be read.’’

Doris Kearns Goodwin

“A history of our country that has never before been told... it should change the way we see America..”

Former Senate Majority Leader D-Maine

"This is a moving account of how millions of lives were lost."

Paul M. Kennedy

“A serious and compelling work... should be read by policy makers everywhere.”

Stanley Hoffmann

“Power writes with an admirable mix of erudition and passion... focuses fiercely on the human costs of indifference and passivity....”

Philip Gourevitch

“Samantha Power has written one of those rare books that is truly as important as its subject.”

Time Magazine

"Bracing...Power [is] the new conscience of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment."

Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke

“One of those rare books that can change one’s thinking...very painful reading, but it has to be read.’’

Former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine)

“This is a moving account of how millions of lives were lost.”

New York Review of Books

“Agonizingly persuasive.”

Denver Post

“Brilliantly conceived, superbly researched, mixing passion and erudition--it must be placed in the ‘must read’ category.”

Washington Post

“Forceful… Power tells this long, sorry history with great clarity and vividness.”

Time magazine

“Bracing...Power [is] the new conscience of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment.”

Newsweek International

“A damning indictment of American passivity in the face of some of history’s worse crimes.

The New Republic

“An angry, brilliant, fiercely useful, absolutely essential book.”

Foreign Affairs

“Disturbing...engaging and well written…will likely become the standard text on genocide prevention.”

Newark Star Ledger

“Groundbreaking... Power elegantly makes her case.”

Weekly Standard

“Avoids partisan finger-pointing [and] is a clarion call for America to remain an engaged moral power.”

The New Yorker

“Magisterial.”

Reason

“Compelling…Power leads her readers on a long and often gut-wrenching journey…. Power’s book raises vital questions.”

Newsweek (International Edition)

"A damning indictment of American passivity in the face of some of history’s worse crimes.

Denver Post

“Brilliantly conceived, superbly researched, mixing passion and erudition--it must be placed in the ‘must read’ category.”

Newsweek International

“A damning indictment of American passivity in the face of some of history’s worse crimes.

Reason

“Compelling…Power leads her readers on a long and often gut-wrenching journey…. Power’s book raises vital questions.”

Washington Post

“Forceful… Power tells this long, sorry history with great clarity and vividness.”

Newark Star Ledger

“Groundbreaking... Power elegantly makes her case.”

The New Yorker

“Magisterial.”

Foreign Affairs

“Disturbing...engaging and well written…will likely become the standard text on genocide prevention.”

The New Republic

“An angry, brilliant, fiercely useful, absolutely essential book.”

Denver Post

“Brilliantly conceived, superbly researched, mixing passion and erudition—it must be placed in the ‘must read’ category.”

Weekly Standard

“Avoids partisan finger-pointing [and] is a clarion call for America to remain an engaged moral power.”

New York Review of Books

“Agonizingly persuasive.”

Time magazine

“Bracing...Power [is] the new conscience of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment.”

Newsweek International

A damning indictment of American passivity in the face of some of history’s worse crimes.

Newsweek (International Edition)

“A damning indictment of American passivity in the face of some of history’s worse crimes.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Some books elegantly record history; some books make history. This book does both. Power brings a story-teller's gift for gripping narrative together with a reporter's hunger for the inside story. Drawing on newly declassified documents and scores of exclusive interviews, she has produced an unforgettable history of Americans who stood up and stood by in the face of genocide. It is a history of our country that has never before been told, and it should change the way we see America and its role in the world.

Publishers Weekly

Power, a former journalist for U.S. News and World Report and the Economist and now the executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, offers an uncompromising and disturbing examination of 20th-century acts of genocide and U.S responses to them. In clean, unadorned prose, Power revisits the Turkish genocide directed at Armenians in 1915-1916, the Holocaust, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Iraqi attacks on Kurdish populations, Rwanda, and Bosnian "ethnic cleansing," and in doing so, argues that U.S. intervention has been shamefully inadequate. The emotional force of Power's argument is carried by moving, sometimes almost unbearable stories of the victims and survivors of such brutality. Her analysis of U.S. politics what she casts as the State Department's unwritten rule that nonaction is better than action with a PR backlash; the Pentagon's unwillingness to see a moral imperative; an isolationist right; a suspicious left and a population unconcerned with distant nations aims to show how ingrained inertia is, even as she argues that the U.S. must reevaluate the principles it applies to foreign policy choices. In the face of firsthand accounts of genocide, invocations of geopolitical considerations and studied and repeated refusals to accept the reality of genocidal campaigns simply fail to convince, she insists. But Power also sees signs that the fight against genocide has made progress. Prominent among those who made a difference are Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who invented the word genocide and who lobbied the U.N. to make genocide the subject of an international treaty, and Senator William Proxmire, who for 19 years spoke every day on the floor of the U.S. Senate to urge the U.S. to ratify the U.N. treaty inspired by Lemkin's work. This is a well-researched and powerful study that is both a history and a call to action. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

The executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy presents a superb analysis of the US government's evident unwillingness to intervene in ethnic slaughter. Based on centuries-old hatreds all but inexplicable to outside observers, genocide is indeed "a problem from hell," as then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher put it. In Bosnia, which inspired Christopher's remark, those hatreds resulted in untold thousands of deaths, televised and reported for the world to see. Even so, writes Power (who covered the Balkan conflict for U.S. News and World Report), the Clinton administration was reluctant to characterize the butchery as genocide, preferring instead to cast it in terms of "tragedy" and "civil war" and thus "downplaying public expectations that there was anything the United States could do." The author argues that the Clinton administration's failure to act was entirely consistent with earlier American responses to genocide, which turned on the assumption of policymakers, journalists, and citizens that human beings are rational and in the event of war, innocent civilians can insure their safety merely by keeping out of the line of fire. That failure also fits in with the American government's isolationist tendencies, strong even at a time when the US is the world's sole superpower. Power examines genocide after genocide, including the Turkish slaughter of Armenians during WWI, the Holocaust, and the Cambodian bloodbath of the 1970s, assuring her readers that US officials knew very well what was happening and chose to look the other way. She closes by suggesting that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, "might enhance the empathy of Americans . . . towardpeoples victimized by genocide," although she also guesses that the government may view intervention as an untenable diversion of resources away from homeland defense. A well-reasoned argument for the moral necessity of halting genocide wherever it occurs, and an unpleasant reminder of our role in enabling it, however unwittingly.

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