Brian Urquhart is a former Undersecretary-General of the United Nations. His books include Hammarskjöld, A Life in Peace and War, and Ralph Bunche: An American Life.


My Father Murray Urquhart

Self-portrait by Murray Urquhart, circa 1930
My father was single-minded to a fault. Painting took absolute priority in his life, and his wife and children—not to mention national events and international disasters—were all secondary. He painted during daylight hours wherever he happened to be. What he did for money remained a mystery, except that we evidently had very little of it and lived in a primitive farm cottage without electricity or running water. For my first five years my father was a distant figure, but at least he was living with us. In 1925, when I was six, my father, carrying his easel and paintbox, rode away on his bicycle and never came home again.

The Turbulent Giant

A British sailor signaling a merchant ship as it passes the naval control base in the Thames estuary, November 1939

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories

by Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester has often written of great events that have been largely forgotten, of remarkable human beings who have quietly changed the world, and of places the rest of us wish we had seen. He is an adventurous and indefatigable traveler as well as a brilliant explorer of arcane problems …

Revolution Without Violence?

Václav Havel leaving an unofficial meeting with Lech Wałesa at the Czech–Polish border, March 17, 1990

Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present

edited by Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash

Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name

by Timothy Garton Ash
Amid both the gloom of the season and the recent uprisings in the Arab world, it is bracing to look back at the last thirty years or so and see how much has actually gone more or less well. The end of the cold war, the demise of communism, and the emergence of new democratic states of varying quality all represent important historical change. Most of the radical political and economic transformations of the last quarter-century, moreover, have been brought about with little or no bloodshed.

How Great Was Churchill?

Winston's War: Churchill, 1940–1945

by Max Hastings
Code word “Cromwell”—the warning that German invasion was imminent—was communicated to British army units on September 5, 1940. The 130th Infantry Brigade of the 43rd (Wessex) Division, in which I was serving, was rushed to the southeast coast to take up positions in and around Dover, the British port nearest …

Finding the Hidden UN

UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and General Assembly President Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit at a meeting of the assembly, September 1953

No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations

by Mark Mazower

UN Ideas That Changed the World

by Richard Jolly, Louis Emmerij, and Thomas G. Weiss, with a foreword by Kofi A. Annan
In its first sixty-five years the United Nations has been called many things—“a permanent partnership…among the peoples of the world for their common peace and common well-being” (President Harry Truman) and a “cesspool” (a mayor of New York). In the memoirs of a recent US ambassador to the UN, we …

A Contest in the Cold

Paul Nitze and George Kennan at Kennan’s farm in Pennsylvania, mid-1950s

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War

by Nicholas Thompson
The hopes for a peaceful, rational world, which had sustained so many of those who struggled through World War II, did not long survive the peace. The smiles of the San Francisco Conference, which, in June 1945, had agreed on the Charter of the United Nations, soon faded. Two months …

Blundering in the Mideast with Prince Bandar

George W. Bush and Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan at the President's ranch, Crawford, Texas, August 27, 2002

A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East— from the Cold War to the War on Terror

by Patrick Tyler

Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East

by Rashid Khalidi
Can a negotiatior for a Middle East settlement be both objective and produce results? Can a national negotiator ever be completely objective? How much does it matter? Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN’s famously principled second secretary-general, wrote personal guidelines for his task that included the following: “If, while pleading another’s cause, …

What You Can Learn from Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr, 1963

The Irony of American History

by Reinhold Niebuhr, with an introduction by Andrew J. Bacevich

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism

by Andrew J. Bacevich
A fog of know-nothing ideology, anti-intellectualism, cronyism, incompetence, and cynicism has, for eight years, enveloped the executive branch of the United States government. America’s role in the world and the policies that should shape and maintain it have been distorted by misguided decisions and by willful misinterpretations both of history …