I am in love with books. It is no secret. I love books, not only for the words within but for the object itself: the cover, the paper, the typography, the design. All my life, I have alterned periods of time when I am in a reading rut and others when I barely read anything for myself.
Recently I have been reading books about the Syrian conflict, the United Nations, peace operations and war journalists, especially war photographers. One can say that these topics relate to my profession. True. They also relate to topics I enjoy reading and learning about. Below are some books I have finished reading or re-reading. If you had read them, I would like to hear what you think about them.
Frontline, Reporting from the World's Deadliest Places by David Loyn is one of the favorite books I have read lately. This book relates the story of the men and women who were part of the Frontline News Agency. It takes us to conflict areas such as Afghanistan and Pakistan from the 80s, the first and the second Gulf Wars, Somalia, Thailand in the 90s, former Yugoslavia in the 90s, the fall of the Soviet Union, Chechnya,... Some lost their life doing their job. The book is well written and well documented and offers an interesting inside view of these conflicts from the perspective of the journalists who covered them. The Frontline News Agency does not exist anymore but the Frontline Club still exists in London and offers services, including training, to reporters. This book gives a candid account of the lives and choices of people who very often risk their life to inform us.
Interventions, A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan gives an interesting account of the professional life of Kofi Annan and more specifically of his time as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006. I have to admit that I found it a more informative read than I expected. It is a lot let politically correct than I thought it would be. I found interesting and courageous that K. Annan acknowledges mistakes that he and his organization made and that sometimes costed the lives of people and he makes an introspection on these events. I found this memoire very interesting and informative. It is no secret that I am a United Nations Person. I also acknowledge the errors commited by the world organization but I also know, like Mr. Annan that most of the time, States are the ones responsible for not acting. I found the book very informative for someone interested in the United Nations. K. Annan gives an interesting account of events such as East Timor, the reforms of the United Nations. For anyone interested in the United Nations and Peacekeeping, it is a really interesting read.
Here I am, the Story of Tim Hetherington, War photographer by Alan Huffman is the book I have been the most disappointed in. I do not regret reading it as it was very interesting to know more about T. Hetherington. I am sure I would have liked to meet him and have a talk aver a drink. My disappointement comes from the writing style. On many occasions, the writing is desorganised, sometime confusing and repetitive. Some comments from the author seem to demonstrate a lack of knowledge of some issues. For example, the author appears to be outraged by the conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry on Darfur that there was no evidence of Genocide in Darfur. A. Huffman correlat the existence of a Genocide to the existence of mass atrocities. The Commision of inquiry never denied the numerous crimes and human rights violations that happened but made a legal assessment in view of the definition of the crime of genocide which obviously Mr. Huffman did not make a research on. A simple research would have avoided showing the limits of the author's research work. On a more general point, some parts of the narrative on T. Hetherington life are quite complete, others appears to be quite sketchy. There is no explanation of why some parts appears to be less documented than others and this is why it is frustrating. Is is because of lack of information available or because of lack of research? I do not regret reading the book but I wished I could have spent a better time reading it.
Lynsey Addario's It's What I do, A Photographer's Life of Love and War is one of the favorite books I have read in the past year. My story with this book is complicated. I bought it last year and took it with me to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I started it there and then brought it back with me to France and I lost it. People who know me know that I barely loose anything (but sunglasses... It is another story). So I bought it again and this time took it to Ukraine and finished it there. The book is safe, back home with me in my library. I am so glad I was perseverant with it. It is a very interesting insight on the work and life of a female war reporter who decided to have a family. L. Addario also spend some time trying to analyze what can draw someone to work in armed conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. These interrogations are also valid for someone like me and her soughts are very similar to mine on the question. Why are we drawn to armed conflict areas? It is, I think, another reason why this book resonates so much with me. I really recommand it.
Chasing Chaos, My decade in and out of Humanitarian Aid by Jessica Alexander is a book I read several months ago. I read it because it dealt with my global interest in people working in the humanitarian field. This account is the personnal experience of the writer in the international humanitarian aid world. I found it rather naive on some points and shows sometimes amalgam. In my more than 15 years of United Nations work, I did not experience these constant UN alcohol-fueled parties and romances that are mentioned. Maybe I am a quite balanced human being in the end or one party every few months does not make it an habit. Evoking the self-doubts and burnouts however makes an honest account of our live in conflict torn society and it is still something tabou to talk about. It is only recent that international organizations realized it is in their interest to talk about the psychological well-being of their staff and it is still marginal that real, concrete actions are taken in this area. However, I would recommand it to someone who is interested in working abroad for NGOs or International Organizations in disaster or conflict affected areas.
The next book is a classic amongst humanitarian workers. It is titled Emergency Sex (and other desperate measures) by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson. I can make the same remarks that I made regarding the previous book. However, the authors recount times at the begining of the booming of United Nations peace operations from the begining of the 90s. The United Nations were on a learning curve in the area of peacekeeping operations and this books reflect errors that were made. Again, I did not peersonnally experience that many somptous parties... It is also an interesting read but you might not experience everything described in this book. Personally, I have a different experience regarding personal life during missions. However, I can relate regarding some working conditions.
The last book that was in my hand lately is Tori Hogan's Beyond Good Intentions. I found it a very interesting read for anyone wanting to work in the field of humanitarian aid and development. I found very interesting the chapter about Rwanda and how this little country has organized the work of NGOs on its territory. A must read.
Well, this is it for today. I am putting a final step at my next selection of books.