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

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  8,236 ratings  ·  473 reviews
Former UN Ambassador Samantha Power's Pulitzer Prize-winning analysis of America's repeated failure to stop genocides around the world

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of the last century of American history, Samantha Power asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Power, a professor at the Harvard K
Paperback, 620 pages
Published May 6th 2003 by Basic Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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4.21  · 
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 ·  8,236 ratings  ·  473 reviews

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Che fine stanno facendo i Rohingya?

Samantha Power è nata in Irlanda nel 1970. Quando aveva dieci anni la sua famiglia si trasferì in USA. Quando ne aveva diciannove stava coronando il suo ‘american dream’: essere una giornalista sportiva (per la CBS), anche se solo leggendo il punteggio. Sullo schermo dello stadio di Atlanta, nel giugno del 1989, passarono le immagini di piazza Tienanmen, e Samantha capì di essere nel posto sbagliato, capì che stava sbagliando, non era lo
Oct 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Samantha Power's 'A Problem from Hell' is a broad attempt to document the major acts of genocide/human rights violations of the 20th century paired with the international community's subsequent negligence in each case. She reports on the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and especially her major areas of research- Rwanda and Serbia.

However, Powers is content to simply recount major instances of crimes against humanity that the U.S. and other major Western powers simply ignored (a worthy histori
A passionate, but incomplete look at the problems of genocide and intervention. Argues that political quagmires and mismanagement lead to a lack of intervention in times of humanitarian necessity, leading to disaster. Her own experience is with the Balkans and Rwanda, and these chapters are easily the best in the book.

It is one thing to recognize and stop evil. It is another to fight apathy, which the author fights with all her might.

The greatest omission, and one which is only too relevant, is
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a difficult book to read. Both for its content and length. Most books about genocide are difficult, so this is no surprise. I have read extensively about the Armenian Genocide (Meds Yeghern), and the Shoah, or Holocaust of European Jews. These parts of the book added little to my knowledge. But, the rest of the book was very informative and distressing, relaying the stories of genocide after the world had declared "Never again"!
These were the stories of the Cambodian, Kurdish, Bosnian, R
Apr 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Samantha Power has written a very well-researched book profiling cases of genocide in the 21st century (in Turkey, Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda, Balkans, Srebrenica, and Kosovo). Powers descibed the crusade taken on by numerous heroic individuals to avert genocide (none of whom I had previously heard of), such as Raphael Lemkin, William Proxmire, Henry Morgenthau, and James Kenneth Galbraith.

Power not only describes the recognition and responses to genocide in each of the case studies p
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Samantha Power gives a compelling account of the twentieth century history of genocide and American responses (largely non-responses) to this horrendous evil. She covers a sobering reality with a journalists skill of both careful documentation and rendering a riveting narrative.

She begins with the life of Rafael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent who became fascinated at the crimes against humanity wrought by the Turks against Armenians in World War 1. Fleeing Poland when he recognizes th
Tomas Bella
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Výnimočná a výnimočne dôležitá kniha. Detailný príbeh vzniku konceptu genocídy, medzinárodnej intervencie a príbeh genocíd 20. storočia (Arméni, Kambodža, Rwanda, Bosna, Kosovo) a americkej reakcie a nereakcie na ne.
Ak vás trápia otázky, prečo "niekto niečo" neurobil v Rwande alebo Sarajeve, tak tu je nepríjemná odpoveď: nemáme žiadnu jednoduchú odpoveď typu "nebola tam ropa" alebo "mocným na životoch nezáleží", ale vždy je to komplikovaný výsledok činnosti alebo nečinnosti množstva rôznych úra
Mar 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
I have a lot of complaints and very few positive remarks about this book. I'll start with the little good: I enjoyed the biographical information about Raphael Lemkin. That said, there are many other more in-depth books about him out there that could tell an even fuller story.

The majority of this book, however, was a hollow argument for the superiority of liberal interventionism. The structure of each case study goes like this: a genocide started; the US MAY have borne some blame for the conditi
Samantha Power is an Irish born, American raised woman who served in a myriad of important posts within the US Government, including US Ambassador to the United Nations. Given her high status and delicate position, you wouldn't be blamed if you thought that she, like many others who held public office, would NOT write a book about how absolutely disgusting the US behaviour has been with regards to genocide. And yet she did. And this book is it. The size and scope of this work is huge - Armenia, ...more
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Grinding, grueling, exhausting account of a series of genocides and the United States's response – or generally lack thereof.

Other people have criticized this book at length for failing to address the ways the United States was actively complicit in genocidal violence through support of its perpetrators. The criticism is accurate, though I think it's a product of the focus of this book very specifically on passive complicity.

I had read excerpts of this over the years, and I'm glad I finally sat
Mar 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-books-ever
The excruciating detail with which Power researched an assembled this book is evident from page one. It is an impressive work, worthy of the prizes it has received. Power's intense analytical scrutiny lays bare many of the decisions and motivations behind America's troubling ability to turn a blind eye to important humanitarian situations where we deem there is no "national interest." It is an important book, though tremendously disheartening.

My only problem with this book, if it can be called t
Jan 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Тільки лінивий не сміявся над риторикою глибокої стурбованості, серйозного занепокоєння і постійної тривоги, до якої вдається міжнародна спільнота замість того, щоб завдати хоч якусь користь. Втім, багатьом із нас ні з чим порівнювати - скажімо, я не відстежувала реакцію цієї спільноти на інші трагедії. Тож для перспективи я з інтересом прочитала «A Problem from Hell” Саманти Пауер - тієї Саманти Пауер, яку ми всі ніжно любимо, постпредставниці США.
Свою кар'єру Саманта Пауер починала як журналіс
Jan 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Samantha Power's excellent history of American responses to genocide in the 20th-century is a very enlightening and very depressing story of moral failure. It follows the story of genocide from the slaughter of Armenians in 1915 through the Jewish Holocaust 30 years later, and on to the Khmer-Rouge sponsored killing fields in Cambodia in the late '70s, the mass murder of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam's government in the late '80s, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides in the early and mid '90s and ending wi ...more
Jul 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book does a good job of documenting some of the genocides in the 20th century but offers little insight into how they could have been prevented or how our current systems failed. There is larger missing problem which is never addressed in this book, which is how we can respond more quickly and positively in the future.

There is no examination of international law as it exists today, how it works and does not work. There is no mention of Russia and China's role on the security council and ho
Aug 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Every American should read this book twice! It is exceptionally well written, well researched, and unbelievably compelling. It explains the history of America's place in international law and polics from the Armenian genocide of WWI to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. It tells the compelling personal stories of those involved on the international stage, and behind the scenes. This book is exceptionally well balanced. It neither praises nor villifies the United States. Rather, its purpose is to in ...more
Vidur Kapur
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, history
In this forcefully argued book, Samantha Power urges the United States to place humanitarian objectives at the centre of its foreign policy agenda, and warns against narrowly defined conceptions of the US "national interest" which have often served to prevent the United States from intervening whilst genocides have taken place. It is well-argued, extremely well-documented, and Power attempts to engage with the strongest arguments against her position. One exception to this is that she does not r ...more
This book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a classic and deserves its reputation. If Power's tone is just a bit too self-righteous for my tastes, her outrage at the world's anemic responses to modern genocides, and particularly those of the United States, is fully warranted by her exhaustive and heart-rending research.

Reading the book today, one necessarily muses about Power's own success in preventing contemporary genocides as U.S. ambassador to the UN, especially the war crimes and crimes against
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
so again, I'm sucked into a book that angers and saddens me. Samantha Power demonstrates that despite the lofty (but rhetorical) pledge "never again" after the Holocaust, the US gov and state leaders have never ever been willing to prevent or stop any genocide in the twentieth century. the systematic inaction and indifference of the US gov and the UN in the face of the plights of the Kurds, Cambodians, Tutsis, Kosovars and Bosnian Muslims are invariably characteristic when realpolitik remains th ...more
Erik Graff
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: citizens of the USA
Recommended to Erik by: no one
I've been helping a friend clear out an old two-storey, five-car garage recently acquired by the condominium association she heads. Amongst various items ranging from sex toys to a truck engine were a number of books, this among them. I picked it up and read it not knowing that Samantha Power has gone on to become the U.S. representative to the United Nations. Back when she wrote it she was simply an academic with a background in journalism including work in the former Yugoslavia.

Power's experie
Fascinating, passionate, and damning in equal measure, A Problem from Hell is an indictment against the prevailing attitudes in the USA (and much of the west) towards genocide throughout the twentieth century. From the Turkish massacres of the Armenians, through to the Serbian butchery in Kosovo, Power examines the ways in which American politicians have paid lip-service to opposing genocide, while failing to act for reasons of political expediency. As Power writes: "No US President has ever mad ...more
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Probably the best book I've ever read.
Carrie Yang
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I’ve read this three times and it’s fresh and horrifying every time.
I tend to get really depressed in the winter, and this year I just thought well.... why not?
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Your first reaction to seeing this title is probably “Alex, why on earth would I ever read a 500+ page nonfiction book about genocide? What a downer…” And you’re right. It is a downer. Published in 2002, Samantha Power, a former journalist, human rights activist, and Harvard professor, later a chief foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, and recently appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations -- this book focuses specifically on America’s responses to the genocides of the twentieth century ...more
Chris Walker
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Actually more like a 4.5, but I rounded up because it's a book I think that many people (but especially Americans) should read.

It's been a long time since I've read such a well constructed, well argued, and thoroughly damning analysis of US foreign policy. Samantha Power lays out an accessible, data-rich take on the history of genocide in the 20th-century, focused on American foreign policy decisions, or more frequently the lack thereof. The book is structured chronologically, beginning with the
MJ Urr
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Written and published before the 'Responsibility to Protect' commitment was adopted by the United Nations, Power's book is a strong case for its necessity. Starting with the Armenian genocide, Power painstakingly goes through the context and also the American response to among the worst atrocities certainly in 20th century, likely all of human history. She introduces us to Richard Lemke, and his life's work for human rights and the power he created in naming these atrocities 'genocide.' Power do ...more
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A Problem from Hell is extraordinary. I think the Audible recording was somewhere near 24 total hours in-total, but Ms. Power’s storytelling of humanity’s most horrific crimes is mesmerizing. What made this book difficult to read was not the title’s length, but the human inaction, negligence, and apathy that the author so rigorously documents. Ms. Power reminds us that silence is violence.
Nov 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008
In "Dress to Kill", Eddie Izzard says:
But there were other mass murderers that got away with it! Stalin killed many millions, died in his bed, well done there; Pol Pot killed 1.7 million Cambodians, died under house arrest at age 72, well done indeed! And the reason we let them get away with it is because they killed their own people, and we're sort of fine with that. ... Hitler killed people next door... “Oh... stupid man!” After a couple of years, we won't stand for that, will we?
I thought of
Sep 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: human-rights
Samantha Power gives a well selected, episodic history of genocide in the twentieth century, a history of the development of the term "genocide" and, most importantly the sorry record of the United States in not intervening into situations in which hundreds of thousands or millions of innocent people were killed based solely on their religion, ethnicity or nationality. She is most convincing in showing how the administration in power will always oppose intervention in humanitarian disasters and ...more
This book really consists of two parts. One is a documentation of the birth and evolution of the concept of "genocide" during the 20th century. Power's access to documentation and powerful players in international affairs gives her unique insight into the issue. The chapters on the Armenian genocide in Turkey are especially timely given the still ongoing denial of this historical atrocity.

However, this is all ultimately used in support of an insidious agenda dressed up in humanitarian language.
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Samantha Power is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writer, and academic. She is affiliated with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School, holding the position of Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, she moved to the United States from Ireland at the age of nine. From 1
“The United Staes had never in its history intervened to stop genocide and had in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred,” 1 likes
“Those who argued that the number of Cambodians killed was in the hundreds of thousands or those who tried to generate press coverage of the horrors did so assuming that establishing the facts would empower the United States and other Western governments to act. Normally, in a time of genocide, op-ed writers, policymakers, and reporters root for a distinct outcome or urge a specific U.S. military, economic, legal, humanitarian, or diplomatic response. Implicit indeed in many cables and news articles, and explicit in most editorials, is an underlying message, a sort of “if I were czar, I would do X or Y.” But in the first three years of KR rule, even the Americans most concerned about Cambodia—Twining, Quinn, and Becker among them—internalized the constraints of the day and the system. They knew that drawing attention to the slaughter in Cambodia would have reminded America of its past sins, reopened wounds that had not yet healed at home, and invited questions about what the United States planned to do to curb the terror. They were neither surprised nor agitated by U.S. apathy. They accepted U.S. noninvolvement as an established background condition. Once U.S. troops had withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973, Americans deemed all of Southeast Asia unspeakable, unwatchable, and from a policy perspective, unfixable. “There could have been two genocides in Cambodia and nobody would have cared,” remembers Morton Abramowitz, who at the time was an Asia specialist at the Pentagon and in 1978 became U.S. ambassador to Thailand. During the Khmer Rouge period, he remembers, “people just wanted to forget about the place. They wanted it off the radar.” 1 likes
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