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Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,081 ratings  ·  123 reviews
In this perfect match of author and subject, Pulitzer Prize-winner Samantha Power tackles the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello, whose work for the U.N. before his 2003 death in Iraq was emblematic of moral struggle on the global stage. Power has drawn on a staggering breadth of research (including 400 interviews) to show us a heroic figure and the conflicts he waded into, fr ...more
Kindle Edition, 666 pages
Published (first published February 2008)
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 ·  1,081 ratings  ·  123 reviews

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Ashley Clark
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Hey Girl. What you readin? Why you cryin?" says the man sitting on the hood of his car to me.
"Just a book about the UN," I say as I walk briskly home.

When this book started, I could not control my eye-rolls. I have read a few books about aggrandized heroes who often forget that their being male allows them to act in ways that would be intolerable in the opposite sex. And, don't get me wrong- Sergio does this. Samantha Power does not shy away from his less savory side: the neglect of his childre
Another great book by Samantha Power. As she did with Raphael Lemkin in her first book, she brings the person of Sergio Vieira de Mello to life, while giving the history of an institution - in this book, the UN, while in her first book, the concept of genocide.

In the book we can follow the transformation of Vieira de Mello's approach toward his work as he deals with the facts on the ground in places such as Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor, and finally Iraq. Power also points out the
Jun 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This book had an extremely powerful impression on me. For one, the life of Sergio Vierea de Mello was an incredible study of philosophy in action and metamorphosis. His ideals for how the UN could be a force for good and positive change, could help people in times of need, could bring together forces that were opposed, and could solve the problems of a not particularly pleasant human civilization are on display. A complex man (who isn't?), his mission and passion for life and peace coupled with
Chasing the Flame examines the role of the UN in world politics through the life of Sergio Viera de Mello, a Brazilian-born official who spent his career in the UN. He started his career there working for the UNHCR in 1969. He served in Bangladesh, Lebanon, Rwanda, Cambodia, East Timor, the Balkans, and Iraq.

In 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon in response to Palestinian attacks in northern Israel, Viera de Mello was serving as the senior political adviser to the UN interim force in Lebanon, loca
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: go-deep
Wow, an effective/emotional way of absorbing the history of UN missions in Cambodia, Bosnia, East Timor, and Iraq through one life-story. Through the UN, Sergio Vieira de Mello worked his way from humanitarian coordinator to special envoy and discovered the tension of humanitarian aid versus human rights, might vs. right, and the U.S.' relationship to the UN.

S. Power claims that Sergio upheld the importance of dignity in his career. While Sergio clearly respected and inspired the people around
Sergio Vieira de Mello was undoubtedly an interesting person who drew a wide range of people (including Samantha Power) into his orbit over the years he worked for the UN in places like Kosovo, East Timor, and Iraq. I expected the book to embody more of the charisma and intelligence and warmth that the man must have had, to bring this larger-than-life figure right into the room with the reader. It mostly failed in that regard, feeling dry and academic, especially for the first half. It picks up ...more
Read the STOP SMILING review of Chasing the Flame:

A few months ago, a friend invited me to brunch and I declined. My explanation: I needed to finish reading, for review, Samantha Power’s new 640-page biography of the late international diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello.

“Sergio... who?” she asked. “You know,” I huffed, hoping she’d snap to recall: Of course! Vieira de Mello! The all-world geopolitical problem-solving badass! Instead, she said something about pancakes.

She must have had at least hear
Bookmarks Magazine

Samantha Power, a professor at Harvard, met Sergio Vieira de Mello when she was a journalist in Bosnia in 1994. Although he charmed her as he did everyone else, she has written a balanced biography of the flawed but dedicated and likable man. While Power impressed the critics with her research, she failed to convince all of them of her arguments. Several reviewers also noted that Power's writing, laden with detail and subtle layering, doesn't rise to the level of her Pulitzer Prize

Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sergio was the son of a Brazilian diplomat, and lived in many different countries as a child. He went to university in Switzerland, and subsequently joined the UN. He worked with refugees in countries like Cambodia and Yugoslavia, and eventually became one of the most powerful people in the UN. He was killed while working in Iraq.

His life story is a useful way to understand how intergovernmental organizations like the UN actually operate. One major theme in the book is the contrast between idea
Samantha Power has done her research, digging up minute details and providing a bit of analysis from her experience in this field. de Mello's life is assessed in great detail, often with the summary of his rebellious nature leading to great changes... or falling into UN disasters. I found the latter part of the book most interesting, as Power presents the big missions and how de Mello approached them and how successful the UN's involvement was considered. For those in the humanitarian field, thi ...more
Diogo Alcantara
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read, definetly! Samantha Power makes an important tribute to Sergio with her precision, accuracy, transparency, research, and writing style. Besides her admiration for him, Power doesn't hide or minimize any of the controversial step or decisions made by Sergio, but in an objective way she presents his essence of a passionate UN worker aware of and guided by his mission.
PS: the title of the book could be better...
Annmarie  Matta
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
all I can say.. I wish I could meet Sergio. He gave so much to UN and his story has been staying with me for the past few days. I was heartbroken and kept talking about it with some people. It’s unfortunate that many people do not know about Sergio.

I gave 4 stars because some chapters were a bit slow but we needed to know information on why Sergio made determinations on a couple of things because of the countries’ pasts.
Matthew Mendenhall
Power’s book is simply not as driven by passion and zeal as “A Problem From Hell” was, but nonetheless, it’s a book by Powers so it’s a good one. One thing I appreciated about this book was the delving into the contradictions of Sergio’s personal life which he really had no issue being public with. His lack of integrity for the expense of pragmatism, and essentially hedonism, reminded me to be prepared to work out tough issues with such people in compassion and non-judgment.
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an amazing account of a person that became an inspiration for my future career. If one is interested in international relations, the UN, diplomacy, and the world affairs - this is a must-read.
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
masterfully written with incredible feeling and understanding. a perspicacious account of the UN, the personnel and politics.
Carolina Salvaterra
Great read for anyone aspiring a UN career or a career in international development!
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A hefty book - both in the knowledge that I gained about the UN and the emotions that it stirred. I hope the Sergio lessons are not lost.
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A very good story about a great man, but painfully long. You've got to be committed to get through this one.
Vikas Datta
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most inspiring...
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
IQ "In the years ahead he would never view the United States as a trusted friend, but he would come to se it as a necessary partner. American policies were too often carried out arrogantly, he believed, and with an eye to domestic political audiences. Still, when it came to humanitarian affairs, peace keeping, and diplomacy, he knew that he and the UN needed U.S. money, leverage and leadership." 524

The view Power expresses on behalf of Sergio Vieira de Mello (SVdM) that I use for the opening quo
Dec 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humanitarianism
Whenever I read a book, there are different aspects that contribute to the rating and the reception of the book, including the technical skills, the author's style, and the content/subject matter.

In relation to this book, the content/subject matter far outweighs all other factors. I was introduced to Sergio Vieira de Mello in the Spring of 2012 in a presentation in my peace studies senior seminar class, and he has fascinated me ever since. You can say I have a celebrity crush on him; he's one of
Kevin McAllister
Chasing The Flame was one of the most depressing and tragic books I've ever read. Sergio Vieira de Mello dedicated his entire life to The United Nations, striving to improve the lives of millions of persecuted and impoverished people throughout the world. And Vieira de Mello didn't spend decades behind a desk in New York or Geneva like many other UN workers. He risked his life, time and time again, in some of the most war torn corners of the world. How many can say they gave personal hand to han ...more
Jun 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all readers and even those who don't
The "Flame" is, I think, the drive to self-actualize--which Sergio had mastered by the time of his death on August 19, 2003, in Baghdad. He died a slow death, buried in rubble, the target of an al Qaeda attack. This is his story. It is not surprising to me that self-actualization and "the fight to save the world" are linked. Vieira de Mello was an extraordinary man, who worked for the United Nations his entire adult life. It is a tragedy that he was killed at the age of fifty-four.

Most of us don
Aug 16, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good book that somewhat radically changed my notion of what the UN does and its importance. A few points really struck me:

• Member nations seem silly when they attack the UN for being weak. The UN is exactly as strong if they want it to be. If member nations wanted the UN to be stronger; they could make it stronger.
• The UN is constantly walking the line between humanitarian force and peacekeeping/security force. In areas of conflict, being too aggressive with their role as peacekeepers
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book.."Chasing the Flame" is so well written...even-handed and honest ....that it becomes a tale that surrounds the reader to the point that when tearing oneself from the pages...a sense of dizziness occurs simply because of the realness of the moments which Samantha catches. Sure the first five chapters were boring...but suddenly the narrative grabs you and won't let go....I have read loads of Vietnam....Cambodia...Kosovo.....East Timor.....Rwanda....Iraq.....but what was missing Sam suppl ...more
Christopher Hinton
No good deed goes unpunished.

Promoting the rights and welfare of the refugee is only popular among governments and the ruling classes when it benefits them politically. Money is sparse, influence is sparser, and the people who work tirelessly for the future of others are under incredible stress, with their lives and well being often under threat.

"Sergio" paints a grim, if hopeful picture for global philanthropy in war-torn countries. As a leader in the U.N. refugee commission, de Mello seemed to
Michael VanZandt
Well, I certainly do love Samantha Power's work. I find myself well-in-line with her own beliefs and views on foreign policy. Sergio Vieira de Mello is a compelling figure, and I applaud Power's intentions in writing this book.

This book though falls short of fulfilling Power's mission. Power has three goals in writing this book: portray more internationally-minded figures, like Sergio, and less emphasis on archaic models, such as General Patton and MacArthur; place importance on negotiating wit
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first of the pre-gradschool books assigned on my summer reading list: this was an excellent choice. It provided tons of food for thought about the UN, the relationship between development and security, post-conflict transitions, the relationship between humanitarian efforts and human rights, and lots of other challenges of working in the international arena. It definitely changed my thinking in certain arenas.

I also learned a great deal about conflicts and regions I'd been sketchy on before:
Jun 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The US decide to depose Saddam. Their military power overruns the country in weeks. Then they decide to remove all Baathists from the civil service, leaving nobody behind with any knowledge or capability of keeping institutions like banks, hospitals, traffic management, going. They also decommission the entire Iraqi army, leaving the nation without any security. All this without having any equipment or forces to deal with an insurgency. Then they refuse to hold early elections, because they want ...more
A compelling tour of recent major conflicts-- places where all has broken down and the UN has tried to help sew back the fabric of civil life. Samantha Power paints a nuanced portrait of Sergio, charming, smart, knows how to recruit others to his cause, yet also unable to alienate people, at times and say what needs to be said. She interweaves his public story, his rise through the UN bureaucracy and his private life-- a ladies man who neglects his family, because he is so committed to humanitar ...more
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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
“come on bruv” 1 likes
“By 2003 he had begun to worry that powerful countries were pursuing their own security in ways that aggravated their peril. He” 0 likes
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