341: Capital of the World by Charlene Mires

by Gerard


341.2309: Mires, Charlene. Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations. New York: New York University Press, 2013. 227 pp. ISBN 978-0-8147-0794-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Science
  • 340: Law
  • 341: Law of nations
  • 341.2: The world community
  • 341.23: The United Nations
  • +09: General history

Very few people alive today remember the founding of the United Nations. Started as a small group of countries in Yalta in 1944, and chartered in 1945, the United Nations started its life as a homeless newcomer in the large arena of international diplomacy. So, one of the first things they had to accomplish was finding a headquarters. With voices from all over the globe clamoring for supremacy, the hunt was wild, furious, and even laughable at times. No place on Earth was free from political pros or cons, and Charlene Mires’s Capital of the World chronicles the twists and turns of how the UN eventually came to be housed in Manhattan, New York.

When it was first established, the United Nations started with a simple question: where will we live? They received invitations from all over the world, but since the United States had just established itself as a world superpower by contributing to an overwhelming majority of the end of World War II, they were seen by most as a very likely place for the headquarters. But, then again, where in the US should it be? It was indeed a very large country. When everything was tallied over the 2-year search, entreaties, submissions, brochures, invitations, and plans came from 248 different US cities, towns, and parks. Oddly enough, even Black Hills, South Dakota was considered a serious choice for a while. But it was a last-minute Hail Mary from Nelson Rockefeller and the donation of a $8.5 million plot of land in Manhattan that sealed its location (sorry for the spoiler).

I really enjoyed this book. It’s my first book from NetGalley (a website that facilitates the connection between professional readers and publishers) and it won’t be my last. Mires’s skill as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is readily apparent as she tracks down every available source of the great headquarters debate. The writing is fluid, precise, and exciting. The part I found quite amusing was that the initial fervor over snagging the title Capital of the World quietly morphed into antagonism from the homeowners of the cities that were eventually toured by the UN site inspectors. As Mires puts it, “while diplomats tried to emphasize the best of intentions, homeowners imagined the worst of possibilities.” The fear of an international takeover led some cities to withdraw their invitations after a while. This coupled with the absurdity of some cities reaching for the title (I’m looking at you, Claremont, OK and Sault Ste. Marie, MI) made this book really fun to read. I heartily recommend it for diplomacy and UN history buffs.