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Review: ‘Capital of the World’ by Charlene Mires

Review: ‘Capital of the World’ by Charlene Mires post image

Title: Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations
Author: Charlene Mires
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2013
Publisher: New York University Press
Acquired: From the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour
Rating: ★★★½☆

Review: At the end of World War II, the newly-created United Nations was on the hunt for a headquarters. Well, sort of. The leaders of the United Nations were trying to figure out how to make their organization work. A headquarters was low on their priority list. But enthusiastic government officials, business leaders and citizens from cities around the United States recognized that, eventually, the United Nations would need a to find a headquarters.

Not the type of people to stand back and wait, these civic boosters — leaders from San Francisco to Boston to the Black Hills of South Dakota — threw themselves into an unofficial contest to prove that their hometowns would be the best place to house the new world center for global democracy. In Capital of the World, history professor Charlene Mires tells a story of how differing visions for the Capital of the World threatened to undermine the goals of the United Nations before they even had a building and the diplomats who worked to hold the organization together.

In Capital of the World, Mires does one of my favorite things — she takes an event that seems familiar and manages to show how much I didn’t know about how it happened. Until I read this book, I hadn’t given much thought to how the United Nations came to be or ended up in New York City. But the story of how this organization found a home, and the utter craziness it caused in communities around the United States is really a fun one.

Although this book is a little more on the academic side than I tend to read (it’s from a university press, after all), I thought Mires did a lovely job highlighting the drama and humor in the entire process while still writing a book with serious academic chops. It took me awhile to figure out how to illustrate what I mean, but then I remembered this passage:

Time and time again during the summer of 1945, negotiators for the United Nations motored from new York City to Westchester County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut, the two suburban counties where they hoped to find a site for a headquarters. But in the meeting rooms of county and municipal authorities, it became clear that even diplomat who had served kings and presidents, who had kept governments afloat in exile during the war, and whose nations had subjected entire populations to colonial rule, were no match for local governments and suburban property owners.

When I read this section, I actually laughed out loud. I’m a government nerd and small town journalist, so I know all about the terrible, amazing power of local government. If that’s not the kind of dork humor that makes you giggle, this book is probably going to seem a little dry to you.

But if the idea of diplomats being derailed by suburban soccer moms makes you smile, if you love history and the stories about how organizations came together to accomplish goals and chart a path towards the future, then Capital of the World is a book worth checking out.

tlc logoOther Tour Stops:  A Bookish Affair | Padre Steve | Patricia’s Wisdom |  Man of La Book |   BookNAround |  Suko’s Notebook |  Knowing the Difference (March 25) |  Fifty Books Project (March 26) | The Relentless Reader (March 27) | West Metro Mommy (March 28) | The Future American (April 1) |  Lisa’s Yarns (April 3) |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Charlene Mires March 22, 2013, 7:22 pm

    Kim, you remind me of my days covering planning commissions and school boards for the Michigan City News-Dispatch and the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. I guess those experiences stuck with me! Thank you for reading my book. If anyone would like to see if their hometowns were among the world capital contenders, I’ve posted the list on my blog, http://capital-of-the-world.com.
    Charlene Mires

    • Kim March 23, 2013, 9:43 am

      There were so many wonderful passages like that one about small town boosterism and bureaucracy that made me laugh. I appreciated the sly sense of humor in your book. It made the story even more fun.

  • Laurie C March 23, 2013, 5:25 am

    Wow, I never even thought of having the U.N. somewhere else! I love the paragraph you quoted. I can’t imagine having the U.N. in Boston, clogging up the Expressway and the Mass Pike even more than they already are. 😉

    • Kim March 23, 2013, 9:44 am

      I’ve never really thought about it either. New York just seems so obvious, yet for many UN organizers it was the last place on Earth they wanted to be. It’s a funny story like that.

  • Jennifer March 23, 2013, 8:11 am

    Goooo soccer moms! 😉 I read this too!

    • Kim March 23, 2013, 9:46 am

      That whole section about people in Westchester and rural New York was so ridiculous! But really, don’t mess with people and their houses (especially when they’re a little wealthy).

  • Jenny March 24, 2013, 7:13 pm

    Does anyone not enjoy reading about diplomats being derailed by soccer moms? I admit that scenario has never occurred to me before, but now that it has been brought up, I’m of course very into it.

    • Kim March 24, 2013, 7:22 pm

      I should maybe clarify: I don’t think there was a moment where a soccer mom explicitly took on a diplomat. It was more than suburban homeowners, whom today would likely include soccer moms, did their best to make sure that UN organizers (many diplomats) would not try to set up the UN in their rich county. I may have over-stated the exact contents, but that’s the spirit of what happened 🙂

  • Nikki Steele March 25, 2013, 6:06 pm

    I definitely recommended this book to my sister — she’s a huge law and policy geek (really one of the biggest kinds of geeks to be, huh?). Thanks for the review!

    • Kim March 28, 2013, 8:43 pm

      This would be a great book for public policy geeks.

  • Heather J. @ TLC March 26, 2013, 8:33 pm

    This is definitely my kind of book! Thanks for being on the tour Kim. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

    • Kim March 28, 2013, 8:42 pm

      That’s exciting, thanks Heather!