Book review: We Did Nothing

Linda Polman examines UN missions in Somalia, Haiti, and Rwanda, and the political action behind UN resolutions.

We Did Nothing

By Linda Polman

Penguin Viking, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-91424-X

In the days when I worked as a staff interpreter at the European Commission, friends and family would say that it must be great for me to “really know what’s going on”. Having that week learned the German for “sluice gate price” (you don’t want to know) I would sometimes get so carried away as to agree. But the truth was that most of us got the big picture from the quality press.

This feeling came back when I read Linda Polman’s book about the UN. She looks at several UN missions, in Somalia, Haiti, and Rwanda, and examines the political action behind UN resolutions. I found myself pausing every few pages to think, “I didn’t know that”.

A popular misconception is to see the UN as some kind of world authority, when it is in fact no more than the sum of its parts, those parts being its member states. And each of those states brings its own agenda to the negotiating table.

The book reads so well, you forget it’s a translation. Congratulations to the translator, Rob Bland, for a fine job.

Recommended citation format:
Philip H. D. SMITH. "Book review: We Did Nothing". June 19, 2003. Accessed July 9, 2020. <>.

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