Paul Kennedy does not shy away from large subjects. He is the author of, among many other works, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, which charted Europe’s extraordinary ascendancy to global pre-eminence over the course of nearly half a millennium. An assessment of the merely sixty-year-old United Nations would seem to offer a much less demanding assignment for someone of Kennedy’s demonstrated talent for large-canvas storytelling. As a subject for macro-reflection, however, the United Nations is a kind of intellectual quicksand – soft and inviting, but ultimately deadly. Thanks to Kennedy’s buoyant prose, his latest book, The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations, succumbs more slowly than most to the quagmire on which he has chosen to tread. But by the final chapter, all that is visible above the smooth surface is an outstretched hand clutching a deadly dull list of proposals for UN reform.
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