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Dag Hammarskjold was such a dynamic secretary-general that for years, the motto about him was simply “Leave it to Dag.” Only the second person...

Dag Hammarskjold was such a dynamic secretary-general that for years, the motto about him was simply “Leave it to Dag.” Only the second person to hold that post when he was elected, Hammarskjold did a great deal to shape perceptions of the UN. Consequently, evaluations of his legacy have tended to run the gamut, from extremely positive to bitingly critical. Hammarskjold’s defenders see him as a paragon of virtue, one who did his utmost to defuse international conflict at a time when the Cold War and decolonization threatened to ignite wars at any given moment. Hammarskjold’s critics accused of him meddling in international politics, or worse, being a tool of western imperialists as they tried to maintain control over the decolonizing world.

Henning Melber’s Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations, and the Decolonisation of Africa (Hurst, 2019) looks at Hammarskjold’s legacy. Melber offers no apology when he states that he deeply admires Hammarskjold, though he does also clarify that Hammarskjold was imperfect. Moreover, while Hammarskjold was a person of deep integrity, his life nevertheless reveals many of the shortcomings of the UN and the difficulty of forcing the great powers to accept justice for the Global South. This books offers a succinct and informative overview of the influences that shaped Hammarskjold, his work in relation to Africa, and the legacies he bequeathed to the UN. Long after his untimely death, Hammarskjold continues to illuminate much of the UN’s history, and its complicated relationship with Africa.


Zeb Larson is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a PhD in History. His research deals with the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to zeb.larson@gmail.com.