Mark Mazower

  • The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American Power by James Traub
    Bloomsbury, 442 pp, £20.00, November 2006, ISBN 0 7475 8087 1
  • The Parliament of Man: The United Nations and the Quest for World Government by Paul Kennedy
    Allen Lane, 361 pp, £25.00, July 2006, ISBN 0 7139 9375 8

As you speed down the freeway from JFK towards the Manhattan skyline, it is easy to overlook a long, low, neoclassical building that stands by the lake in Flushing Meadow. Built for the 1939 World’s Fair as the New York City Building, it was turned into a wartime ice rink before becoming the first home of the United Nations. The skaters were banished, the decorators cleaned the place up, and in October 1946 President Truman delivered the opening address to the new General Assembly. Soon afterwards, the Rockefellers bought a substantial chunk of lower Manhattan and donated it to the UN, which abandoned Queens for its present location in Turtle Bay. Today the air of neglect that surrounds the old building, forlorn in its suburban parkland, seems to reflect the collapse of its founders’ ideals and the erosion of American internationalism.

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[*] See for instance a report from the US Government Accountability Office at