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Capital of the World: The Race to Host the…
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Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations

by Charlene Mires

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A quick read, an example of the use of archival records to build a narrative concerning the selection of a site for the UN headquarters. It might be interesting to re-visit this history in the future, maybe it was just that simple. Also a look into how committees function, the power of money, and to a lesser extent international relations. ( )
  MichaelC.Oliveira | Jan 25, 2014 |
I knew the ending of Capital of the World. We all do. The United Nations is headquartered in New York. What I didn't know was how it ended up there. I definitely didn't know how many cities were begging for the UN to set up camp in their backyard.

Some of these towns went to great lengths to lure the United Nations to their neck of the woods. Ridiculous lengths really. Perhaps I only think they were ridiculous because I know where the UN ended up? Still, some of their shenanigans made me giggle.

There were serious matters to consider. The United Nations was to be a venture that promoted peace and equality. It wouldn't do to put the headquarters in places where equality was regularly tested. (In 1945? A LOT of places had troubles with that particular issue.) The UN had to be fairly accessible to people from around the world. Even though San Francisco successfully hosted the charter conference of the UN, the powers that be decided that any city on the West Coast was out.

This book is well researched and full of interesting historical tidbits. Entertaining and spirited, Capital of the World hits the right notes. ( )
  JenHartling | Mar 30, 2013 |
How did the United Nations end up in New York City and not Rapid City, SD? Is that a serious questions? It was to people in South Dakota. This is the story of how the UN headquarters was sent to NYC.

I didn't know that there were other places (maybe vaguely thought of San Francisoo) that were being considered. I especially didn't know how many places thought they would be a great home for the UN.

That is what this book does. It tells that story. There is a lot of information early in the book about a variety of places. The end seems rushed, but I suspect that was because the end really was rushed. New York was a site no one originally wanted. That changed and quickly as the site search came to an end. ( )
  dougbq | Mar 23, 2013 |
In this day and age, it's hard to imagine the United Nations being located anywhere but New York City. But how did it end up there in the first place? Who chose a US location? How many other places were considered? Charlene Mires' book, Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, takes an in-depth look at the competition between cities, suburbs, and towns around the US to become the permanent home of the United Nations. Much as cities and countries now compete to host the Olympics and or political conventions, they once competed to entice the United Nations into their backyards, showcasing civic pride, touting history, and highlighting natural beauty.


Starting with the very birth of the United Nations Organization as the Second World War was winding down, Mires traces the politics, personal preferences, travel concerns, and various other considerations that played into the final decision of where to place the headquarters and which place in the US would be able to claim the title of "Capital of the World." The competitors for the honor ranged from cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco to suburbs around the country, from scenic areas like the Black Hills of South Dakota to US/Canada border towns like Sault Ste. Marie, MI and Niagara Falls, NY. Mires introduces readers to the biggest boosters from each area and chronicles the paths of their campaigns. While she details the excitement and possibilities being generated in each of these UN location hopefuls, she also takes readers into the committee rooms of the newly created UN where debate on the needs for a location were determined and then changed and changed again. She writes of the sometimes seemingly arbitrary reasons behind excluding otherwise suitable places and including other less than suitable locations. As a personal side note, I am selfishly glad that the UN didn't choose Sault Ste. Marie because if they had located themselves on Sugar Island, our annual summer family experience at Clyde's Drive-In wouldn't be the same. Burger joint aside, I can't for a minute imagine a UN complex in the area and found it fascinating to even try.


In setting the stories of all these varied places together, Mires has drawn a pretty comprehensive portrait of the climate in the US in the immediate aftermath of the war. She has captured the patriotism and pride in community that was so prevalent, the overwhelming desire to support an organization that promised to prevent another all-encompassing war to which so many sacrificed sons, and the conviction that anyone and any place, large or small, could be a part of history. She's also presented the question of the UN's location in the larger framework of the political and social climate of the country at the time as well, facing housing shortages with veterans returning home, the need for employment opportunities for all these men, the racial tensions and codified discrimination of the time, and the fear of losing local sovereignty and perhaps more importantly, property and homes, to an international organization.


This story of exactly how the UN found its home in New York City is quite comprehensive. Both people and places are introduced and explored in detail from the initial interest in hosting the UN to the tactics used to further their claims throughout the decision making period. The UN's waffling and uncertainty about exactly what would best serve their organization, a "capital of the world" city set apart from pre-existing cities or simply a headquarters building located within an existing infrastructure, is also explored in depth. Each of the back stories of place and people are intriguing and unknown to most readers (this one included). They can, at times, be a little over-detailed and in some cases are so similar as to make for occasionally repetitive reading. The struggles to define exactly what the UN was looking for showcases the continuing difficulties we see in the world when so many disparate countries and people try to come together as one. The included architectural renderings that many of the competing locations created were fascinating and explained how each community viewed the UN and its purpose. This history of a place we could never imagine elsewhere now and the original question of where to locate it is illustrative of the immense possibilities the country, and the world as a whole, faced in the late 1940s. History buffs and UN enthusiasts will find this an easy and fulfilling read although others might be a bit bogged down by the minutia. ( )
  whitreidtan | Mar 17, 2013 |
How did the UN wind up in New York City when just about nobody wanted it there? Capital of the World tells that story in entertaining detail. Because of the conflicting national interests of the countries involved in the site search, and the fact that Europe was still recovering from WWII, the United States was chosen as the host country, but where in the US? With patriotism and civic pride buoyed up by the war, over 200 hundred cities and even small towns lobbied for the honor, including the remote but beautiful Black Hills area of South Dakota--my personal favorite. While the detail is at times more than I wanted, Capital of the World is fascinating as a history of the evolving events, mindsets, and viewpoints that guided developments during the middle years of the last century. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Mar 14, 2013 |
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intro - October 24, 1949, in New York City was a day of symbolism and silences.
part 1 - During the second week of September 1944, the United States Army Air Force delivered a telegram with tragic news to Paul and Lucy Bellamy of Rapid City, South Dakota.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0814707947, Hardcover)

"A fascinating account of the enthusiastic effort to establish a home for the fledgling United Nations at the end of World War II. Mires creates a powerful sense of suspense as she describes the intense competition among boosters from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and even the Black Hills of South Dakota. In lively and elegant prose, from the first sentence to the last, she captures the contradictory visions of the 'Capital of the World' that persisted from beginning to end."
—Allan M. Winkler, Distinguished Professor of History, Miami University
 
From 1944 to 1946, as the world pivoted from the Second World War to an unsteady peace, Americans in more than two hundred cities and towns mobilized to chase an implausible dream. The newly-created United Nations needed a meeting place, a central place for global diplomacy—a Capital of the World. But what would it look like, and where would it be? Without invitation, civic boosters in every region of the United States leapt at the prospect of transforming their hometowns into the Capital of the World. The idea stirred in big cities—Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, Denver, and more. It fired imaginations in the Black Hills of South Dakota and in small towns from coast to coast.
 
Meanwhile, within the United Nations the search for a headquarters site became a debacle that threatened to undermine the organization in its earliest days. At times it seemed the world’s diplomats could agree on only one thing: under no circumstances did they want the United Nations to be based in New York. And for its part, New York worked mightily just to stay in the race it would eventually win.
 
With a sweeping view of the United States’ place in the world at the end of World War II, Capital of the World tells the dramatic, surprising, and at times comic story of hometown promoters in pursuit of an extraordinary prize and the diplomats who struggled with the balance of power at a pivotal moment in history.
 
Charlene Mires is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden. She is the author of Independence Hall in American Memory and a co-recipient of a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:22 -0400)

The United Nations search for a headquarters site became a debacle that threatened to undermine the organization in its earliest days. At times it seemed the world's diplomats could agree on only one thing: under no circumstances did they want the United Nations to be based in New York. And for its part, New York worked mightily just to stay in the race it would eventually win.… (more)

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