A WORLD MADE NEW: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
by Mary Ann Glendon
Random House, New York
Paperback: 342 pages
Reviewed by Madeleine van der Linden
The creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a momentous achievement, as nations tried desperately to create peace and safety in a world shattered by World War II. It was the first time that an effort had been made to clarify and ratify the rights of man on a global scale.
In the light of the atrocities carried out during World War II, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights sought to ensure that never again would people be deprived of liberty and life as they had been in that war or during the Cold War years that followed.
A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes a detailed look at how the Declaration was drafted and how it was applied in the past and is applied in the world today. The book follows the creation of the Declaration from the first tentative meetings of the United Nations in 1946, through to the resolution of the document by the UN General Assembly in 1948.
This book markets itself on the promise of learning about Eleanor Roosevelt and her close involvement with the Declaration. If you are expecting to follow Eleanor for the greater part of the book, you will be disappointed. Eleanor is given cameo appearances throughout, but much of the content revolves around the other drafters of the Declaration and the political/social climate in which it was created.
While the limited time dedicated to Eleanor does not necessarily retract from the book, it was perhaps optimistic to include her name in the title.
Most of the book looks at how the meetings of the drafting committee unfolded, as well as the political climate in which the decisions regarding the Declaration were made. This is informative, but chapters dedicated to key players in the saga, including Eleanor Roosevelt, often break the flow.
These chapters provide in-depth looks at the lives of French jurist Rene Cassin, Chinese diplomat Peng Chun Chang, and Lebanese diplomat and president of the commission Charles Malik (among others). For those interested in the human element, these chapters are engaging and informative, and Glendon introduces each person to the reader in a detailed and enjoyable manner, which compensates for the break in the narrative flow.
A small but noteworthy section of the book looks at the motivations of those who drafted the document, and how they envisioned the rights therein being applied. As Glendon reflects, those who wrote the Declaration would be appalled by some of the acts it has been used to justify in recent years.
However, while the Declaration has been used in questionable ways, it is refreshing to read that the definitions created by the original drafters were meant to support what we might now call “traditional” values around the globe.
The book contains several appendices, which show the successive drafts of the Declaration. Footnotes throughout the book direct the reader to the appropriate draft, allowing for a better understanding of how the document evolved.
This is a thoroughly researched book, with a comprehensive notes section. Those of a historical bent will certainly enjoy this read, provided they are not hankering for the spotlight to be firmly planted on Mrs Roosevelt throughout.
Overall, A World Made New is an informative and interesting book, which brings to light many of the motivations of those who prepared this keystone document.