Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations by Charlene Mires

Dividing the nation…

😐 😐 😐

Capital of the WorldIn this book, Mires shows the ridiculous lengths gone to by some small town and large city politicians to promote their towns as the site for the new UN organisation at the end of the Second World War. The decision having been made to site it in the US, mainly because of the huge scale of destruction in post-war Europe, towns of all sizes and prominence throughout the States began to vie with each other to become the ‘Capital of the World’. The UN played its part in whipping up this ‘boosterism’ by constantly changing its collective mind on what kind of site it wanted. As towns, cities and communities across the nation raced to put in their pitches, commonsense was frequently bypassed and denial of problems over race, gangsterism and lack of amenities ran rife. The government of the USA had decided to take a position of neutrality over the location, so it was left to the other nations to insist that the site must be somewhere where foreign delegates could get to with relative ease and where they were at least able to dine with each other regardless of their skin colour. Hence east, rather than west or south.

The final decision...
The final decision…
Very US-centric, perhaps this book would be of more interest to an American reader than this Brit. It is filled with portraits of mid-century local politicians from all over the USA, and detailed descriptions of their self-aggrandizing plans to be Capital of the World. Lengthy passages are given to each campaign and, perhaps because of my unfamiliarity with the people and places involved, I sometimes found it hard to maintain my interest. The book is clearly well-researched and is well written, and I felt the author did as good a job as possible with the material available. There were a few humorous moments as Mires told us of some of the excesses of the various campaigns and some interesting details about the historical backgrounds of some of the towns. But on the whole there was too much detail for my taste about the minutiae of some of the booster campaigns and the people involved in them. It may well be because of my own parochialism but as the search began to centre on the bigger cities, and in particular on New York, I found my interest steadily growing.

Overall, a well written account of a unique point in history, showing ‘boosterism’ at what may have been its peak, but probably mostly relevant to an American readership.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

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