David Rieff's frustrations show in his effort to make sense of post-Cold War humanitarianism.

Issue: Spring 2003

David Rieff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 384 pp., $26.

"Blurbing" is the publishing world's term for soliciting advance reviews from an author's colleagues for inclusion on a trade book's back cover. Since only favorably disposed colleagues are solicited, the vast majority of "blurbs", unsurprisingly, are raves. Warning flares should therefore go up whenever blurbs are decidedly lukewarm, as they are for David Rieff's A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis. Three of its five blurbs are anything but rave endorsements. "I do not agree with all of Rieff's judgments", says Brian Urquhart, former UN Undersecretary General and widely acknowledged as a creator of UN peacekeeping. Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer says, "I disagree with some of his conclusions", and longtime human rights advocate Aryeh Neier invites the reader to "agree or disagree with Rieff."

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