The most recommended United Nations books

Who picked these books? Meet our 36 experts.

36 authors created a book list connected to the United Nations, and here are their favorite United Nations books.
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Book cover of This Fabulous Century 1940 - 1950, Vol 5

David Emblidge Author Of My Day: The Best Of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962

From my list on Eleanor Roosevelt, her times, and her column “My Day”.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a cultural historian (degrees in English and American Studies). I taught at the university level for 25 years (Emerson College, principally) and worked 20+ years as an acquisitions editor, in book publishing, at Harvard, at Cambridge University Press, and for a small company I founded, Berkshire House. I was politically sympathetic to Mrs. Roosevelt’s POV before the “My Day” book project came to me, but, coincidentally, her long run as a syndicated columnist interested me also because my first job, fresh out of college, was as a cub reporter for Associated Press. I learned, in a hurry, how to deliver a story on deadline, with all the facts double checked.

David's book list on Eleanor Roosevelt, her times, and her column “My Day”

David Emblidge Why did David love this book?

Because it focuses on the most important decade in Mrs. Roosevelt's life—covering the war years and her initial years of work as a US representative at the United Nations. Photos!! Reading about history is one thing. Seeing images of the people and technology that made history happen is something else. Large format, b&w, with good running text that uses countless anecdotes to tell the story of a century that truly transformed the world, from a time of kerosene lamps, horses and buggies, to men on the Moon. Eleanor Roosevelt’s life (1884-1962) parallels this illustrated history series (1870-1970) almost exactly. Excellent companions for my book.

Book cover of Don't Ask

Mark Arsenault Author Of The Imposter's War: The Press, Propaganda, and the Newsman Who Battled for the Minds of America

From my list on audacious imposters and shameless swindlers.

Why am I passionate about this?

One of the great job benefits of being a newspaper reporter is the wide array of interesting people I get to meet. Not only get to meet but in fact, get paid to meet and to tell their stories. Some of them are famous, and that’s fine. Much more interesting, I think, are the ordinary folk nobody knows who are doing something extraordinary. And then there is a third category that I find most interesting of all: The people who have something to hide. They are mysteries who don’t want to be cracked, and I find them irresistible.

Mark's book list on audacious imposters and shameless swindlers

Mark Arsenault Why did Mark love this book?

Westlake’s unlucky, sad-sack adventure hero John Dortmunder is the greatest conman character in crime fiction. Years ago, at a bookstore coffee shop, I perused some book reviews for what to read next. One reviewer recommended Westlake’s comic caper series. I walked to the mystery section, pulled out Don’t Ask, opened to a random page, read it, and laughed out loud. That was not just good luck: There’s a hilarious passage on nearly every page of the book. It’s about two fictitious nations fighting over a religious artifact, but that does not begin to sum up the zany genius of Westlake’s plot. Donald Westlake was a sort of imposter himself -- he wrote under more than a dozen pen names throughout a spectacular career that spanned half a century.

By Donald E. Westlake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't Ask as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his latest comic crime caper, Dortmunder is hired to steal a bone, but not any old bone . . .

Dortmunder has a job offer. He's been hired by third parties to pull off heists in the past, but never to lay his hands on anything this peculiar. It is the 800 year old femur of a 16-year-old girl who who, having been killed and eaten by her own family, was made a saint by the Church. Now two European countries and the Catholic church are fighting like dogs over it. This bone, the femur of St Ferghana, is…

Book cover of Making Sense of Human Rights

Michael Freeman Author Of Human Rights

From my list on the power and the limits of human rights.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an emeritus professor in the Department of Government, University of Essex. I taught political theory for many years with a speciality in the theory and practice of human rights. I'm the author of Edmund Burke and the Critique of Political Radicalism and Human Rights. I've published many articles in political theory, philosophy of social science, and human rights. I've directed academic programmes in political theory, The Enlightenment, and human rights. I've lectured on human rights in some 25 countries. I was a founder-member of my local branch of Amnesty International and served on the board of Amnesty’s British Section for five years, for two years as its Chairperson.

Michael's book list on the power and the limits of human rights

Michael Freeman Why did Michael love this book?

Perhaps the best explanation and defence of the contemporary concept of human rights. Nickel addresses theoretical problems of justifying human rights, practical problems of implementing them, and dilemmas to which they give rise. It is written with unusual clarity. On the one hand, as a philosopher he does not take for granted that human rights make sense or that all uses of the idea deserve our support. On the other hand, he does not engage in debunking the idea that has been fashionable on both the political left and right. This is a most thoughtful and balanced account and is highly recommendable to those seeking a readable introduction to the philosophy of human rights.

I particularly liked his `lawnmower theory of human rights'. One of the challenges to human rights theory is why we should think of human rights as `universal’ – as the UN and international human rights law…

By James Nickel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making Sense of Human Rights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This fully revised and extended edition of James Nickel's classic study explains and defends the contemporary conception of human rights. Combining philosophical, legal and political approaches, Nickel explains international human rights law and addresses questions of justification and feasibility. * New, revised edition of James Nickel's classic study. * Explains and defends the conception of human rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and subsequent treaties in a clear and lively style. * Covers fundamental freedoms, due process rights, social rights, and minority rights. * Updated throughout to include developments in law, politics, and theory since the…

Book cover of Balkan Justice: The Story Behind the First International War Crimes Trial Since Nuremberg

Naomi Roht-Arriaza Author Of The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights

From my list on bringing dictators and evil men to justice.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in part in Chile, and when the Pinochet dictatorship started killing and torturing people, I wanted to do something about it. Years later, as a professor of international law, I helped countries figure out what to do after mass atrocities. Seeing how trials in other countries – or in international criminal courts – could break through barriers and make it possible to bring those who killed, tortured, or disappeared thousands of people to justice gave me hope. I wanted to tell the stories of the brave people who overcame the odds to do justice, in a readable and exciting way that also explained the legal and political issues involved. 

Naomi's book list on bringing dictators and evil men to justice

Naomi Roht-Arriaza Why did Naomi love this book?

Slobodan Milosevic’s trial by the first post-Cold War international court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, required the creation of a whole new court and set of procedures, and established many of the current rules on trying war crimes and crimes against humanity. There’s a lot written on the ICTY, but I like Scharf’s book because he tells the backstories, explains the different choices that the court could have made, and makes for a fascinating read.

By Michael P. Scharf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Balkan Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is about the First International War Crime Trial since Nuremberg. Balkan Justice provides the inside story of the United Nations Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal charged with conducting the first international war crimes trials since World War11.

Book cover of Markings

Divneet Kaur Lall Author Of Mastering Creation Using the Law of Unification: How To Create New Creations For A New World

From my list on living a life of purpose.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an author, speaker, and consciousness expert. I have been studying spiritual texts and practicing meditation techniques since I was a child. Affinity for spiritual texts developed in me at an early age that helped me gain spiritual knowledge. In addition, it brought with it an unquenchable desire to know the truth of creation. As a result, I discovered a new law called: Law of Unification that can be used by anyone to create a conscious life of meaning and purpose. Let's share it with the world and make lives better.

Divneet's book list on living a life of purpose

Divneet Kaur Lall Why did Divneet love this book?

Markings consists of profound thoughts, quotes, and poems of the Swedish economist and diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarskjöld was a successful man yet his reflections in the book depict that if success is not motivated by a higher purpose it can’t provide genuine fulfillment. I enjoy the fact that the passages in the book are contemplative and can be read during quiet hours to ponder over.

By Dag Hammarskjöld, W.H. Auden (translator), L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Markings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Perhaps the greatest testament of personal devotion published in this century." — The New York Times 

A powerful journal of poems and spiritual meditations recorded over several decades by a universally known and admired peacemaker. A dramatic account of spiritual struggle, Markings has inspired hundreds of thousands of readers since it was first published in 1964.

Markings is distinctive, as W.H. Auden remarks in his foreword, as a record of "the attempt by a professional man of action to unite in one life the via activa and the via contemplativa." It reflects its author's efforts to live his creed, his…

Book cover of Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

Michael J. Prince Author Of Weary Warriors: Power, Knowledge, and the Invisible Wounds of Soldiers

From my list on the psyche of disabled war veterans.

Why am I passionate about this?

A Canadian academic, Michael J. Prince is an award-winning author in the field of modern politics, government, and public policy. The Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria, he has written widely on issues of disability activism and social change, including on veterans and their families. He is co-author, with Pamela Moss, of Weary Warriors: Power, Knowledge, and the Invisible Wounds of Soldiers, New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2014. 

Michael's book list on the psyche of disabled war veterans

Michael J. Prince Why did Michael love this book?

Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire is the highest-ranking military officer who has come out and publicly talked about his psychiatric struggles with flashbacks, depression, and suicidal thoughts. This is his story as the commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in 1993-94. Woven into his narrative is an account of the onset of traumatic stress and of his reactions to what psychiatry refers to as PTSD. This is a brutally honest book by a high-ranking military officer about the unspeakable inhumanity of civil war and the terrible vulnerability of international peacemakers. It is a story of one of the walking wounded who survived the genocide as a moral witness.  

By Roméo Dallaire,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shake Hands with the Devil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For the first time in the United States comes the tragic and profoundly important story of the legendary Canadian general who "watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect." When Romeo Dallaire was called on to serve as force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, he believed that his assignment was to help two warring parties achieve the peace they both wanted. Instead, he was exposed to the most barbarous and chaotic display of civil war and genocide in the past decade, observing…

Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

Karin Schönpflug

From Karin's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Feminist Economist Trekkie Wave-sister Queer

Karin's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Karin Schönpflug Why did Karin love this book?

This book on utopian monetary policy is absolutely astonishing.

It is set in a near future that is very much like today, but with climate change just coming into full swing. Alongside terrorists who are using armed drones to physically stop heads of polluting industries, there is an international institution (the Ministry of the Future) whose leader Mary Murphy is trying to stop climate change by getting central banks to emit and create a market for a global carbon coin granted for CO2 avoidance.

The suspenseful novel explains Dalton Chen’s blueprint and the best strategy I know of that might actually avoid a real-life global climate change dystopia. 

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked The Ministry for the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


“The best science-fiction nonfiction novel I’ve ever read.” —Jonathan Lethem
"If I could get policymakers, and citizens, everywhere to read just one book this year, it would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future." —Ezra Klein (Vox)

The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, postapocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us. Chosen by Barack Obama as one of his favorite…

Book cover of The Golden Thread: The Cold War Mystery Surrounding the Death of Dag Hammarskjöld

Alistair Owen Author Of The Mirror and the Road: Conversations with William Boyd

From Alistair's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Screenwriter Interviewer Bookworm Film buff

Alistair's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Alistair Owen Why did Alistair love this book?

The period after an aircraft goes missing, and before any trace of it turns up, is known as "The Uncertainty Phase" – just one of many fascinating facts I learned from Ravi Somaiya’s forensically-researched book, and a term which perfectly sums up the cross-currents of conflict and conspiracy surrounding the mysterious death of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in a plane crash near the Congo/Zambia border in 1961.

Published in the UK under the more obscure title Operation Morthor, Somaiya’s 2020 non-fiction debut draws on his journalism and documentary background, and on novelistic non-fiction classics in the courtroom drama and true crime genres, to produce one of the best-told true stories I’ve ever read, with a style and structure as sophisticated as the finest literary thriller.

By Ravi Somaiya,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Golden Thread as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Uncover the story behind the death of renowned diplomat and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in this true story of spies and intrigue surrounding one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century. 

On September 17, 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld boarded a Douglas DC6 propeller plane on the sweltering tarmac of the airport in Leopoldville, the capital of the Congo. Hours later, he would be found dead in an African jungle with an ace of spades playing card placed on his body.


Hammarskjöld had been the head of…

Book cover of First Ladies Fact Book: The Childhoods, Courtships, Marriages, Campaigns, Accomplishments, and Legacies of Every First Lady

Natasha Wing Author Of When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy's Fight for an American Icon

From my list on fabulous First Ladies.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I learned that Jackie Kennedy Onassis had helped save Grand Central I had to know more about her! This lead to being curious about other First Ladies and how they served America during and after they were in the White House. Often their contributions were overshadowed by their husbands, so with this list, I’m shining a light on little-known facts about these well-known women.

Natasha's book list on fabulous First Ladies

Natasha Wing Why did Natasha love this book?

This is a great resource if you’re just wanting to brush up on your First Ladies trivia or if you’re needing a starting point in your research. It contains photos, quotes, and delicious details. Although it’s more of a book for grown-ups, it can be used to explore First Ladies further with your child after reading a picture book.

By Bill Harris, Laura Ross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked First Ladies Fact Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The revised and updated edition, including all-new information on Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Betty Ford America's first ladies have captured the hearts of the citizens of our country ever since its humble beginnings. This newly updated edition of The First Ladies Fact Book is a comprehensive, fascinating, and intimate look at the life of each first lady from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama. Each profile includes a portrait, key biographical information, and several additional photographs. Among the topics covered are childhood and upbringing, early marriage years, the path to the White House, hobbies, career, style of dress,…

Book cover of The Truth: The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth, so Help Me...

Tricia Wennell Author Of Because It Didn't Stop When It Ended

From my list on the impact of abuse in childhood from a survivor.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a survivor of repeated physical, psychological, and sexual abuse in childhood and have significant lived experience of the long-lasting and devastating impact of abuse. I was a social worker for 27 years and am a co-founder of The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). In my 27 years in social work and 20 years involvement in NAPAC I heard of many accounts from adult survivors of various types of abuse. One of the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is to introduce Mandatory Reporting. I believe this is a must to help prevent and or reduce the risk of abuse for our children at the earliest possible stage.

Tricia's book list on the impact of abuse in childhood from a survivor

Tricia Wennell Why did Tricia love this book?

In this well-written memoir, Peter talks about his life where abuse was commonplace and why he set up a National Charity (NAPAC) to address a significant gap in support for adults abused in childhood.

Through his efforts he earned an important media platform, was an international voice for survivors, and had a one-to-one meeting with the Pope. Everything changed when he was falsely accused and then silenced by powerful media which adds a dimension that could have destroyed a less resilient person. I know because he is my partner and we have shared our lives working for the survivor cause for 27 years.

He talks of me as a source of strength praising me as his wife several times and gives my book a glowing mention! Good enough reason for me to love and recommend his book but not why I do. It is because he finally found the courage…

By Peter E. Saunders,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Peter Saunders was raised in a devout Catholic family in London, an upbringing fraught with oppression and abuse. Unable to find support in adulthood, Peter set up a major national charity for adults abused in childhood. He battled with the Church for many years over its persistent denials and cover-ups regarding abuse throughout its ranks across the globe.

Peter made no secret of his views and was astonished to receive an invite to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican in July 2014. The meeting was amicable, and Peter was asked to join the Pope's child protection commission, but it led…