Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011), 296 pp.
Empire of Humanity explores humanitarianism’s remarkable growth from its humble origins in the early nineteenth century to its current prominence in global life. In contrast to most contemporary accounts of humanitarianism that concentrate on the last two decades, Michael Barnett ties the past to the present, connecting the antislavery and missionary movements of the nineteenth century to today’s peacebuilding missions, the Cold War interventions in places like Biafra and Cambodia to post-Cold War humanitarian operations in regions such as the Great Lakes of Africa and the Balkans; and the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 to the emergence of the major international humanitarian organizations of the twentieth century. Based on extensive archival work, close encounters with many of today’s leading international agencies, and interviews with dozens of aid workers in the field and at headquarters, Empire of Humanity provides a history that is both global and intimate. Avoiding both romanticism and cynicism, Empire of Humanity explores humanitarianism’s enduring themes, trends, and, most strikingly, ethical ambiguities. Humanitarianism hopes to change the world, but the world has left its mark on humanitarianism. Humanitarianism has undergone three distinct global ages-imperial, postcolonial, and liberal-each of which has shaped what humanitarianism can do and what it is.