A few months ago I was reading a schoolbook in the library and, unhappily for the progress of my formal studies, my eyes chanced to fall on the word “Hammarskjöld” on a nearby bookshelf. This turned out to be a new (2013) biography of Hammarskjöld by Roger Lipsey. I enjoyed the book a great deal. Not long ago I finally got around to reading the Urquhart biography, and found it surprisingly personal (rather than just being professional). Lipsey goes even further in that direction, and a major achievement of the book is a synthesis of Hammarskjöld’s private and public lives. It is very comprehensively researched. It is very nice to have a book that synthesizes the many publications that were produced about Hammarskjöld since his death. It also includes fresh information from interviews that Lipsey himself conducted. Here is a gem of a recollection from an interview with Hammarskjöld’s friend Sture Linnér:

He came and opened the door himself, no servants around. We had a simple meal while he played recordings of Bach in an adjacent room. Not a word was said during dinner. After we had finished, he said let’s go to the library. And we continued listening. Toward 11 o’clock I said it was time to say goodbye. He said I think so. And he kindly escorted me towards the door. He hadn’t said anything. When we shook hands at the door, he looked at me and said, “I want you to know that the talk we had tonight is one of the most enriching I have had in a long time.” (pg. 409)

This quote also jumped out at me, resembling as it does (and preceding as it does) the similar and more famous line from Solzhenitsyn:

The conflict to different approaches to the liberty of man and mind or between different views of human dignity and the right of the individual is continuous. The dividing line goes within ourselves, within our own peoples, and also within other nations. It does not coincide with any political or geographical boundaries. The ultimate fight is one between the human and the subhuman. We are on dangerous ground if we believe that any individual, any nation, or any ideology has a monopoly on rightness, liberty, and human dignity. (pg. 349-350, also available here)

I enjoyed the book a great deal. My criticisms are relatively minor. The tone of the book is quirky at times, as if Lipsey were an eccentric volunteer tour guide in the Hammarskjöld museum. I am ambivalent about his treatment of Hammarskjöld’s faith. On the one hand he is quite positive, and insists that we understand the whole man; on the other hand he often seems content with what to me seems to be a wishy-washy “after all, we’re all talking about the same things” approach to religion. (I make no judgment about whether that is Lipsey’s own approach to these matters, or if he was just writing in such a way as to make the book accessible to others.)

One nice feature of a recent book is the links to internet resources. Here are some links to Hammarskjöld media: