About the Book

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

From 1944 to 1946, as the world pivoted from the Second World War to an unsteady peace, Americans in more than two hundred cities and towns mobilized to chase an implausible dream. The newly-created United Nations needed a meeting place, a central place for global diplomacy—a Capital of the World. But what would it look like, and where would it be? Without invitation, civic boosters in every region of the United States leapt at the prospect of transforming their hometowns into the Capital of the World. The idea stirred in big cities—Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, Denver, and more. It fired imaginations in the Black Hills of South Dakota and in small towns from coast to coast.

Meanwhile, within the United Nations the search for a headquarters site became a debacle that threatened to undermine the organization in its earliest days. At times it seemed the world’s diplomats could agree on only one thing: under no circumstances did they want the United Nations to be based in New York. And for its part, New York worked mightily just to stay in the race it would eventually win.

With a sweeping view of the United States’ place in the world at the end of World War II, Capital of the World tells the dramatic, surprising, and at times comic story of hometown promoters in pursuit of an extraordinary prize and the diplomats who struggled with the balance of power at a pivotal moment in history.

REVIEWS

Capital of the World is a rich and fascinating book that both entertains and enlightens.” — Mary Ann Heiss in The Journal of American History.

Capital of the World is a deeply researched, engagingly written journey through a neglected episode in American history. Academic and amateur historians alike will want to revisit this moment, when the United States was transitioning away from a century of folksy boosterism toward a modern age of global power.”–Dylan Gottlieb in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“Promises to be the definitive account of this story.” — Gary B. Ostrower in New England Quarterly

“Mires has tracked down elusive archival sources and forgotten newspaper accounts, uncovering a fascinating chronicle involving countless American politicians, foreign diplomats, and community promoters who participated in the feverish lobbying campaign that at times resembled an Atlantic City beauty contest…While plenty of books address the creation of the United Nations, Mires provides an important supplement showing how the idealistic search to establish the physical presence of the fledgling organization gave way to the cold realities of the marketplace.”—Library Journal

“Polls have repeatedly indicated that many New Yorkers wouldn’t mind if the UN left their city lock, stock, and barrel, taking its bureaucracy and parking-violating diplomats along. The irony is not lost on Mires, for, as she reveals in her surprising and often amusing work, New York “won” the privilege to host the UN after a furious, sometimes sad, and sometimes comical competition with other cities and locales. Some of the competitors were seriously considered, including San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, and even an Ontario Island near Niagara Falls. Others, including the Black Hills of South Dakota, never had a chance. Mires shows how the competition was triggered by a combination of municipal pride, boosterism, and an eagerness to reap the financial rewards that were expected to accrue to the host city. Mires also captures the pervading sense of optimism amongst the claimants after the horrors of WWII. This is a very readable, entertaining account that is aimed at a general audience.”—Booklist

“Most know that UN headquarters rest in midtown Manhattan overlooking the East River, but what many do not know—and what Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Morris delivers in this entertaining account—are the improbable twists and turns the organization took in settling on that location. In a refreshing turn, Mires offers insight into ‘a period that lies midway between the booster strategies of the nineteenth century…and the more intense place marketing and branding efforts of cities around the world in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century,’ keeping the story firmly focused on the efforts to determine a location while leaving the more minute details of the UN’s formation for other scholars to explain. As a result we are treated to ambitious visions of a world capital tucked into South Dakota’s Black Hills, or isolated Sugar Island near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The quick dissolution of plans calling for 40 to 50 square miles of land—one can hardly imagine Westchester County, New York, as home to a teeming international metropolis—to a mere parcel in New York City deftly summarizes the grand ambition and brief optimism of lasting peace that permeated existed after the end of WWII.”–Publishers Weekly

“Mires delivers an amusing account of the intense, if not world-shaking competition for the U.N. headquarters…Although little was at stake and everyone knows the outcome, Mires works hard and mostly successfully to hold her readers’ interest in the energetic, often-quaint public-relation antics of the 1940s.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A fascinating account of the enthusiastic effort to establish a home for the fledgling United Nations at the end of World War II. Mires creates a powerful sense of suspense as she describes the intense competition among boosters from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and even the Black Hills of South Dakota. In lively and elegant prose, from the first sentence to the last, she captures the contradictory visions of the ‘Capital of the World’ that persisted from beginning to end.”—Allan M. Winkler, Distinguished Professor of History, Miami University

Chicago History Museum: “When New York was chosen as headquarters for the United Nations, it became the putative capital of the world. Chicago had also been a contender along with San Francisco and Philadelphia. No surprises there, but the Black Hills of South Dakota? The Michigan and Ontario twin towns of Sault Sainte Marie? The placement of the United Nations was a key post-war decision that, until this book appeared, had dropped out of view. Where else will you be able to read about small-town hucksters and polished diplomats all in the same astonishing story?” Link to blog

Author Magazine (Kevin Lauderdale): “That the United Nations should be headquartered in New York City seems, today, inevitable. But, back in 1945, when its charter was being drafted in San Francisco, the eventual location was anyone’s guess.” Read more …

Lifelong Dewey: … “Mires’s skill as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is readily apparent as she tracks down every available source of the great headquarters debate. The writing is fluid, precise, and exciting. The part I found quite amusing was that the initial fervor over snagging the title Capital of the World quietly morphed into antagonism from the homeowners of the cities that were eventually toured by the UN site inspectors. As Mires puts it, “while diplomats tried to emphasize the best of intentions, homeowners imagined the worst of possibilities.” The fear of an international takeover led some cities to withdraw their invitations after a while. This coupled with the absurdity of some cities reaching for the title (I’m looking at you, Claremont, OK and Sault Ste. Marie, MI) made this book really fun to read. I heartily recommend it for diplomacy and UN history buffs.”  Read more

The Relentless Reader: … “This book is well researched and full of interesting historical tidbits. Entertaining and spirited, Capital of the World hits the right notes.” Read more

Sophisticated Dorkiness (Kim Ukura): “…In Capital of the World, Mires does one of my favorite things — she takes an event that seems familiar and manages to show how much I didn’t know about how it happened. Until I read this book, I hadn’t given much thought to how the United Nations came to be or ended up in New York City. But the story of how this organization found a home, and the utter craziness it caused in communities around the United States is really a fun one. …” Read more

Suko’s Notebook: … “Although this book has its share of facts, it’s lively and animated, and it’s enhanced by photos and maps. The book is very well researched, with a thick and hefty appendix.  With the help of librarians and archivists, Charlene Mires skillfully pieced together the history of the Capital of the World.  I enjoyed reading about the efforts of various cities to “win” the Capital of the World, to try to convince others that their location was the one and only place for the United Nations.  Overall, I found the Capital of the World quite fascinating.”  Read more

Man of la Book: …”Cap­i­tal on the World is an enjoy­able and infor­ma­tive read. It gives the reader a new per­spec­tive of Amer­ica, the coun­try that wel­comed diplo­macy and wasn’t afraid to engage in dia­log after World War II.” Read more

Patricia’s Wisdom: “TLC online Book Tours and New York University Press sent me another gem of a read.  CAPITAL OF THE WORLD is a history book that is a well written, interesting and fun read as the author endeavors to document the story of finding the right spot for the United Nations.  The fine-tuned details help to guide the reader through the maze of concept to fruition of this huge International/ Global project as World War II was winding down and the League of Nations was closing its doors in Geneva.”  Read more

Padre Steve…”I recommend this book for those interested in the development of the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s as well as those that like to have their eyes opened to possibilities that they never before had imagined. Perhaps in an alternate timeline San Francisco not only has the Giants, but the United Nations. I would like to visit that city.” Read more

A Bookish Affair: “Mires really makes this story come to life! … One part that I found very interesting was all of the different mock-ups for what various architects thought that the United Nations complex should look like. The design that ended up getting chosen for NYC is absolutely iconic and it’s very strange to imagine anything different in another place. I loved seeing the different designs that other places came up with. They were very interesting. I’m making my architect husband read this book next!” Read more

The Future American (Jess Chapman): “You might wonder why anyone would pick any city other than New York City for the headquarters of the United Nations (UN). It embodies all the qualities one would want for a “world capital”: known to everyone, bustling, multicultural, central, influential. But leading up to the UN’s selection of NYC for their headquarters in December 1946, dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands, of cities and towns across the U.S. lobbied to be picked. Charlene Mires has documented that competition well in her book Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations.  Read more

Fifty Books Project (Brent Waggoner): “When discussing government infrastructure, as I often do, the question sometimes arises, ‘Why is this organization located here, and not here?’ I have always assumed that most buildings are placed by playing a riveting game of ‘Pin the Building on the Map’ and then having a few drinks. I kid, but in truth, this is not a topic most people, myself included give a lot of thought to. Charlene Mires’ Capital of the World, which follows the United Nations from conception to finding its own place, reveals the truth behind the process: it’s not a game of darts, it’s more like a finely tuned farce, where dozens of set pieces move ridiculously before dovetailing, in the end, to a denouement that seems inevitable. One of the people in the book says it should be a movie; I’d like to nominate the Marx Brothers to star.” Read more

BookNAround: “In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine the United Nations being located anywhere but New York City. But how did it end up there in the first place? Who chose a US location? How many other places were considered? Charlene Mires’ book, Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, takes an in-depth look at the competition between cities, suburbs, and towns around the US to become the permanent home of the United Nations. Much as cities and countries now compete to host the Olympics and or political conventions, they once competed to entice the United Nations into their backyards, showcasing civic pride, touting history, and highlighting natural beauty.” Read more

West Metro Mommy: “Mires definitely did her research for this book and came up with an account that does more than explain why the United Nations is in New York.  As cities all over the country jumped to throw their names in the hat, the American character was on parade.” Read more

Lisa’s Yarns: “…If you enjoy reading non-fiction and are curious about the origins of the United Nations, then this is the book for you!” Read more