A complete and revealing history of the Peace Corps—in time for its fiftieth anniversary
On October 14, 1960, at an impromptu speech at the University of Michigan, John F. Kennedy presented an idea to a crowd of restless students for an organization that would rally American youth in service. Though the speech lasted barely three minutes, his germ of an idea morphed dramatically into Kennedy’s most enduring legacy — the Peace Corps. From this offhand campaign remark, shaped speedily by President Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, in 1961, the organization ascended with remarkable excitement and publicity, attracting the attention of thousands of hopeful young Americans.
Not an institutional history, When the World Calls is the first complete and balanced look at the Peace Corps’s first fifty years. Revelatory and candid, Stanley Meisler’s engaging narrative exposes Washington infighting, presidential influence, and the Volunteers’ unique struggles abroad. Meisler deftly unpacks the complicated history with sharp analysis and memorable anecdotes, taking readers on a global trek starting with the historic first contingent of Volunteers to Ghana on August 30, 1961.
The Peace Corps has served as an American emblem for world peace and friendship, yet few realize that it has sometimes tilted its agenda to meet the demands of the White House. Tracing its history through the past nine presidential administrations, Meisler discloses, for instance, how Lyndon Johnson became furious when Volunteers opposed his invasion of the Dominican Republic; he reveals how Richard Nixon literally tried to destroy the Peace Corps, and how Ronald Reagan endeavored to make it an instrument of foreign policy in Central America. But somehow the ethos of the Peace Corps endured, largely due to the perseverance of the 200,000 Volunteers themselves, whose shared commitment to effect positive global change has been a constant in one of our most complex—and valued—institutions.
About the Author
Stanley Meisler, the author of two other books, was a foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the Los Angeles Times for three decades. He was also deputy director of the Peace Corps’s Office of Evaluation and Research in the mid-1960s. Meisler, who lives in Washington, D.C., has written for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, the Nation, and Smithsonian, and periodically posts news commentaries on his Web site.
“Recommended. For general readers, but should be owned by all academic as well as public libraries.“—CHOICE
“The Peace Corps has always been poorly understood by Americans, and even its Volunteers rarely know much about the agency’s founding and development. When the World Calls is an instructive, thorough, and fascinating history."—Peter Hessler, New Yorker staff writer, journalist, and author of River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze
“A thoughtful, balanced story of a program that captured the spirit of America. My Peace Corps service defined me and thousands of others who had the privilege of serving.”—Donna E. Shalala, president, University of Miami, and former secretary of Health and Human Services
“This is a wonderful portrait of the Peace Corps, its tangled history, its people, and its mission. It is a timely reminder of how it is possible to bring hope and change to the world. Stanley Meisler—a distinguished foreign correspondent—is just the man to tell this story.”—Paul Theroux
“Stanley Meisler delivers an enlightened and engaging narrative of President Kennedy’s ‘most enduring legacy’—the Peace Corps. With humor and a historian’s eye for telling detail, he carries us through this remarkable organization’s fifty years of history and leaves us convinced that 200,000 Volunteers really did make a difference in the world.”—David Lamb, long-time Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent and author of Vietnam Now: A Reporter Returns
“Stanley Meisler is a gifted writer—and one who knows the Peace Corps well, both from his work there in the early years and his decades as a foreign correspondent. This book is full of insights and great anecdotes. It is wonderful history, wonderfully told.”—James Mann, author-in-residence, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and author of Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet