Reviews of Bob’s Published Memoir

US Special Forces
US Special Forces
US Special Forces

Praise for “Surviving the United Nations The Unexpected Challenge”


“Robert Adolph is the real deal, a Special Forces officer, United Nations security expert, and scholar in the most dangerous countries of the world. His life mattered in a way that those of the famous often don’t.”

—Robert Kaplan, New York Times multiple best-selling author


“No rose-colored glasses here. Bob Adolph lays bare his unique experiences in pursuit of idealistic humanitarian purposes while in some of the toughest places on the planet. Sometimes his most dangerous opponents were in the very organization of which he was a part. To paraphrase from the book, Lonesome Dove, “he survived because he dealt with things as he found them… not as he wished they would be.”

—Peter J. Schoomaker, General, US Army (retired), former Chief of Staff of the US Army


“Bob Adolph has written a dramatic and engaging record of his early years of service with the UN. His recollections of difficult and dangerous assignments in Sierra Leone, Yemen, and Iraq are vividly portrayed. In fact, he nearly paid with his life while trying to convince senior UN management that their security precautions in Baghdad in 2003 were woefully inadequate. These are wrenching yet illuminating examples of working inside the UN system. The devastating suicide bombing attack in Baghdad—killing 22 and wounding over 150—is painfully yet accurately described and places both the author and his often-startling book in categories by themselves. The very well written concluding chapters are a testament to Bob’s refusal to quit until the fight is done.”

—Gregory Starr, former Director of the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Assistant Secretary of State, and UN Under-Secretary General of the Department of Safety and Security


“Bob Adolph is the epitome of the Special Forces officer: infinitely competent, completely unflappable, and absolutely loyal. For well over two decades he served in the US Army’s Special Operations and Military Intelligence communities. Following his retirement from the active military he chose yet another service organization, the United Nations. There he made an indelible mark in several of the globe’s most dangerous regions. He evacuated Freetown in Sierra Leone just ahead of invading Revolutionary United Front guerillas; later he consulted successfully on tribal kidnappings in Yemen; still later, he led the UN’s security establishment in Iraq at the time of a devastating jihadist suicide bombing attack. His memoir often reads like a cracking good adventure novel. But this is no work of fiction—it is, instead, history.”

—Ben Lawton, Associate Professor, College of Liberal Arts, Purdue University, and co-editor of the book Revisioning Terrorism: A Humanistic Approach


“Bob Adolph served as a military officer with solid training and experience in Special Operations, leading to his designation as one of Robert Kaplan’s “Imperial Grunts” in Yemen. Extensive academic pursuits round out his intellectual credentials. His UN-Iraq experience, where I first knew him, thrust Bob both under the gun and into the spotlight because of a massive suicide bombing. His actions that day saved many lives, perhaps even my own. He later performed UN Security Advisor duties in Cairo, where I benefited greatly from his guidance. He went on to serve as the UN Chief of the Middle East and North Africa in New York, where he focused heavily on the Libya crisis. His extraordinarily insightful book is unusually sensitive, brutally candid, and a must-read for anyone striving to understand the United Nations.”

—Paul Johnson, former UN security officer and survivor of the 19 August 2003 Baghdad suicide bombing attack on the Canal Hotel


“In this engrossing tale, Bob Adolph has provided us with a remarkable account of his service with the UN as a senior security advisor in some of the most challenging and dangerous countries in the world. I came to appreciate his resourcefulness, dedication, and decency while heading up the development and humanitarian work of the UN in Yemen. I also witnessed his courageous actions, which saved lives and were crucial to facilitating our mission. Later, following the tragic attack on our premises in Baghdad, he summoned up a different kind of courage by speaking truth to power, taking on a Kafkaesque bureaucracy that sought a scapegoat for reasons of political expediency and to cover up the serious shortcomings of senior UN officials. A larger than life figure, Bob’s professionalism, integrity, and commitment to the values and principles of the UN are on display throughout this noteworthy book.”

—James W. Rawley, former UN Assistant Secretary-General


“This is a noteworthy and very personal story of what happened well before, during and after the August 19, 2003 attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, the Canal Hotel. The actual tale is known only to a few, and there is nobody still alive better suited to tell it than Bob Adolph. He provided immediate leadership in the rubble, saving lives and restoring some semblance of order amidst the chaos and confusion in the wake of the suicide bombing that devastated the UN globally. Bob expertly details a critically important chapter in the larger history of the War of Terror via his narrative. A riveting book, Bob’s tenacity, vulnerability, and integrity are at turns heartbreaking and inspiring.”

—Christopher Ankersen, Clinical Associate Professor, New York University Center for Global Affairs and editor of the book Understanding Global Terror


“For many years Bob Adolph has been a trusted colleague and friend. As someone who knows him, allow me to inform his readers that he will not surrender until the truth prevails. During the tragic Baghdad bombings, I was his Chief of Desk at UN Headquarters in New York. Bob’s reflections of events before, during, and after these attacks are accurate. He regularly communicated warnings to his superiors in both Iraq and New York concerning UN staff vulnerability in Baghdad. Those warnings were ignored. The facts that are finally unveiled in his book are wholly the result of his character: a never-quit nature, professionalism, and ethical standards of conduct. This tragic yet fascinating record of actual events represents his heartfelt attempt to expose the truth to anyone with the eyes to see it. Every UN staff member should read this book.”

—Annette Leijenaar, Head of Peace Operations and Peace-building, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria Office, South Africa


“Finally, a book that captures the devastating effects of the massive jihadist vehicular suicide bomb attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, 2003. Chief Security Advisor Bob Adolph skillfully details the gripping story behind outrageous institutional failures to exercise its duty of care to protect staff members. As part of the Security Cell in Baghdad leading up to the devastation that left 22 people dead and many more horrifically injured, I witnessed Bob’s daily gargantuan struggle to convince management that there was a credible threat to the UN in Baghdad. Expert security advice based on detailed risk assessments were consistently ignored leading to the single worst preventable tragedy in UN history. Just over a month later we faced another attack that finally drove the us out of Iraq. A must read for all who want an insider view of what transpired during the organization’s darkest days and a good man fighting to do the right thing. Powerfully argued, full of critically important observations and insights, the author takes you through a tumultuous, and at times painful early career stretching from West Africa to the Middle East and more.”

—Andries Dreyer, former UNICEF Regional Security Officer for the Middle East and North Africa and current Global Director of Security Training for World Vision International


“As a result of years of practical experience in global conflict and defense, Robert Adolph expertly unravels the complexities of the idealistic intentions of the United Nations as well as the dialectical tensions resulting from attempts at their implementation. Through artful narrative, Robert transports readers through the nuances of deep-seated historical conflicts between actors across multiple national boundaries, legal and political systems, linguistic challenges, and vastly differing cultural and organizational assumptions. Readers, both highly informed and desiring to be so, will benefit from the firsthand lessons sorely won through decades of service while grappling with the multi-faceted organization that is the United Nations. Robert’s book serves to make deeper meaning of the many conflicts in which the organization is involved and its attempts to fulfill its mission and keep peace. Any academic interested in gaining greater knowledge of how United Nations’ field missions in humanitarian, development, political, and peacekeeping operations are actually accomplished will gain significant insight.”

—Elena Tartaglione Steiner, PhD, Center for Strategic Communication, Arizona State University and Steinbeis, Hochschule, Berlin


“Lieutenant Colonel Bob Adolph’s unforgettable and brutally frank history provides graphic meaning to the unattributed quote, “You are either at the table or on the menu.”

—William Garrison, Major General, US Army (retired), former Commanding General of the Joint Special Operations Command and the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School


“A superb, painfully honest and moving account of a life lived amid the great and lesser crises of our time, this book captures not only stunning violence and grim tragedies on multiple continents, but also does a great service by demonstrating what happens when on-the-ground urgency collides with aid bureaucracies. Bob Adolph’s first-hand account of UN operations is alternately inspiring, enlightening, and infuriating (the latter when a failed hierarchy grasps about for a scapegoat in Iraq). A former special-operations soldier and globally recognized security expert, the author has given us the best by-far nuts-and-bolts account of organizations seeking to do good, only to end up mired in a bloodbath. In short, a vital book by a very good man.”

—Ralph Peters, New York Times best-selling author of Beyond Terror and Endless War


“In addition to his fascinating tours of duty in Sierra Leone and Yemen, former UN Chief Security Advisor Robert Adolph paints a compelling portrait of the stunning lack of United Nations security in Baghdad following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He makes a convincing case that high officials at the UN failed to act on voluminous pressing warnings regarding their vulnerability. The net result, which he portrays in riveting highly personal detail, is the devastating after-effects of a massive jihadist vehicular suicide bombing attack that all but destroyed their headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, 2003. The attack killed twenty-two and wounded multiples more. This horrendous bombing—and another over a month later—ultimately compelled the UN to withdraw from Iraq. This book is highly recommended for readability, pacing, and detailed narrative description.”

—L. Paul Bremer III, US Ambassador and former Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq


“I was fortunate to serve on active duty with Lieutenant Colonel Bob Adolph in Special Forces. He is an outstanding US public and international civil servant who dedicated his life first to country and then to humanity on a truly global scale. I was enormously impressed with his candor and detailed descriptions of events that changed the world. An excellent rendition of true stories that the public only rarely sees about how real history is made.”

—Joe E. Kilgore, Colonel, US Army, Special Forces (retired) (PhD)


“A riveting account of the challenges and perils faced by UN personnel all over the globe, where humanitarian and development work are all too often enmeshed in Great Game power-plays and bureaucratic turf battles. Chief Bob Adolph shines a very human light on stories that too often remain in the shadows.”

—Diarmuid O’Donovan, Director of Emergency Measures, Government of Yukon, Canada


“This book is compulsory reading for anyone thinking of serving in, currently serving, or has served in multinational organizations with overseas missions and field offices. The combination of Bob’s unique personal snapshots in time in some of the most challenging security locations in the world culminating in his tragic account of the Baghdad bombing of the Canal Hotel, highlights a UN system where accountability is as nebulous, elusive, and fickle as the peace that it is chartered to achieve. Surviving the United Nations makes for a truly compelling and thought-provoking read.”

—Christian Shorter, former Head of Global Security, World Bank Group


“Bob Adolph was one of the few people I met in Baghdad in the spring of 2003 that unquestionably knew what he was doing. As security chief for the UN mission based out of the Canal Hotel, he adroitly juggled the difficult task of maintaining the UN’s autonomy while working with coalition forces and Iraqis. It was my privilege to work with Bob during this period. His performance, along with that of the staff from the World Food Program, was enough to restore your faith in the UN. The suicide bombing attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad came on the heels of his multiple warnings to senior UN managers in both Iraq and New York. What followed was the scapegoating of the one man who had “actually” done his best to prevent the attack. Lesser men would have quit, but Bob went on to serve in yet other conflict zones, always doing things right and making it happen. His chronicle is a tale of a remarkable American whose efforts in numerous failed states have made the world a better place.”

—Martin N. Stanton, Colonel, US Army (retired), author of Somalia on 5 $ a Day and Road to Baghdad


“Chief Security Advisor Bob Adolph provides truly remarkable insights into hazardous UN operations in West Africa and Yemen, as well as the tragic event in Iraq that shocked the entire UN community worldwide in 2003. He possesses a unique and valuable perspective that highlights the good-the bad-and the ugly. Bob provides the reader with blow-by-blow accounts of gunfights, terrorist bombings, kidnappings, emergency evacuations, and so much more. His narrative is a gripping read and serves as a true testament to the men and women serving in some of the world’s most dangerous UN duty stations.”

—Mick Lorentzen, former Director of Regional Operations, UN Department of Safety and Security


“UN Chief Security Advisor Bob Adolph writes with a sense of both honesty and integrity, two of the commonly found characteristics of former soldiers who know the true meaning of humility and professionalism. Having worked with Bob, I know some of what he has scribed first-hand. After reading Surviving the United Nations, I was left with the feeling that he will help some people find a sense of closure, while providing others with a voice. For me, the book illuminates some of the reasons why I became disillusioned with the organization for what it was, as opposed to what I had always hoped it would be. For that alone, I commend him for his painstaking hours of reliving some extraordinarily emotionally charged episodes in his life. Above all, everything that he has written is true! This is something that is sadly lacking in this age of “hero tells all” tales. I only hope this has been a cathartic journey for Bob, as a lesser man would have been broken by some of the disingenuous UN decision makers he so well and loyally served. This book is a “must read” for anyone currently serving or considering a career in international service, humanitarian aid pursuits, or commercial security. The lessons learned on display are invaluable.”

—Richard C. Mitchelson, Executive Chairman, AKE International Ltd.


“On the afternoon of August 19, 2003, a suicide bomber destroyed the UN Headquarters in Baghdad killing twenty-two and wounding over one hundred fifty staff members and visitors. Not only was the office in ruins, but also the UN effort to demonstrate to the world that it could be an effective player in post-war Iraq. The searing events of that day, and the institutional failure of the organization to exercise its duty of care to protect its employees, are ably told by Bob Adolph, who was the UN Security Chief in Baghdad when the attack took place. In describing his service prior to the attack, Bob provides a fascinating account of his experience in Sierra Leone and Yemen, where he demonstrated the bravery and ability which led to his Iraq assignment. This gripping account of Bob’s unjust scapegoating and subsequent battle is inspiring proof that one person can make his voice heard, even within a vast organization.”

—Richard Manlove, former UN Principal Security Advisor for Iraq


“Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Bob Adolph is a friend and brother. I knew him when we both served as active duty US Army Special Forces officers. Bob chose a “non-standard” path to say the least. He retired from the Army and began working as a Chief Security Officer for the United Nations. His excellent book details his early years in Sierra Leone and Yemen, and this portion is riveting reading. It also provides the needed background to understand the key section of the book, which examines in detail the UN debacle in Iraq. Bob took on the Herculean task of trying to convince the international mission in Baghdad to develop adequate security. He was unable to do it, and 22 people died, with another 150 plus humanitarian personnel wounded. This is not an effort to show that others were responsible (they were frankly), but a heartfelt attempt to look at a key incident in the tragedy that was Iraq in 2003–2004, in order to make sense of it. He never gave up doing his job. He fought as a soldier, and he struggled in a different way to protect the lives under his care. It is a sad reminder that regardless of one’s best efforts; sometimes the bureaucracy “wins.” The fact that he continued to serve in other conflict zones in valuable ways is hugely instructive to most civilians (including many in powerful government positions) that soldiers come in many “flavors.” Bob is a warrior, who truly spent his life protecting those who needed his strong arm. A great read, and a book worthy of a spot on every bookshelf.”

—Steven P. Bucci, Colonel, US Army, Special Forces (retired) (PhD), former Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense


“The monstrous terrorist suicide attack on the UN office in Baghdad in August of 2003 was both a tragic and traumatic event for the world’s best-known international organization. Former Chief Security Advisor Bob Adolph is perhaps the only person who could tell this tale in all its gritty and bloody detail. By beginning with detailed descriptions of his earli er UN assignments in both Africa and Yemen, he introduces the reader to the personal and professional challenges of UN service in support of peacekeeping and aid agencies. The narrative of 4 extraordinarily perilous years demands the reader’s attention. The security lessons learned are numerous and clearly identified as you leaf through the fast-paced action. The book unintentionally serves to highlight that UN personnel continuously operate in hazardous security environments around the globe. The training value for any agency’s security professionals operating in potentially life-threatening environments, and their senior supervisors, is immeasurable! More particularly, officials at all levels of the UN security management system should read this chronicle and then ask themselves: “Is my team prepared to respond if a catastrophic event occurs at my location?” This is a superb book written by a man that intimately knows his subject—because he lived it.”

—Gerald Ganz, former Head of Training and Director of Field Support, UN Department of Safety and Security


“Lieutenant Colonel Bob Adolph’s unvarnished first-hand account of his service as a UN Security Advisor is a must-read for security professionals. Serving in many austere, remote environments, this former special operator’s observations are not only exciting reading, but also of great value to security trainers, senior managers of international organizations, national governments, humanitarian agencies, or commercial enterprises with employees and operations overseas. Bob’s accounts strip away the Hollywood glamor of this work and tell a story as only someone who has lived it can. This is an essential book for anyone who wants to see the world as it really is or that might have to work in one of these high-risk environments. Having had the privilege of serving with Bob during his time in the US Army, I know that the words of this consummate professional will ring true to those that have served in far-off lands and give those that have not a true glimpse of what that world is about.”

—Francisco Pedrozo, Colonel, US Army, Special Forces (retired) and Senior Vice President for Operations, The Ackerman Group, International Security Consultants


“This is a story that has everything that you expect in an action thriller: a page-turner that is impossible to put down. Adventure, heroism, fear, brutality, intrigue, violence, love, and betrayal. However, this tale of deeds and misfortunes are actual events that Ltc Bob Adolph experienced during his lengthy tenure as one of the United Nation’s top security officers. Unlike some, he managed to survive to provide this harrowing account regarding several of the darker corners of our world. Those who have been there will be able to relate, and those who have not will pray they never have it happen to them. This book could easily become a standard reference in the libraries of international affairs scholars, UN staff, forward deployed diplomats, soldiers and special operators, humanitarian INGOs, peacekeepers, and international security specialists–essentially, many of those who regularly operate in dangerously amorphous zones of crisis around our planet.”

—Terry P. Cook, Colonel, US Army, Special Forces (retired)


“Iraq in 2003 was a boiling cauldron—this was not the peace that many had hoped for and declared, but rather a nation heading toward an insurgency and an opportunity for multiple actors to pursue their own agendas. This book is mandatory reading to understand the nature of the United Nations, its capabilities, constraints, and political nature. Bob writes from a perch that few can understand or comprehend. It’s a story of great potential and significant limitations—of what could have been and what was. He vividly illustrates the nature of power and influence and how the two can bring about good—or trample innocents in order to achieve objectives that conflict with perceived lofty ideals. It is also a reminder that our U.S. justice system, as imperfect as it may seem, often exceeds that of other nations, organizations, and non-state actors.”

—Barbara G. Fast, Major General, US Army (retired)


“I first met Lieutenant Colonel Robert Adolph, known to all as Bob, when I reached Sierra Leone in December 1999, as the first Force Commander of the UN Mission called UNAMSIL. I was immediately struck by his enthusiasm, infectious personality, professional competence, and desire to enter the dangerous interior of strife torn Sierra Leone, where the rule of law had not yet been established, and where the brutal rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) ruled the roost. To say that such an endeavour was fraught with danger would be an understatement, for the mercurial rebels, mostly under the influence of drugs, could commit the most heinous crimes without compunction. However, this did not deter Bob because his own personal safety was the least of his concerns. He was more interested at getting an accurate intelligence picture of what was happening in the field to enable the Mission to be forewarned. And, being a highly trained Special Forces officer with a penchant for intelligence operations, he succeeded admirably in this task. He was tactful yet firm with the rebels and succeeded in gaining their confidence while simultaneously gathering valuable intelligence. As the Force Commander of this hazardous mission, I could not have asked for better support from anyone. Bob has an eye for detail, which is visible from his vivid and extremely accurate description of his experiences in Sierra Leone. His racy writing style makes the book a highly compelling read. I strongly recommend this book be read by all those who have anything to do with UN Peacekeeping.”

—V. K. Jetley, Lieutenant General, PVSM, UYSM, Indian Army (Retired), First Force Commander of UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone, West Africa


“UN Chief Security Advisor Bob Adolph is a warrior, and one of our most gifted and essential citizens. He endeavored all throughout his UN career to improve safety and security measures for staff in the field. He sometimes clashed with colleagues, and most importantly, he often fought with self-interested superiors. Bob’s book is in many ways a chronicle of those skirmishes. Some he won. Some he lost. When he lost in Baghdad, people died. His struggles within the UN are a testament to his personal code of conduct. There are UN civil staff alive today because of his successful battles against an often opaque and amorphous bureaucracy. His book helps clear away denials and common delusions providing essential historical facts to inform and inspire. In a world made up of nations, there is no more powerful way to fight the forces of prejudice, intolerance, and injustice than by dedication to equality, citizenship, and equal rights. Bob is an exemplary UN staff member and leader. “Bob’s Laws” available in the book’s Appendix, are a true gem and an unusual self-improvement guide. This is a book inspired by Bob’s own life: courageous and beautifully written. Every UN staff member should read this book. Every person should read this book.”

—Samar Issa, PhD, Assistant Professor, Saint Peter’s University”