Who Killed Hammarskjöld?

The UN, The Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa

Susan Williams

‘A startling, meticulous, convincing book, written in the understated prose of a Scandinavian crime thriller.’ — Simon Kuper, The Financial Times

Bibliographic Details
Who Killed Hammarskjöld? Hardback
September 2011£20.00
Out of stock
Who Killed Hammarskjöld? Paperback
September 2013£14.99
Available as an eBook

Request Press Review Copy
Request Inspection Copy

One of the outstanding mysteries of the twentieth century, and one with huge political resonance, is the death of Dag Hammarskjöld and his UN team in a plane crash in central Africa in 1961. Just minutes after midnight, his aircraft plunged into thick forest in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), abruptly ending his mission to bring peace to the Congo. Many around the world suspected sabotage, accusing multinationals and the governments of Britain, Belgium, the USA and South Africa of involvement in the disaster. These suspicions have never gone away.

Susan Williams argues that the official inquiry by the Rhodesian government was a massive cover-up that suppressed and dismissed a mass of crucial evidence pointing to foul play. Who Killed Hammarskjöld? follows the author on her intriguing and often frightening research, which unearthed a mass of new and hitherto secret documentary and photographic evidence.

At the heart of this book is Hammarskjöld himself – a courageous and complex idealist, who sought to shield the newly independent nations of the world from the predatory instincts of the Great Powers. It reveals that the conflict in the Congo was driven not so much by internal divisions, as by the Cold War and by the West’s determination to keep real power from the hands of the post-colonial governments of Africa. It shows, too, that the British settlers of Rhodesia would maintain white minority rule at all costs.


Susan Williams has published widely on Africa, decolonisation and the global power shifts of the twentieth century. Her widely acclaimed book on the founding president of Botswana, Colour Bar (Penguin, 2006), recently became a major motion picture (A United Kingdom). Who Killed Hammarskjöld? (2011) triggered a fresh UN inquiry into the death of the secretary general. She is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

Related Topics

‘[Williams] has done a fine job of marshalling new evidence and painting a vivid picture of a past era of Rhodesian colonists in long socks and white shorts, and of cold war politics played out through vicious proxy wars in Africa.’ — Sunday Times

‘Part detective, part archivist, part journalist, Williams schmoozed spies, befriended diplomats and mercenaries and won the trust of Hammarskjöld’s still grieving relatives and UN colleagues to get her tale. She unwinds each thread of the narrative with infinite patience, leading us carefully down the tortuous paths of Cold War intrigue.’ — The Spectator

‘A startling, meticulous, convincing book, written in the understated prose of a Scandinavian crime thriller.’ — Simon Kuper, The Financial Times

‘Susan Williams’ fascinating book explores the unresolved issues surrounding his death in a plane crash in central Africa. With the help of her engaging and no-nonsense style – part Miss Marple, part No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – we are led through the messy, ugly and secretive dark arts of decolonisation in a world of white supremacists and Cold War lunatics. Kids: don’t try this at home.’ — Times Higher Education

‘This welcome, and highly readable, historical detective story sheds yet more mystery on the sad fate of Dag Hammarskjöld, arguably the most significant and influential UN secretary general. … What the book does very well, through extremely thorough research of an international nature, is to highlight the controversies surrounding the crash and the numerous investigations into it. … this is an important piece of research. It should be read by all those concerned with the activities of right-wing politicians and businessmen and their links to mercenaries, intelligence operations and European economic dominance in the post-independence Congo; and by those concerned with whoever may have been responsible for Hammarskjöld’s death and the weakening of the UN.’ — International Affairs

‘This engaging book marks a concerted effort to explore the historical mysteries that shroud the UN Secretary-General’s death. … This is a fascinating, meticulously researched, and easy-to-read study of the events surrounding the episode.’ — African Affairs

‘Susan Williams’ impressive probing draws together previously secret archived material and witness statements never before aired. The book is rigorously academic, with intensive referencing and quotes from expert informants, but it is also an intriguing whodunnit, albeit one with particularly sombre connotations,’ — The Canberra Times

‘Susan Williams has produced a compelling account from a monumental amount of historical detective work and encounters with an extraordinary range of personalities, some of them extremely shady.’ — The Witness (South Africa)

‘The death of Dag Hammarskjöld is a major historical puzzle: in this meticulously researched and gripping account Susan Williams has left very few stones unturned in her attempt to unravel it. After reviewing both old and much new evidence she makes a compelling case for a fresh enquiry with full disclosure.’ — James Mayall, Sir Patrick Sheehy Professor of International Relations, University of Cambridge

‘If you want to read a work of serious, well-researched history as exciting as a James Bond novel, this important book, which vividly conveys the tumultuous decolonisation of the Congo, is the one for you.’ –– Gérard Prunier, author of From Genocide to Continental War: The ‘Congolese’ Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa

‘A short, taut and highly readable account of Hammarskjöld’s death that suggests strongly that the Secretary-General was the victim of a conspiracy hatched by some supporters of continued white domination in central Africa. … This is a rivetingly good read and is exceptionally well researched.’ — Stephen Ellis, Professor of African Studies, Free University of Amsterdam, and author, Season of Rains: Africa and the World

‘The book reads like a thriller, as the author pursues archives, interviews and thousands of documents to find clues to the murder of a man who, according to the British and Belgians, died in an aircraft accident.’ — Jamaica Observer

‘Williams has done remarkable research … to gallantly demonstrate that the UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa, directly or indirectly, caused Hammarskjold’s crash. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Congo and decolonization; it is very well researched, lucidly written and provides an alternative point of view to a subject that Europe refuses to claim responsibility for.’ — African Studies Bulletin

‘…fascinating book…’ — Philip Muehlenbeck, New Internationalist

‘This is an extraordinary story, narrated with clarity and devastating effect. Susan Williams is to be congratulated for shining a light onto a very strange and disturbing incident. The result is a gripping and astonishing read.’ — Alexander McCall Smith, novelist, author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series

‘The author’s scrupulous research shines through this book’s carefully argued narrative. … All the evidence she uncovers points to the Hammarskjöld plane crash being the culmination of an assassination plot—and put into current context, with Congo peace talks breaking down at the AU in Addis Ababa … it is a story that continues to unfold.’ — Stephen Williams, African Business

‘Utilizing primary source documents from at least nine countries across three continents, numerous oral history interviews with eye witnesses, and enlisting the help of forensic, ballistic, and medical experts to reexamine the written reports and photographic evidence compiled by the original Rhodesian and UN inquiries into the crash, Williams has authored a fascinating study which is as academic as any international history scholarship and as entertaining as any mystery novel … ‘This book should be on the summer reading list of all historians.’ — H-Diplo