A Rope from the Sky

The Making and Unmaking of the World's Newest State

The untold story of America’s attempt to forge a nation from scratch, from euphoric birth to heart-wrenching collapse.

The birth of South Sudan was celebrated world-wide, a triumph acclaimed not only by its long-oppressed people, but by three presidents and millions of Americans. But just two years later, South Sudan’s freedom-fighters plunged their new nation back into chaos, shattering the promise of liberation and exposing the hubris of their American backers.This is the epic story of paradise won, then lost. Vertin’s firsthand accounts—from war zones to the halls of Washington power—bring readers inside the untold story of how an exalted American victory ended in conscience-shocking violence. This gripping tale follows an unlikely cast of liberators from the bush to the palace and back, and a zealous alliance of Democrats and Republicans, evangelicals and celebrities, who watched in horror as their chosen heroes turned their guns on each other. Filled with with hope, loss, greed, and compassion, this is also a story about the best and worst of America—big-hearted ideals combined with the difficult reckoning with the limits of our influence in a changing world order. From moonlit battlefields to hotel ballrooms, blood-soaked villages to the emerald marshes of the Nile, A Rope from the Sky is brilliant and breathtaking, and will challenge our perspectives on global politics.

Zach Vertin is an American writer, foreign policy expert, and former diplomat; he has spent the last twelve years working in international peace and conflict issues, not least in South Sudan. He is currently a Lecturer at Princeton University and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center. He previously served in the Obama Administration as a Senior Adviser to the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and Sudan South Sudan, and prior to that he was a Senior Analyst for the International Crisis Group. He has written or commented for: the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, the Economist, the Atlantic, CNN, the BBC, and more. He lives in Washington, D.C.

"The still-unfolding tragedy of South Sudan is too little understood and too little known, even among foreign policy experts. Zach Vertin is a rare exception. He has spent his life not just explaining how the promise of this young nation, for which so many sacrificed, was broken so badly, but helping end the bloodshed for a people who have seen far too much of it.  An important read."

– John Kerry, 68th U.S. Secretary of State, author of EVERY DAY IS EXTRA

"An engrossingly written account. A Rope from the Sky is an essential guide to one of the world's most intractable conflicts—a must-read for warriors, diplomats, relief experts, and would-be peace negotiators anywhere in the world."

– Jon Lee Anderson, staff writer, THE NEW YORKER

"Ponders the extent of Western responsibility in the making—and breaking—of South Sudan…[and] points to a deeper question: what makes a nation?  Vertin wonders whether, like the American Civil War, South Sudan’s misery will ‘ultimately prove an awful but formative part of its becoming a viable state."

– The Economist

"Panoramic and absorbing. A masterful account of the birth and near-death of a nation.  Vertin seams together a staggeringly complicated puzzle, re-creating the savage street battles and high-level diplomacy that has informed South. But much of the book’s texture comes from beautiful portraits of the South Sudanese people. An invaluable contribution."

– The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A political roller coaster from Africa to the White House and back. Zach Vertin guides us through South Sudan’s euphoric independence and its devastating descent into war. A compelling read. "

– Barton Gellman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author

A brilliant, authoritative, and colorful insight into the hope and despair that is the world’s youngest country. Unique in modern history, this untold story of South Sudan’s birth carries lessons not just for Africa but for the rest of the world.

– Jon Snow, Journalist and Anchor, Channel 4 News

"Vertin, a former NGO analyst and adviser to the U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, brings an insider’s knowledge to this gripping, well-written account of South Sudan."

– Publishers Weekly

"A highly readable, well-informed and people-centered account.  Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand why South Sudan has unraveled."

– Dame Rosalind Marsden, DCMG, Former British Ambassador to Sudan and European Union Special Envoy

"Zach Vertin had a front row seat. With a journalist’s verve he takes us through the cast of characters—and forces—which put this country together and then tragically combined to dismantle it. This is a tale of leaders’ illusions and of a terrible violence consequently unleashed. And it’s a story that has not been properly told till now."

– Lord Mark Malloch-Brown KCMG PC, former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General

"A remarkably authoritative account of South Sudan’s rise and fall; Zach Vertin matches expert political analysis with a journalist’s knack for storytelling, and the result is an exciting and immersive book that will be read for years come. He was present at the creation, and could not be better suited to tell this story."

– Haile Menkerios, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan

"A keen observer of the unfolding South Sudan crisis and participant in the peace effort chronicles the making of the fledgling state and its subsequent disintegration. Vertin displays enormous affection and concern for the fate of this fragile new state. Despite daunting challenges facing the new nation, Vertin offers hope that a viable state can prevail."

– Kirkus Reviews

"A superb read.  Zach Vertin skillfully unpacks the events that gave rise to a nation and then hastened its tragic unravelling. It is at once a story that echoes with the experience and hopes of the South Sudanese people, and a chronicle of one of the most consequential attempts at state-building in the modern era. No matter where we seek to advance the cause of peace and justice in the world, we would be wise to learn from this important book."

– Rt Hon. Andrew Mitchell MP, former UK Secretary of State for International Development

"Vertin offers unprecedented access to the full story...A vitally important, expert account of the little-understood founding of a struggling nation."

– Booklist (starred)

"A hugely important contribution to the debate about one of Africa's longest running tragedies."

– Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University and Former Governor of Hong Kong