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Fit to Serve: Reflections on a Secret Life, Private Struggle, and Public Battle to Become the First Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador Hardcover – November 15, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing; 1 edition (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616083980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616083984
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 6.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,470,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Hormel recounts the controversies, from don’t-ask-don’t-tell to the Defense of Marriage Act, in the struggle for gay rights, and his own two-year roller-coaster ride to confirmation.

” (Vanessa Bush - Booklist)

"A spirited, affecting life story."

” (Richard Labonte, author and critic)

“Jim Hormel is that rarest of hyphenates: an activist-philanthropist. His generosity is legendary, but his greatest gift came not from his personal wealth but from his willingness to claim his own heart — proudly and with unforgettable dignity — in the face of public vilification. Well done, Mr. Ambassador” (Armistead Maupin, Author of Tales of the City)

“Jim fought the right-wing smear machine and won. May his story inspire all those laboring against the hate and fear that pollutes our public discourse today. Jim reminds us that it’s worth the fight.” (David Brock, Founder, Media Matters for America)

“Rich, engrossing, and deeply affecting, Fit To Serve is an intimate account of James Hormel’s landmark journey from the deep confusion of a privileged but closeted life to the bold and unswerving activism through which he also found his best self. In the truest sense, this is a great American story.” (Richard North Patterson, New York Times best-selling author)

“Jim Hormel’s spirited story is a refreshing reminder of the power of the individual in America. This book documents that a person driven by the courage of his or her convictions can still push the world to become a fairer, more equal place.” (Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives)

“Future generations will look at this book and experience their history told honestly and courageously” (Moisés Kaufman, Writer (with members of Tectonic Theater Project) of The Laramie Project)

About the Author

Ambassador James C. Hormel was born in Austin, Minnesota, in 1933. He graduated from Swarthmore College and from the University of Chicago Law School, where he later worked as assistant dean and dean of students. In 1995, he was a U.S. delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights. He served as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg from 1999-2000. He also helped establish the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. Currently chairman of the investment firm Equidex, he devotes his time to philanthropy and Democratic politics. He lives in San Francisco, California.

Erin Martin is a former journalist for the Hartford Courant and deputy press secretary to U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. A graduate of Stanford University, she has managed political development programs in post-apartheid South Africa and Namibia. She also worked for The September 11th Fund, a World Trade Center relief organization, and for a Madison Avenue communications consultancy. She lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By missboots1 on November 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Hormel's memoir is well written, honest, and moving. He delves into his fascinating childhood--growing up in an eccentric family with celebrity house guests traipsing in and out, servants, personal drivers, acres and acres of land, horses, and every luxury a child could dream of--and his journey to becoming a big political player all the while hiding his sexuality for nearly 35 years. This isn't ancient history. Thousands of men and women still face prejudice and feel unsafe coming out in this country, supposedly the land of the free. A good reminder of the strength and courage it STILL takes to be yourself in America.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By AvidReader on November 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book seems to read as if Ambassador Hormel was sitting across from you sharing his life story. It is warm, funny, and personal. There are aspects of his public story, the political smears and the actions of those opposed to his nomination to serve as U.S. ambassador, that are frightening and disgusting. For anyone who has ever felt excluded or "other" due to integral aspects of himself or herself, this book portrays a kindred spirit. Even Ambassador Hormel's wealth proves to be a mixed blessing -- a source of difference and "otherness" as well as permitting financial freedom to pursue his personal and professional goals; the latter a benefit shared by only a tiny faction of a percent of the country's population. He does note a few times that he has the "luxury" of being able to ultimately be true and honest about his sexual orientation because he does not have the economic worry of the professional ramifications of being fired or harassed -- a true rarity. Wonderful insights into and observations of his eccentric family. I would have liked the book to end with more description of what Ambassador Hormel has on his remains-to-be-accomplished list.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on December 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Hormel came from a family with a famous name and his fame could have ended there, save for the fact that he went on to become the first openly gay ambassador that the United States ever sent abroad. His confirmation pitted those who saw him as "fit to serve" under any circumstances and those who opposed him for reasons that didn't make any sense then and still don't make sense today.

The story is a fascinating one but that's the problem with "Fit to Serve"...there's not enough of it. The book is a timeline of Hormel's discomfort growing up in the closet and his gradual coming out...a narrative that thousands of men and women shared but with the exception that Hormel's upbringing was vastly different from most of the rest of us. We learn of Hormel's getting active in gay rights, much to his credit. But the reason for the memoir, I suppose, is to read about the ins and outs of the confirmation process and what it was like being an openly gay ambassador in Luxembourg for the year he served there. These two areas comprise less than a quarter of the book, which is ashame because I think he probably had more to tell, and it seemed very much more written by his author "helper" than the former ambassador, himself.

"Fit to Serve" is an easy read but again fleshing out the really good parts of his experiences would have added more to it. I'm happy, however, that ambassador Hormel has had a long history of working for the betterment of gay civil rights and equality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Autism x2 Silicon Valley on November 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Unlike many autobiographies, this book has nothing to hide. Ambassador Hormel talks with clarity and candor not just about the confusion he felt growing up with certain clear expectations but attracted to other males, but also about the world about him. His exquisite sensitivity jumps off the page, from his feelings of apart-ness as a privileged youngster in a company town, to his descriptions of lonely, cold nights as a distracted Princeton freshman, to his political coming-of-age aware of the pressing need to advance human rights. We are fortunate to have such an opportunity to peek into the details of his life, and for those who follow in his footsteps as an LGBT trailblazer, have the opportunity to appreciate the considerable societal change he and others ushered in.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gloria Duffy on January 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Jim Hormel has done a great service by writing this book, especially recounting his struggle for Senate confirmation as the nation's first openly gay ambassador. When discrimination is being practiced, an individual often has to put himself or herself forward to break through the barriers. It is a hard road to travel, and Jim Hormel walked it with persistence and dedication.

Fit to Serve is well-written and heart-felt. I recommend it highly.
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