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Madeleine Albright: A twentieth-century odyssey Hardcover – April 21, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 466 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (April 21, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805056599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805056594
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,320,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This compelling, well-reported biography tells the story of Madeleine Albright, the first woman secretary of state--therefore the highest-ranking female official--in U.S. history. Its author, Michael Dobbs, was the Washington Post reporter who first uncovered Albright's Jewish heritage, which had been kept from her by her Czech immigrant parents, who fled to the U.S. when Madeleine was 11 years old. Her father, Joseph Korbel, was a diplomat serving in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, when World War II began. The Korbels managed to escape to England, but more than two dozen of her relatives (including three grandparents) died at the hands of the Nazis. Madeleine and her family were baptized as Catholics in England, and her parents never told her about her Jewish heritage or the circumstances of her grandparents' deaths.

Most of the book deals with Madeleine's life in the United States and the building of her career: member of the Wellesley College class of '59; marriage and then divorce from Joseph Medill Patterson Albright; her Ph.D. from Columbia, followed by jobs with Ed Muskie's senate office and Zbigniew Brzezinski at the National Security Council; the national campaigns of Geraldine Ferraro and Michael Dukakis; the 1993 appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "Madeleine was attracted to power as a swan is attracted to water," writes Dobbs. Her house in Georgetown, only a few blocks from the residences of Katherine Graham and Pamela Harriman, became a foreign-policy salon.

Albright has more star power than any secretary of state since Henry Kissinger, and she can take credit for increasing public interest and awareness of foreign affairs. Her personality is a "contradictory mix of insecurity and assertiveness, vulnerability and determination, pleasantness and steeliness," Dobbs writes. "Madeleine's life may have been a 'fairy tale,' in her phrase, but it was a fairy tale of her own making." At the heart of his assessment of her life is the secret of her family's past and how it drove her need for success as well as her views on foreign policy. Albright herself admits the seminal event affecting all of her views about foreign policy was the West's initial appeasement of Hitler and his takeover of her native Prague. "I saw," she once said, "what happened when a dictator was allowed to take over a piece of a country and the country went down the tubes. And I saw the opposite during the war when America joined the fight." Such feelings are essential background in understanding Albright's role in shaping American policy toward foreign intervention, particulary in Eastern Europe. --Linda Killian

From Publishers Weekly

Not long after she was sworn in as the first female American secretary of state, Albright, a Czech immigrant, was the subject of a Washington Post Magazine article that revealed to the worldAand, Albright has maintained, to herselfAthat she is the daughter of Jews who converted to Catholicism before WWII. Dobbs, the author of that article, stretches his scoop into a full-length biography that focuses more on the personal than on the political. Dobbs doesn't believe Albright's claim that she didn't know about her Jewish heritage, writing that "there are simply too many contradictions and inconsistencies in her story for it to be believable." But he doesn't really fault her for her alleged evasionAat least not strongly. Instead, Dobbs takes Albright's roots as a cue to tell a great story animated by the very American themes of outstanding achievement and the reinvention of the self. As he pursues these themes, Dobbs takes readers back to mid-century Prague, where Albright's father pursued a diplomatic career (and studiously concealed his Jewish roots). He meticulously traces the travails of her relatives under Nazi and Stalinist rule before moving on to Albright's student days at Wellesley, her marriage to Joe Albright, the scion of a WASP newspaper dynasty and, after their divorce, her creation of herself as a big-time player in American politics and diplomacy. Dobbs's concluding comparison of Albright and Jay Gatsby, while hammering home the theme of self-invention, doesn't take into account the quality of the self being invented. Yet, on the whole, this is a balanced and fairly sympathetic narrative of a remarkable American life.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth Century Odyssey is a wonderful read. It is packed with new material about Madeleine Albright and insights into her life, beginning with a painfully vivid reconstruction of the deaths of many of her family members in the Holocaust. It shows how Albright has drawn on the drive and resourcefulness of her ancestors in Central Europe to make it to the top in America. The Blackman book, to which the previous reviewer refers, pales by comparison.
Dobbs has interviewed many more people than his competitor, and his research is much more thorough. If you only have time for one Albright book, make it this one!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
What a fabulous book! I couldn't put it down. Having read this book, I have a new appreciation for Madeleine Albright as a woman who raised her children and then started a career which took her to the top. Dobbs is deeply sensitive to this, and you get the feeling that even as she climbs the ladder to her ultimate success, she wonders whether she is up to the job that lies ahead. Don't we women all have this experience at one time or another, even as we stop what we are doing to raise our children? Dobbs seems to have presented Albright with the only family tree she has even seen. He found branches of her family she never knew existed. The tragedy which befell her family in the Holocaust is not in vain - at the end of a century which molded and shaped her family, she has found them all again. A riveting story and it's beautifully written - I highly recommend this book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Brockhaus on July 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a model of biographic research. Dobbs tracks Albright's family 4 generations back across Europe and through WWII.
I greatly enjoyed learning more about Albright's personal rise to the top, which was inspirational to me as a woman.
But due to Albright's lack of cooperation with Dobbs in the project, it didn't have a lot of detail from her personally. It was almost all from friends, enemies? and others.
The facts around Dobbs writing this book bother me. It started with him digging up the fact that she was Jewish (Haven't we progressed beyond caring whether someone is Jewish?) After Dobbs discovered this fact and it broke in the news, he decided to write a book. He describes a tense meeting with Madeline in which she is not at all pleased with his intrusive findings.
This detail bothered me as I read the book. Is Doobs impartial? Was he possibly angry that she basically shunned his project? It undermined my faith in his opinions slightly.
If you want to learn more about Madeline and don't mind that the first part is pre WWII, you'll enjoy this book. But I think Dobbs could have gone about it in a better way. I would have enjoyed hearing what Madeline really had to say about everything.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Courtney L. Lewis on July 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Dobbs has produced an amazing piece of research and journalism. Practically half the book is devoted to a meticulous charting of Madeleine's parents, the Korbels, and their narrow escape from the Holocaust and later the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. Following them to America, Dobbs shows how Madeliene's drive and natural intelligence lead her to assimilate seamlessly into American culture and graduate from Wellesley College. I think the author also does an excellent job charting the conflicts for women of this period and demonstrates how Albright succeeds in constantly acquiring new skills and a network of influential friends and colleagues during a time when she could have been simply a "supportive housewife". His insider look at her political career in New York and Washington is fascinating and very informative.
Perhaps Dobbs deserves to be best congratulated on developing a three-dimensional picture of a complex woman - no saint but instead a powerful human figure in our time.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book which covers the Holocaust through one family's silence and nominal conversion to Catholicism to survive. Certainly it presents the Holocaust in a different light than usual. The tale of a refugee female's attainment of the post of Sec. of State is riveting. Even the analysis of Albright's divorce explains one of the tragedies of twentieth century life. The book is subtitled a twentieth-century odyssey and that is what it is. Read it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Michael Dobbs is the journalist who broke the story of Madeleine Albright's Jewish roots: his new book on America's first female Secretary of State is fascinating and masterfully written - THE book on how a Czech refugee girl made it to become the most powerful woman in the U.S. government. Dobbs has done a great deal of legwork, uncovering a number of new and revealing facts about Albright's past and her role model father.
Based on his extensive research Dobbs now argues that Albright almost certainly knew she was from a Jewish family - many of whom perished in the Holocaust - well before she has said that she did. Like many immigrants from Europe, Joseph Korbel, her father, wanted to put a fire wall between the tragic past and his new identity in the West. He instilled that drive for a new identity in his ambitious daughter, Dobbs says, and it propelled her to the top.
In light of the current Kosovo situation, with Albanian refugees fleeing their homeland in a harkening back to WWII, this first-rate book is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand the mind set of the Secretary of State and why we are involved in Kosovo.
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More About the Author

I am, almost literally, a child of the Cold War. My diplomat parents whisked me off to Russia at the age of six weeks. As a child, I lived through the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and the construction of the Berlin wall. As a reporter for the Washington Post, I witnessed the birth of the Solidarity movement in Poland, the hope and tragedy of Tiananmen Square, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the war in the former Yugoslavia.

When I first went to Russia in 1950, Stalin was at the height of his power. When I left, in 1993, communism had collapsed and the Red Flag no longer flew over the Kremlin. How and why this happened is the story of the "Cold War trilogy," from its origins in the aftermath of World War II (Six Months in 1945) to its peak, during the Cuban Missile Crisis (One Minute to Midnight), to the grand finale (Down with Big Brother).

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