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.