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The Ugly American Paperback – January 17, 1999

94 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A very important bombshell.” (New York Herald Tribune)

“Not only important but consistently entertaining.” (New York Times)

“Slashing.... Draw[s] the reader into a vital subject rarely treated by fiction.” (Time)

“[A] powerful and absorbing indictment.... Should be required reading in Washington and elsewhere.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“To make use of the truth, unbelievable truth... William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick wrote this devastating indictment of American policy [in Southeast Asia] as fiction. But any correspondent who has been any length of time in the locale of the story will recognize its veracity.” (Robert Trumbull - New York Times Book Review)

“A delightfully readable book.” (James A. Michener)

“Both enlightening and absorbing reading, with humor and wit.” (Boston Herald)

“A powerful, searching book.” (Los Angeles Times)

From the Inside Flap

If This Were Not A Free Country, This Book Would Be Banned.

Authentic, infuriating, and explosively candid, this is the daring, classic bestseller that unmasked the blundering hypocrisy of some of our top-level diplomats. It exposes the opportunism, incompetence, and cynical deceit that have become imbedded in the fabric of our public relations, not only in Asia but all over the world. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393318672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393318678
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Max J Rosenthal on December 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Ugly American succeeds on three major counts:
1) The book is a devastating look at the way the American diplomatic corps presents itself abroad. It may have been written decades ago, but given recent events and little evidence that anything has changed in the State Department, the lessons are still extremely applicable to this day. Every foreign service officer should read this as a manual on how to conduct themselves and adapt to foreign cultures.
2) The authors are clearly cutting into American policy without going overboard and cutting into the United States. This is no anti-American rant; Lederer and Burdick seem to write this book with one eye firmly on furthering America's ability to advance its interests and cooperate more effectively with other nations.
3) Each one of the short stories is extremely entertaining. I started this book at 10 pm one night and finished it three hours later after being totally unable to put it down. On top of its commentary, it's a quick and fascinating read.
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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Ugly American is a collection of about 20 fictional short stories based in Asia after World War II, when communism was a gaining momentum in the region. The stories, however, are based on factual experiences of the authors in South East-Asia and some of the characters are also based on real people.
Each tale is an enchanting story. The characterization is wonderful and the lessons of cultural sensitivity - or lack of it - are valuable. You could also use parts of the book as anecdotes for teaching leadership, but it is not a textbook; read it to enjoy it and you can have the "food for thought" as a bonus. Americans should not be put off by the title as the main character is far from ugly and people from other nations are also shown to be "ugly", for example, some of the French in Vietnam. Also, as the authors are American, they did not intend the title to be a slur.
Trivia FYI: Universal made a movie from the book, staring Marlon Brando, in the 1960s.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Jim Bernhardt on March 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Ugly American was published in 1958, just after the Soviets put Sputnik in orbit and sent America into a deep funk. The book is as interesting for its idealized picture of communist accomplishments in foreign relations as it is for the dreary picture of Americans abroad. The authors attribute high quality training and patient well thought out policies to the Soviets. The American don't speak the language. The Americans don't understand the culture. The Americans are incapable of winning hearts or helping people. That was the mood in 1958. The Soviets had won the race to space and caused us as a nation to doubt our system of education, our ability to understand the world, and our instruments of diplomacy. The people working for the State Department in this book spend most of their time taking care of themselves (first class all the way), and the rest taking care of visitors from Washington (BS all the way). Now, in the post 9/11 world, the Ugly American is worth a fresh look. Are we going to do as poor a job in the Arab world as we did in Southeast Asia nearly 50 years ago. Do we speak Arabic? Are we spending the time and effort learning about the culture, needs and dreams of the people in that part of the world. Is there a hope we can get it right this time? The Ugly American is an important book for us now.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By K. Johnson VINE VOICE on July 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
The title refers to an individual in the book but I do think there is an insinuation in the title. This is a brilliant book that said so much then in 1958, and says so much now today. The implicit references are strikingly clear in the characters and situations presented by Lederer and Burdick. When abroad our American psyche, consciousness, and sub-conscious attitudes and assumptions, have not changed since this book was written. We are culturally, mentally, and linguistically isolated, and do not attempt to learn about other cultural norms for a variety of reasons. Still today, the term "Ugly American" caricatures this ignorance & arrogance by those who live behind the "Golden Curtain" (USA). The authors also had the gift of saying a lot with few words. Few can do this. This is also a piece of work filled with humor. Many times I chuckled aloud while reading this book. I do believe that almost all aspects of Communism are evil and believed in the "intelligent" opposition to the Maoist and Leninist movements of the 20th Century and today. Communism gains, and maintains strength and control, by the theft of an individual's heart, mind, and soul. As for U.S. foreign policy in S.E Asia to counter the spread of Communism, it was was a debacle based upon arrogance and ignorance by politicians and military bureaucrats. A deadly and futile combination. The U.S. foreign policy effort in S.E. Asia was the blind leading the blind, culturally, militarily, and politically, and the result was our soldiers and innocent Asian citizens losing life and limb. Lederer and Burdick realized this at the time of writing in 1958--before the tumultuous times of Vietnam. It's a shame more influential bureaucrats didnt' read it. This book is a must read for Americans who will be traveling or living abroad for more than a short period of time. But also A classic however, for all Americans, whether at home or abroad.
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