Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey

Dobbs, Michael

Published by Henry Holt & Co, 1999
ISBN 10: 0805056599 / ISBN 13: 9780805056594
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Synopsis: The definitive biography of one of the most admired women in America.

She was born Maria Jana Korbelova in Prague just before the outbreak of World War II, the first child of Czech Jewish parents. Almost sixty years later Madeleine Korbel Albright was sworn in as the U.S. Secretary of State, the first woman to hold the position. Here is the story of her dramatic life and rise to power in this meticulously researched biography that expands on the noteworthy research by Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs who, in 1997, first pieced together the incredible and nearly lost history of Albright's early life.

At the age of two, Madeleine was saved from almost certain death by being whisked to freedom after Hitler's invasion. More than two dozen close relatives died in Nazi camps. In an attempt to protect themselves and their family from further persecution, her parents kept silent about their Jewish roots, raising their children as Catholics.

Dobbs traces Albright's progress from a European ghetto to the corridors of power in Washington. He shows how Albright's life has been shaped by the great events of our times: the rise and fall of Nazism and communism, the Holocaust, the women's movement, and America's ascent to superpower status. Madeleine Albright is a tragic but ultimately triumphant tale of a woman's struggle against adversity that reflects the experience of millions of American immigrants.

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

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century ...
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition

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