Excerpt from Madam Secretary by Madeleine Albright, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Madam Secretary

By Madeleine Albright

Madam Secretary

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Prologue

We all have our stories. This is mine. It reflects the turbulence of the past century, the expanding and changing roles of women, and the clash between those around the world with faith in freedom and those who place power above human values. Before sitting down to write, I read memoirs by other former Secretaries of State. The books were excellent but the approach their authors took did not seem right for me. I wanted to combine the personal with policy and describe not just what happened but also why and how events were influenced by human relationships. I also wanted to be sure the main character didn’t bore people to death.

Many lives progress in a more or less predictable path, like water through a well-marked channel. My journey has been different. The idea that a daughter of Czechoslovakia, born shortly before the outbreak of global war, would one day become America’s first woman Secretary of State once could not have been imagined. It was almost as inconceivable that someone who had not held a government job until she was thirty-nine years old and the mother of three would become the highest-ranking woman in American history. Well into adulthood, I was never supposed to be what I became.

But if I had a late start, I also hurried to catch up. I began as a public spirited volunteer, raising money for political candidates and various good causes, meeting new people, and steadily expanding my personal horizons while also obtaining a Ph.D. With my family’s support, I crossed the threshold into professional life, working in the Senate and White House, advising Democratic candidates for national office, heading a think tank, and teaching international relations. Year by year, I acquired essential knowledge, experience, and skills. Relatively few people had heard of me when President Clinton asked if I would serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1992. By Washington standards I had had a stealth career, but I was ready. As Senator Barbara Mikulski, a trailblazer herself, said about the two of us, “We were twenty-five-year overnight successes.” Once in government, I had to deal with the problem of operating in a predominantly man’s world. The challenge was not new to me, but the level was higher and the pressures more intense. I am often asked whether I was condescended to by men as I traveled around the world to Arab countries and other places with highly traditional cultures. I replied, “No, because when I arrived somewhere, it was in a large plane with ‘United States of America’ emblazoned on the side.” Foreign officials respected that. I had more problems with some of the men in my own government.

Having completed college at the end of the 1950s, I was part of a generation of women who were still uncertain about whether they could be good wives and mothers and also achieve success in the workplace. From my graduation day until the graduation of my last child, I had to deal with the age-old problem of balancing the demands of family with academic and professional interests. As I began to climb the ladder, I had to cope with the different vocabularies used to describe similar qualities in men (confident, take-charge, committed) and women (bossy, aggressive, emotional). It took years, but over time I developed enough faith in my judgment to do my job in my own way and style, worrying at least a little less about what others thought.

I do think I was lucky to serve a President, Bill Clinton, who saw clearly America’s role as a unifying force in a world moving at warp speed from one era to another. The President believed, as did I, that our country’s purpose was not just to bear witness to history but rather to shape it in ways that served our interests and ideals. He also gave me the opportunity that no other individual, male or female, has had to serve full terms both as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as U.S. Secretary of State. These were the most exciting jobs, and I had the chance to perform them at a time when the UN was newly empowered and, in fact, virtually every foreign policy institution, relationship, assumption, and doctrine was being reevaluated in light of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I loved being Secretary of State and could have written happily about everything that took place during my years of service. While in office, I was regularly criticized after a speech or congressional testimony for not discussing this or that issue or part of the globe. The problem is that there is not enough space—whether in a speech or in a book—to do justice to everything. I found in writing this memoir that literally hundreds of pages had to be chopped to keep the full text at a manageable size. So in covering my years in government, I have had to be extremely selective.

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From Madame Secretary by Madeline Albright. Copright Madeline Albright 2003. All rights reserved.

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