Summary and book reviews of Madam Secretary by Madeleine Albright

Madam Secretary

by Madeleine Albright

Madam Secretary
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 562 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2005, 576 pages

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Book Summary

Albright's memoir combines warm humor with profound insights which are weaved together to form a fascinating tapestry, both intimate and panoramic, of the life of the highest ranking woman in American history.

"It was a quarter to ten. I was sipping coffee, but by then my body was manufacturing its own caffeine. I still couldn't allow myself to believe. Finally, at 9:47, the call came. 'I want you to be my Secretary of State.' These are his first words. I finally believed it."

For eight years, during Bill Clinton's two presidential terms, Madeleine Albright was an active participant in the most dramatic events of recent times—from the pursuit of peace in the Middle East to NATO's humanitarian intervention in Kosovo. Now, in an outspoken memoir, the highest-ranking woman in American history shares her remarkable story and provides an insider's view of world affairs during a period of unprecedented turbulence.

The story begins with Albright's childhood as a Czechoslovak refugee, whose family first fled Hitler, then the Communists. Arriving in the United States at the age of eleven, she grew up to be a passionate advocate of civil and women's rights and followed a zigzag path to a career that ultimately placed her in the upper stratosphere of diplomacy and policy-making in her adopted country. She became the first woman to serve as America's secretary of state and one of the most admired individuals of our era.

Refreshingly candid, Madam Secretary brings to life the world leaders Albright dealt with face-to-face in her years of service and the battles she fought to prove her worth in a male-dominated arena. There are intriguing portraits of such leading figures as Vaclav Havel, Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, King Hussein, Vladimir Putin, Slobodan Milosevic, and North Korea's mysterious Kim Jong-II, as well as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, and Jesse Helms.

Besides her encounters with the famous and powerful, we get to know Albright the private woman: her life raising three daughters, the painful breakup of her marriage to the scion of one of America's leading newspapers families, and the discovery late in life of her Jewish ancestry and that her grandparents had died in Nazi concentration camps.

Madam Secretary combines warm humor with profound insights and personal testament with fascinating additions to the historical record. It is a tapestry both intimate and panoramic, a rich memoir destined to become a twenty-first century classic.

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 ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Walter Russell Mead

Madeleine Albright, who rose from comparative obscurity as a daughter of Czech Jewish émigrés to become the first female secretary of state and thereby the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government, has given us the memoirist's equivalent of a tease. She lets readers see something of the private and rather endearing woman behind the public façade and discreetly lets slip a few facts about her personal and emotional life, but Madame Secretary is a controlled performance, not a confessional.

The New York Times - Elaine Scolini

Work harder, be tougher, have fun. That could be Madeleine Albright's mantra in work and in life. Now she has given us her memoir, although it is unlike any other by a secretary of state. She tried on the memoirs of her predecessors for size, and they just didn't fit...It will make a great Mother's Day present.

The New Yorker

... a deeply conventional book, full of long accounts of negotiations and reflections on the proper uses of American power. Albright is not out to settle scores (her criticisms of colleagues are mild at worst) and seems, on balance, pleased with the foreign-policy record of the Clinton Administration. This might have made a dull book, were it not for Albright’s appealing character—personally ingenuous but professionally sophisticated, earnest but hard-nosed. Her eye for details—clothing, food, travel conditions—helps bring the diplomat’s world to life, and her portraits of foreign leaders are lively and evocative. The result is a book that creates a sense of policy made by real people, not by world-bestriding titans.

Time Out New York

Candid, [she] veers comfortably between the personal and the political. Offers a rare female perspective on diplomatic life.

Publishers Weekly

Filled with shrewd character sketches of world leaders.....This memoir captures the disarmingly blunt purposefulness that made its author an irrepressible force in foreign affairs.

Reader Reviews

panjola

great book to read if you love to read about a woman's journey to the top and actually reaching beyond the glass ceiling

Gary Horton

As an inveterate autobiography reader, this one rates right up there as engrossing, entertaining and approachable. Great read!

aguyinphilly

Excellent Bio.
I don't often read biographies, especially political ones. In most political autobiographies, it appears that author has an ax to grind. This is definitely not the case with this book. Mrs. Albright's memoir shines a light international ...   Read More

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