Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Twentieth-Century Odyssey

by Michael Dobbs

Pub Date: April 21st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-5659-9
Publisher: Henry Holt

An unvarnished look into the personal and public life of Madeleine Albright, from a George Polk Award—winning reporter for the Washington Post. The first female secretary of state has been targeted by multiple biographers, with a discernible trend toward more lengthy, detailed, and critical accounts of her life. Dobbs (Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Union, 1997) remains fairly even-handed in his assessment, but if the trend holds, Albright will not enjoy future efforts. The reporter who broke the story about Albright’s family background at the time of her appointment to State, Dobbs leaves no stone unturned regarding her familial heritage, including the apparent efforts by her parents to distance themselves from their Jewishness to facilitate becoming American. He draws the blunt conclusion that Albright must have known more about this than she has admitted and suggests that the central motivation throughout her life—to be accepted by others—replicates the earlier motives of her parents. She manifests this desire to fit in through handling people effectively, stroking them where needed, maintaining lines of communication, and adjusting to the whims of others. Along with her sheer persistence in pursuing goals, these social abilities are Albright’s strengths. She climbed “to the top of America’s male-dominated society . . . by insinuating herself into its ranks and adapting herself,” not through brilliance or originality. The public perceives her as outspoken and aggressive’she describes herself as a child of Munich, not Vietnam—compared to the recent norm of bland diplomats and timid soldiers. For Dobbs this image “contains a kernel of truth . . . [but] is ultimately misleading. In reality, her urge to tell it “like it is’ has been tempered by a competing urge to please a succession of powerful, predominantly male, patrons.” Albright combines conviction and conformity, but Dobbs attributes her success to the latter. Albright watchers can now wonder if her convictions will increasingly emerge and whether she will continue to receive her accustomed plaudits if they do. (b&w photos)