Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ugly American – William J. Lederer & Eugene Burdick

© 1958, Fifth Fawcett printing (1987), Fawcett Crest, New York

The back cover states, “If this were not a free country, this book would be banned.” It’s a strong statement especially for a book that opposes Communism in the middle of the Cold War.

The book centers on a fictional country in Southeast Asia named Sarkhan. The stories contained within the chapter bounce between competence and incompetence on the part of the diplomats and politicos. Heroes include Ambassador Gilbert McWhite, John Colvin, and Homer Atkins—all men who took the time to learn the culture in which they were being planted. Even with the mistakes made by the Ambassador, the heart was right. The ineptitude of Americans who live and work overseas according to the authors starts high and trickles all the way to the lowest levels.

This book, while written during the height of the struggle between American capitalism and Russian communism, bears all the marks of a lasting piece of literature. The authors write well and keep you engaged in the story, even when you don’t like what’s happening in the story. There are parts of the story line that will dishearten you, it will also open your eyes. Here you’ll find the reminder that Americans are not always right, and even when they are right, they may not be heard—even by other Americans.

This is an excellent book if you can find a copy. Four and one-half out of five reading glasses. Read it if you want a book that will engage your brain. If you want to escape, save this one ‘til later.

Benjamin Potter, May 16, 2008


SmallWorld Reads said...

I spent my junior year in high school in Germany, and for a time I attended a German high school. Imagine my...discomfort when I talked into my Literature classroom and the teacher introduced me, and the newest novel they'd be reading: The Ugly American. But it was a great book and I went on to read Sarkhan later.
Visiting from Semicolon's Review,

Benjie said...

Unfortunate coincidence for you. Having spent several years overseas, I found the book one which I'd recommend to anyone planning to live for an extended time in a foreign country.

I found this one as a recommendation from a friend in a Bible study.

Thanks for stopping by.

Framed said...

Great review. I think of this book every time I read about another American faux pas in a foreign country.

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