(Summary) The Ugly American author William J. Lederer

CHARACTERS The Ugly American

The multi million copy bestseller that coined the phrase for tragic American blunders abroadFirst published in 1958 The Ugly American became a runaway national bestseller for its slashing expose of American arrogance incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia Based on fact the book's eye opening stories and sketches drew a devastating p. I first encountered this book as part of an undergraduate political science class on American politics Among other long and dry reading assignments I found myself thoroughly engaged in the book and looking forward to spending time reading Lederer and Burdick s work In fact I d have to say that it has been my favorite book since that political science class almost 25 years agoI have read it at least 20 times in those 25 years often as a source for a paper I was writing but also for pleasure While this is not a typical beach read I have re read it while traveling and at the beach on several occasions This past week I was on a business trip and sleeping in a hotel room This combination of factors is usually good for a bout of insomnia on my part and this trip was no different Lederer and Burdick came to my rescue yet again and provided a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass through several hours of insomniaThe storyies centers on a fictional country in Southeast Asia named Sarkhan The book s chapters compare and contrast the competence and incompetence on the part of the diplomats politicos military officers and ex pats in Sarkham Heroes include Ambassador Gilbert McWhite John Colvin and Homer Atkins THE ugly American all men who took the time to learn the culture in which they were being plantedIt is easy now with 2020 hindsight to see this book as a parable stemming from the Vietnam War However the book was written well before American stepped up its involvement in Vietnam in 1958 and was purportedly read by President Eisenhower and responsible for many of the reforms that he introduced into America s foreign aid programs The general thesis of the authors was that US diplomats and other foreign station workersadvisors who failed to study and adapt to the cultures they were entering were doomed to failure or worse Worse still the American bureaucracy wasn t interested in the opinions of the Foreign Service staff that did study and understand the cultures into which they were placedGiven that this book was written at the tail end of the McCarthy era the insights of Lederer and Burdick are uite exceptional in fact some government agencies sought to ban the book in Asia and in many ways that failed effort can be seen as one of the last scenes of the McCarthy era Burdick and Lederer are at once tongue in cheek cynical and satirical in their views of American foreign policyEvery time that I read this book I can t put it down Despite its age it is still a fine read and certainly has additional significance in today s world as the US fights wars in Ira and Afghanistan Although some parts of the book are antiuated including the parochial way the authors treat the few female characters in particular the Marie MacIntosh character that small niggle can be forgiven in a book that retains its readability and relevance 50 years after it was first published

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The Ugly American

Not only important but consistently entertaining The attack on American policy in Asia this book makes is clothed in sharp characterizations freuently humorous incident and perceptive descriptions of the countries and people where the action occurs Robert Trumbull former chief correspondent for the New York Times in China and Southeast Asi. Though The Ugly American was published in 1958 it rose to 6 on the bestseller list in 1959 Set in the fictional country Sarkhan it is a fictional account of American foreign policy in Southeast Asia and particularly in Vietnam The writing style is reminiscent of James Michener especially his early books such as Tales of the South Pacific I was surprised at what a page turner it was and read it in just a few hoursIn the 1950s America had decided that the USSR was our greatest enemy that Communism was dedicated to the eradication of our way of life that foreign aid was the solution to successfully overcoming these threats to freedom and democracy America it would seem was born in revolt against a powerful enemy and so must always have one selected to keep us goingThe point in The Ugly American is not that we should fail to fight against Communism but that we were going about it in all the wrong ways The authors claimed that incidents in the book were true with only the names changed According to their views we were losing the fight against Communism in Southeast Asia because our diplomats and foreign service workers were alienating the peoples of Vietnam Indonesia Burma Cambodia Laos and Thailand due to arrogance rudeness and the inappropriate appropriations of billions of dollars in those countriesAmbassadors and their administrative aides seldom knew anything about the countries where they served could not speak the languages and conseuently were woefully out of touch with the peoples In contrast to the chapters exemplifying the above are others about honest hardworking well intentioned Americans who actually helped certain Asian villagers improve their lots by small effective measures such as showing them how to farm effectively or start small industriesThe book had a large impact in America and some say it led the way to the formation of the Peace Corps I was surprised to see a chapter The Lessons of War in which a US Army Major one of the good ones studied Mao Tse tung s writings on war and figured out why the Western armies cannot ever win against Asian guerillasAs I finished the book I wondered if it was still relevant today After all haven t we won in Asia because of Coca Cola Hollywood movies fashion the internet and all that I came across Mekong Network that featured a review of The Ugly American Bruce Sharpe founder of the site is an American who became involved with modern day issues in Southeast Asia after he began tutoring refugees from those countries in Chicago The last line of his review statesAnd yet America s foreign policy is still haunted by the same mistakes The Cold War is long finished and communism discredited but it hardly matters Who needs an enemy like communism when you are already your own worst enemySo we still have a problem with our image not only in the Middle East but also in Asia And yes The Ugly American is still relevant

William J. Lederer · 1 CHARACTERS

Icture of how the United States was losing the struggle with Communism in Asia Combining gripping storytelling with an urgent call to action the book prompted President Eisenhower to launch a study of our military aid program that led the way to much needed reformPowerful and absorbing Should be reuired reading in Washington Kirkus Reviews. 15 starsI m so glad this semester is almost over because my Political Science class has the worst reading curriculum This book was so drybland and the explanations were incredibly long winded I skimmed the last 70 pages for the purposes of writing my essay Never again I say never again


10 thoughts on “The Ugly American

  1. says:

    I first encountered this book as part of an undergraduate political science class on American politics Among other long and dry reading assignments I found myself thoroughly engaged in the book and looking forward to spending time reading Lederer and Burdick's work In fact I'd have to say that it has been my favorite book

  2. says:

    I read this book in 1982 just before I joined the Peace Corps The book was important to me because it solidified the idea that we are all walking a path that is uniue and the that we are engrossed by our own path consumed by our own needs wishes and desires we will miss the beauty and uniueness of every other person and every cult

  3. says:

    One theory is that the book is based on an actual US ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker a rich businessman He never learned the language or left the compound He's only given the information that his staff thinks he ought to have

  4. says:

    15 starsI'm so glad this semester is almost over because my Political Science class has the worst reading curriculum This book was so drybland and the explanations were incredibly long winded I skimmed the last 70 pages for the purposes of writing my essay Never again I say never again

  5. says:

    Again and again while reading this book I found myself flipping to the copyright page to check the publication date 1958 How it is possible that something so pressing and relevant to contemporary America appeared over 50 years ago?From 1958 to 2014 few things it seems have changedThe Ugly American is a tale of American foreign pol

  6. says:

    The Ugly American was published in 1958 as a call for change It was a blockbuster with millions of copies sold The authors wanted to alert the American people to the fact that their government's diplomatic efforts against communism were failing due to a combination of unualified people being put in the foreign service and a we know best approach to other nations There was an impact JFK did start the Peace Co

  7. says:

    If you've ever heard the term ugly American used this is where it originated And if you want to understand why many folks from other countries refer to some Americans using that phrase this book will make it crystal clear why they do Excellent read

  8. says:

    The Ugly American is a story about Americans living and working in the fictional South East Asian nation of Sarkhan Written in 1958 it is a critiue of American foreign policy—specifically the work of embassies and expats abroad In this novel Lederer argues that the US is losing the tiny battles against the S

  9. says:

    Though The Ugly American was published in 1958 it rose to #6 on the bestseller list in 1959 Set in the fictional country Sarkhan it is a fictio

  10. says:

    I was told that this is an American classic and that every soldier and diplomat going downrange to represent the US should read it Recently while reading another book about the French fight in Indochina and how we inherited Viet Nam from that effort I ran across the backstory on The Ugly American and decided it was time

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