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A piercing exposé of American incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American captivated the nation when it was first published in 1958. The book introduces readers to an unlikely hero in the titular “ugly American”—and to the ignorant politicians and arrogant ambassadors who ignore his empathetic and commonsense advice. In linked stories and vignettes set A piercing exposé of American incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American captivated the nation when it was first published in 1958. The book introduces readers to an unlikely hero in the titular “ugly American”—and to the ignorant politicians and arrogant ambassadors who ignore his empathetic and commonsense advice. In linked stories and vignettes set in the fictional nation of Sarkhan, William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick draw an incisive portrait of American foreign policy gone dangerously wrong—and how it might be fixed. Eerily relevant sixty years after its initial publication, The Ugly American reminds us that “today, as the battle for hearts and minds has shifted to the Middle East, we still can’t speak Sarkhanese” (New York Times).


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A piercing exposé of American incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American captivated the nation when it was first published in 1958. The book introduces readers to an unlikely hero in the titular “ugly American”—and to the ignorant politicians and arrogant ambassadors who ignore his empathetic and commonsense advice. In linked stories and vignettes set A piercing exposé of American incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American captivated the nation when it was first published in 1958. The book introduces readers to an unlikely hero in the titular “ugly American”—and to the ignorant politicians and arrogant ambassadors who ignore his empathetic and commonsense advice. In linked stories and vignettes set in the fictional nation of Sarkhan, William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick draw an incisive portrait of American foreign policy gone dangerously wrong—and how it might be fixed. Eerily relevant sixty years after its initial publication, The Ugly American reminds us that “today, as the battle for hearts and minds has shifted to the Middle East, we still can’t speak Sarkhanese” (New York Times).

30 review for The Ugly American

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joe Boeke

    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 ago. I have read it at least 20 times in those 25 years (often as a source for a paper I was writing, but also for pleasur 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 ago. I 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 insomnia. The story(ies) 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 planted. It is easy (now, with 20/20 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 workers/advisors) 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 placed. Given that this book was written at the tail end of the McCarthy era, the insights of Lederer and Burdick are quite 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 policy Every 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 U.S. fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although some parts of the book are antiquated -- 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    One theory is that the book is based on an actual U.S. 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. One theory is that the book is based on an actual U.S. 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    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 unique and the more that we are engrossed by our own path, consumed by our own needs, wishes, and desires, we will miss the beauty and uniqueness of every other person and every culture under the sun. The book is timeless in that we could once again be called Ugly Americans or perhaps more accurately Oblivious Americans or Arrogant Amer 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 unique and the more that we are engrossed by our own path, consumed by our own needs, wishes, and desires, we will miss the beauty and uniqueness of every other person and every culture under the sun. The book is timeless in that we could once again be called Ugly Americans or perhaps more accurately Oblivious Americans or Arrogant Americans or Self-Absorbed Americans. We have changed in part due to the writing of The Ugly American and have improved some aspects of the way we approach the world as a nation and as individuals, but we have also been content in our changes without recognizing how far we have yet to go. I fear we are still like the Embassy workers who are content with the parties and the "good life" and not enough like the soldier in the Philippines who changed the country not by compassion and goodwill but with a sincere desire for understanding and relationship that is the essence of what we were created to be.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alina Colleen

    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 changed. The Ugly American is a tale of American foreign policy gone wrong. It’s a series of vignettes about dumb and dumber statesmen who are propped up in relative luxury overseas, inadvertently causing massive harm to s 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 changed. The Ugly American is a tale of American foreign policy gone wrong. It’s a series of vignettes about dumb and dumber statesmen who are propped up in relative luxury overseas, inadvertently causing massive harm to smaller and weaker countries. Its fictional, though based-on-real-life characters, can be neatly classified into two categories: those who are idiots, and those who are not. Among the idiots are Joe Bing, a public relations man who manages to recruit all of the wrong type of people into duty overseas. He waxed lyrical about the “conditions” one can expect–a description that caused me to uncomfortably remember the 3 years I spent in Okinawa, Japan when I was a kid: “Foreign affairs is a big business and it’s important business. You all know that. Now maybe I can tell you a few things about working abroad for Uncle Sammy that you won’t read in the handouts. After all, even when you’re doing big work and important work, you still have to relax, and I know you’d like to know about the informal side of living and working abroad…You’ll have to work among foreigners, but we don’t expect you to love ‘em just because you work among ‘em. I don’t care where you work for Uncle Sammy, you’ll be living with a gang of clean-cut Americans…You can buy the same food in Asia that you can in Peoria…When you live overseas it’s still on the high American standard.” (79-80). So, how does this measure up to my experience as a 7-10 year old kid living on Kadena Air Force Base? Unfortunately, it’s pretty accurate. I spent probably 90% of my time on the base, interacting with “clean-cut” American kids and attending an international, all-English speaking school. I learned about a dozen phrases in Japanese; that’s it. My family shopped at the PX and the BX and the Commissary. The times we did venture off base–usually on the weekends to go to the beach–we considered the atmosphere “exotic” and treated each excursion like a vacation. Now, did living in Okinawa for 3 years change me as a person? To some extent, sure. But it definitely wasn’t the rich cultural immersion that it could have been. Back to the idiots. The bulk of The Ugly American is set in the fictional Southeast Asian nation of Sarkhan, a thinly-veiled allusion to Vietnam. The subject: America’s ineffective efforts to curb the spread of Russian Communism. But if the idea of reading Cold War propaganda makes you sick to your stomach, don’t worry: It’s less an indictment of Communism than it is of American stupidity. The book will make you groan and guffaw and wonder how we even managed to become a country in the first place. But for each idiot the book presents, there is a well-meaning, hardworking, and intelligent foil. Homer Atkins, a.k.a. the Ugly American after whom the book takes its name, is an engineer fluent in Sarkhanese and determined to improve the lives of the people in the country through simple, effective technology. Atkins is, indeed, ugly in the conventional sense: he doesn’t dress well, his hands are perpetually dirty, and his manner of speaking is course rather than refined. This ugliness sets him apart in a world where appearance is considered more important than common sense: ‘”Dammit,’ said Homer Atkins to himself as he looked around the room at the fashionably dressed men. The princes of bureaucracy were the same all over the world. They sat in their freshly pressed clothes, ran their clean fingers over their smooth cheeks, smiled knowingly at one another, and asked engineers like Atkins silly questions.” (205) Atkins’ ugliness is a metaphor for many things, including honesty, pragmatism, sincerity, and discernment. The bureaucrats described in the above paragraph are none of these things, but are nevertheless bestowed with more power than Atkins has. I’ve found myself in many situations where I feel I’m the only person in the room with anything genuine to say, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s experienced this. Especially when you can just watch a Ted Talk anytime, a pseudo-intellectual, self-congratulating phenomenon that never fails to make me feel nauseated. William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick were smart enough to write a book that pretty much anyone can understand. In terms of prose, it’s clear and precise, with few chances for misinterpretation. This helps to explain, no doubt, why it became a huge bestseller in the late 50s/early 60s and is still a linchpin in many Political Science classrooms today. I dearly wish I had read this book in high school; not only would it have helped me enormously with debate — I could have started to cast off the mantle of the Western-centric, neoliberal, and semi-colonialist education that I received in the American public school system much, much earlier. This book flies in the face of adages accepted as “common knowledge,” e.g., “You can’t fight an ideology.” I’ve heard that phrase used many times to explain America’s defeat in Vietnam and our long-winded sashay in the Middle East–”We can’t fight those guys; they fall prey to a dangerous ideology and after that they can’t be rescued.” Incidentally, in 1958 Lederer and Burdick demonstrated that this is a flimsy excuse. The fictional Father Finnian, again based on a real-life persona, cunningly crafts an effective stratagem against Communism in Burma. After an exhaustive study of Communism, including reading the prophecies of Lenin, Stalin, Engels, and Marx, and becoming fluent in the local language, Father Finnian recruits 9 anti-Communist Burmese to devise a way to demonstrate to everyone else that Communism is not in their best interests. In the course of their conversations, Finnian and the Burmese demonstrate why Communism is inherently anti-Democratic: “‘the Communists have made all worship impossible except the worship of Stalin, Lenin, Mao. In the areas the Communists control everyone must believe in one single thing: Communism…I too am a Catholic, but I do not require that all of us be Catholics. What this means, I think, is that the thing we want is a country where any man can worship any god he wishes; where he can live the way his heart says. That, I think, is the final big thing.” (55) This conversation, however, is ironic in the wider context of The Ugly American. Americans who travel abroad and insist on replicating American lifestyles in vastly different circumstances, who are convinced that traditional warfare will eventually surmount guerrilla tactics, who assert that large construction projects are more prestigious and more useful than small, everyday technological improvements, who interact only with other Americans and are incapable of detecting the disdain in which they are held by foreigners, and furthermore, who do all of this in the name of DEMOCRACY? Well, frankly, that’s idiocracy. Actual rating: 4.5/5 stars

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    1.5 stars. I'm so glad this semester is almost over because my Political Science class has the worst reading curriculum. This book was so dry/bland 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. 1.5 stars. I'm so glad this semester is almost over because my Political Science class has the worst reading curriculum. This book was so dry/bland 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Clif

    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 unqualified 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 Corps and did appoint qualified people rather than big donors as ambassadors. Long t 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 unqualified 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 Corps and did appoint qualified people rather than big donors as ambassadors. Long term, not only have the lessons of this book been disregarded, the entire State Department has been effectively dismissed in favor of military plays around the globe. The book as literature is laughable. It should be read by anyone wondering what the words caricature and stereotype mean. Written at an 8th grade level, perhaps deliberately in order to reach all Americans, it is a collection of short stories about individual Americans blindly serving themselves in a foreign land in contrast to a few selfless Yankees doing the right thing among the natives. Everyone will get the point because it is driven home again and again. Tying the whole together is a dedicated U.S. Ambassador to a fictitious southeast Asian country called Sarkan, who travels the area honestly trying to educate himself on the situation. To put it bluntly, The Ugly American is an insult to the intelligence of the reader. That puts me in a bind on rating this work. It accomplished what it set out to do, successfully reaching a huge number of Americans, probably far more than the authors had hoped to reach. The cause was worthy so five stars are well deserved for propaganda. But to the modern reader, well, I continually had to stifle a gag. At the same time I realize that 1950's America was an age of innocence and the portrayals in this book might well have resonated with readers at the time. In keeping with the 1950's outlook, communism is without a doubt evil, a creeping deceiving menace out to capture the innocents of the world in a net of absolute control. While there is plenty in the book about the U.S. supporting France, there is nothing about the history of Vietnam being a French colony, of France's intention to regain that colony after WW2 and the full cooperation of the U.S. in that effort. Nothing is said of Ho Chi Minh's admiration of the U.S. and his initial attempts to gain U.S. support in opposition to French re-entry. Far from being innocent peasants cluelessly waiting for selfless American individuals to enlighten them on building water pumps and raising chickens, the Vietnamese were painfully aware of how the West had dumped them as they strove for independence after the Japanese occupation of WW2 and how the real concern of non-communists was to regain control to the point of halting elections in South Vietnam out of fear of a communist win. It was because of this hypocritical stand that America made itself ugly. Even if everything this book's authors recommended had been done, it would have been nothing to counterbalance America's betrayal of it's own ideals in Vietnam in favor of an ideological battle with communism. A 1963 movie was made from this book, starring Marlon Brando as the U.S. Ambassador to Sarkan. The movie is an effective, believable tragedy and has one of the most powerful final scenes of any movie I've seen. Forget the book. See the movie.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    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! 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. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Because of this book, I missed my bus stop, delayed running, and stayed up hours later than normal. That's one of the highest compliments I can give. Written 60 years ago or yesterday, this collection of interwoven stories was amazing. I hated and loved the characters and only wish this book could be 4x as long. The only thing I didn't need was the epilogue, which goes out of its way to point out the book's themes and connections to reality. A bit like a magician explaining his tricks. If you're Because of this book, I missed my bus stop, delayed running, and stayed up hours later than normal. That's one of the highest compliments I can give. Written 60 years ago or yesterday, this collection of interwoven stories was amazing. I hated and loved the characters and only wish this book could be 4x as long. The only thing I didn't need was the epilogue, which goes out of its way to point out the book's themes and connections to reality. A bit like a magician explaining his tricks. If you're not ignorant of the concept of metaphor, skip the epilogue and leave Sarkhan with MacWhite. Side note. I was so engrossed in the characters that I now feel incredibly defensive toward Atkins, the "Ugly American," who ironically represents the best of Western culture.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bart Thanhauser

    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 critique 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 Soviet Union. The US is too focused on dumping money into countries and building giant infrastructure projects that host countries aren't prepared for and don't really need. "We pay for 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 critique 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 Soviet Union. The US is too focused on dumping money into countries and building giant infrastructure projects that host countries aren't prepared for and don't really need. "We pay for huge highways through jungles in Asian lands where there is no transport except bicycle and foot." (282). Instead, Lederer argues the US must focus more on the "tiny battles". Americans abroad must learn the local language, spend time in the countryside, assess local needs and come up with small, realistic solutions that help the every-man. Lederer makes this argument through his characters, of which there are two basic types: those that immerse themselves in luxury, hire servants, import cars, and make no attempt to understand the culture they live in. And those that live within their means, work with and listen to locals, and seek to understand the culture they live in. It is not difficult to guess which prototype Lederer believes is better suited for US foreign policy and winning hearts and minds abroad. This book is enjoyable and effective, and part of the reason for this is because it is remarkably simple. But that is also one of its faults. It doesn't try to assess the messy details. There are only good and bad people in this book. People that have good intentions and want to understand foreign cultures. And people who are condescending to locals and could care less about the cultures they live in. But what is often more fascinating (and more common) are the well-meaning people who fuck up really bad. The Ghosts of King Leopold humanitarians and the Neoconservatives who ended up creating cruelty despite their good intentions. That’s the fascinating stuff. What’s more Lederer seems to present a false choice in describing these two types of people, suggesting that a development worker can simply choose if they want to be an ugly American or a sympathetic one. In reality, it's challenging to adjust to and understand a foreign culture. It's tough to be patient, tough to change your own habits and to come around to different ways of thinking that are no more perfect than your own. It’s not as simple as hiking out into the countryside, picking up the language, playing your harmonica, making friends, and smiling your way to producing an awesome new fog-trapping irrigation system or some similarly, incredible hippie invention. In one of the stories, a village even builds a shrine to commemorate one of the development workers. This is a good book, but scenes and simplifications like this are laughable. And yet, it is its simplicity that makes the book feel helpful, even motivating. It’s practically a training pamphlet on community development. It’s soaked with Peace Corps type lessons without being preachy in tone. As a current Peace Corps Volunteer, reading this book felt like a helpful reminder of some of the things I believe in. In my work here I put pressure on myself to start a big project that can last long after I’ve left. I call this urge, statue-building. Or shrine-building. I want to build something big and memorable. Something that people can point to and say, Bart built that and it is awesome. This is obviously the wrong approach. Rather it is the tiny sum of things—the tiny battles, the relationships built, the small, incremental progress. Going out and talking with people. Allowing community members to lead. Acting more as a helper, less as a commander. Assessing needs, acting in friendship. This is how real successes are achieved. Lederer makes that point strongly when he writes, “The little things we do must be moral acts and they must be done in the real interest of the peoples whose friendship we need—not just in the interest of propaganda” (267). For this reason, the book felt relevant beyond its Cold War context. It is a sort of working-guide, holy book for development work. It's not ground breaking. Far from it. But its power is that it’s a good reminder: tiny battles, cultural sensitivity, assessing needs, acting in a supportive rather than commanding role. These are points that I wanted to be reminded of. It's not hard for this stuff to hit home.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    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 hours. In the 1950s, America had decided that the USSR was our greatest enemy, that 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 hours. In 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 going. The 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 countries. Ambassadors and their administrative aides seldom knew anything about the countries where they served, could not speak the languages and consequently 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 more effectively or start small industries. The 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 guerillas. As 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 states, "And 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 enemy?" So 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.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Scottnshana

    I was told that this is an American classic, and that every soldier and diplomat going downrange to represent the U.S. 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 to get a copy. Fifty-six years after publication, the book is still relevant. The gist of this work appears in the chapter that shares the book's name: "'The simple fact I was told that this is an American classic, and that every soldier and diplomat going downrange to represent the U.S. 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 to get a copy. Fifty-six years after publication, the book is still relevant. The gist of this work appears in the chapter that shares the book's name: "'The simple fact is, Mr. Ambassador, that average Americans, in their natural state ,if you will excuse the phrase, are the best ambassadors a country could have... They are not suspicious, they are eager to share their skills, they are generous. But something happens to most Americans when they go abroad. Many of them are not average... they are second-raters. Many of them, against their own judgment, feel that they must live up to their commissaries and big cars and cocktail parties. But get an unaffected American, sir, and you have an asset. And if you get one, treasure him--keep him out of the cocktail circuit, away from bureaucrats, and let him work in his own way.'" The authors hammered this together back in 1958, with crises brewing in Viet Nam, in Berlin, and Cuba; in the age where both we and the Communists were dividing up the world and wrestling with the revelation that we now had "city-killer" weaponry; when we were analyzing the lessons learned from Korea and watching our British and French allies' empires crumble in Africa and Asia. This book still holds a stark message: If we are doing business in someone else's house, we should send the best Americans we have, even if we've won the political fight to keep Khrushchev and Mao from eating up the Third World. I would argue that even the chapters on Dien Bien Phu and Mao's blueprint for insurgency are worth a look even today because, again, the world hasn't gotten any simpler. The common assessment still stands--"The Ugly American" is an American classic and anyone representing America abroad should check it out.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    A political novel which was a bestseller at the time (1950’s), on how the United States is losing the struggle with Communism, what was later to be called the battle for hearts and minds, because of arrogance and failure to understand the local culture. A Burmese journalist says "For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. The only one (in the novel) who A political novel which was a bestseller at the time (1950’s), on how the United States is losing the struggle with Communism, what was later to be called the battle for hearts and minds, because of arrogance and failure to understand the local culture. A Burmese journalist says "For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. The only one (in the novel) who’d understand the local people and their needs, is a simple looking American engineer who lives with the local people for a long time, helping them in small projects” این رمان در اوایل دهه ی 1960 بصورت فیلم درآمده که هیچ نام و نشانی از آن به یاد ندارم.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rafeeq O.

    The Ugly American by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick is lifelike and rich, a sometimes wry and ironic panorama of the mid-1950s ideological and military front lines of the Cold War drawn, we are informed in the Epilogue, often almost directly from the authors' own experiences in Southeast Asia. Though it thus is fictionalized, the book--I would not quite call it a novel, really, as the characters are so disparate, and only a few of them turn up here and there throughout--reads with the ver The Ugly American by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick is lifelike and rich, a sometimes wry and ironic panorama of the mid-1950s ideological and military front lines of the Cold War drawn, we are informed in the Epilogue, often almost directly from the authors' own experiences in Southeast Asia. Though it thus is fictionalized, the book--I would not quite call it a novel, really, as the characters are so disparate, and only a few of them turn up here and there throughout--reads with the veracity of a diary or a journalistic account. Sometimes the events and characters portrayed are cringe-worthy in the extreme, but we know very well that such arrogance, such blindness, such bombastic buffoonery were far from uncommon; indeed, the Epilogue explains, point by point, exactly how close certain little anecdotes are to the truth. The back cover of my 1961 Fawcett Crest edition of the book asks, in boldface type, "Is President Kennedy's 'PEACE CORPS' The answer to the problem raised by this book?" Perhaps so. Certainly the colonial French and the American diplomats who didn't bother learning the language or culture of the region did not seem to do much to keep the dominoes from toppling. While Lederer and Burdick do not appear to have noticed the long-term damage done by United States support of any ol' dictator so long as he was anti-Communist, and by shenanigans such as the U.S.-orchestrated coups in places such as Iran and Guatemala, they on the other hand probably do not exaggerate the dirty tricks and the viciousness of the other side. It would have been interesting to explore a little more deeply exactly what, aside from legitimate anti-colonial sentiment and ginned-up anti-Western propaganda, motivated the average Communist guerrilla. Perhaps, though, this is a bit much to ask of a piece published so soon after the fall of besieged Dien Bien Phu, when it urgently appeared that with the right kind of effort, shoring up Indochina would prevent the fall of further nations all the way back to Africa. The authors do, however, at least show with care the motivations of a disparate host of well-meaning and motivated characters on this side of the Bamboo Curtain, whether religious or military men or idealistic rather than opportunistic diplomats, trying their best to help free peoples live as they themselves choose. Could these amiable folks willing to live in the boondocks, eat the food, learn the language, and share and communicate instead of impose from above really make a difference? Very possibly, at least when measure by goodwill on the ground rather than by the speeches in the national capital; with luck, they at least can help offset the damage of the stuffed shirts and the fools. Lederer and Burdick's vivid snapshot from the height of East-West sparring, when the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, the Berlin Blockade, the fall of China, and the bloody Korean War were threats seen in contemporary headlines rather than mere chapters in a history textbook, is politically dated, of course. The places the authors wrote about, the seemingly clear-cut ideologies, the pressing national issues--such things now have been settled decades ago. Nevertheless, The Ugly American reminds us, long after the brushfire conflicts of the Cold War have burned out, of the fundamental human values of courage, respect, and friendship, whose worth certainly does not diminish.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    A nice, tight indictment of the many mistakes America makes when it comes to relations with other countries. It's all the more depressing considering that we still make all these mistakes today. One would think that the position of an ambassador to a foreign country would go to somebody that is best qualified to represent our interests at a location. This is why you are not in politics. Instead of sending people with any sort of discernible skill for the task being assigned to them, we send lacke A nice, tight indictment of the many mistakes America makes when it comes to relations with other countries. It's all the more depressing considering that we still make all these mistakes today. One would think that the position of an ambassador to a foreign country would go to somebody that is best qualified to represent our interests at a location. This is why you are not in politics. Instead of sending people with any sort of discernible skill for the task being assigned to them, we send lackeys, lapdogs of the party in power, or wealthy people with connections whom seek someplace "exotic" to hold parties. Even asking that they take some courses to at least get a working knowledge of the local dialect before they get shipped off is too much to ask for. To them, working in the foreign service is simply a way of padding a resume or going on vacation on the government's dime. They don't even hold an interest in the country they go to as far as these people are concerned, the nation stops once they reach the outskirts of the capital city (or the "green zone"). One can argue about safety concerns but the fact of the matter is that we can't sit in our ivory towers and yell down at all the "peons" that mill around below us and expect to bring about any effective change. Another criticism the book gives is that our foreign policy for the most part consists of simply throwing money at a problem. We spend our time and energy on gigantic projects that are great for the central government but mean little for the regular people that make up 99.9999% of the rest of the nation. What good is a highway to people that don't own a car? What need do you have for an airport if you can't even find a reliable source of clean water? It's the continuous application of small improvements that lead to real change in a country. But lots of little things don't make great headlines in newspapers and websites, so nobody bothers. This book may have been written during the Cold War, but it still completely relevant today as we fight an enemy with an ideology wholly incompatible with the American ideal. We can't win with tanks and money. The message of the book is that we must do everything that we can to live up to our ideal, and to always show other countries just what our best and brightest are capable of doing. I can only hope that fifty years after it was originally written, we are slowly dragging ourselves in the direction that the authors state that we should be going.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Angie

    Though this book is definitely dated, its core "values," if you will, are still pertinent in the 21st century. The title actually refers to a literally ugly American and not the image of a loud, boisterous, disrespectful American living abroad that it has come to mean today--something that I found really interesting, having heard the phrase "ugly American" thrown around in college by various professors. I stumbled upon this in a thrift store. It looks like it has never been read. Even though the Though this book is definitely dated, its core "values," if you will, are still pertinent in the 21st century. The title actually refers to a literally ugly American and not the image of a loud, boisterous, disrespectful American living abroad that it has come to mean today--something that I found really interesting, having heard the phrase "ugly American" thrown around in college by various professors. I stumbled upon this in a thrift store. It looks like it has never been read. Even though the threat of Communism taking over the world is past us, we Americans are still tripping up over many of the advices that this book tries to put forth. Things such as: attempt to learn the language of another country if you plan on being there for a while, don't spend all your time hob-nobbing with other Americans, learn what it is like to live like a local and befriend them, etc. Nowadays, it seems that the militarism so entrenched in the situations proposed in this fictional-but-somewhat-based-on-facts has given way to "voluntourism"--that awful word for the even more awful scourge of Americans going abroad with a core objective in mind ("I'm teaching the natives to grow corn!") and coming back with nothing but cute pictures with local children. Instead of sticking with other Americans (as we still do), we're encouraged to go out there and "become a native"--which is incredibly offensive. I rated this so highly not because it was an amazing book, but because it is a meaningful one. One I shouldn't have had to discover after I graduated college, after I spent a year living in India. Perhaps the idiotic things my peers did while abroad would not have been had we been required to read this book, or at least certain sections of it. The messages in this book are needed as long as Americans go abroad with the prime objective to "convert the savages," as long as Americans go abroad and return with nothing that they've learned other than "people are happier with less stuff," and as long as there are companies being run in such a way that while appealing to the heart of the average American, are in actuality ruining the country they are supposed to be benefiting. (Looking at you, Toms shoes.)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    A good book. I had spent the summer in Mexico City so the concept of the ugly American was already known to me. Here is what I wrote in 1965: Authors accomplish true excellence in their main objective. --- to show the fallacies of the United States diplomatic corp in underdeveloped countries. The setting is Southeast Asia where many of the failures of American diplomacy are already apparent and where Communism is threatening. The main objective is achieved through satire and irony of situation. T A good book. I had spent the summer in Mexico City so the concept of the ugly American was already known to me. Here is what I wrote in 1965: Authors accomplish true excellence in their main objective. --- to show the fallacies of the United States diplomatic corp in underdeveloped countries. The setting is Southeast Asia where many of the failures of American diplomacy are already apparent and where Communism is threatening. The main objective is achieved through satire and irony of situation. The figures are shown to be ridiculous. Often their Soviet diplomatic corps counterparts serve as foils who show up the pompousness even more so. The main objective is shown through the effects of good men and bad men in the corps. Actually there is no main character, rather a series of characters who become intertwined. They are joined by the roles they play in the existence of Sarkhan, a country in Southeast Asia. Although the country is imaginary, many of the characters and incidents are drawn from real life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Fictional book about American foreign policy in fake country resembling Vietnam. The stories and people are based on real events. I learned about this book from a US Army Special Forces book reading list. Too quick of a read and too thought provoking NOT to read this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sherrie Miranda

    4 out of 5 stars The Ugly American Is the Good American By Sherrie Miranda on March 15, 2018 Format: Paperback Despite the fighting scenes that were over my head, I felt this to be a major accomplishment in terms of education, as well as a warning to anyone going to another country while representing our country. In fact, I think people all over the world can learn from this book. It is maddening to think that many of the people who take these overseas jobs are people looking for an easy few years, g 4 out of 5 stars The Ugly American Is the Good American By Sherrie Miranda on March 15, 2018 Format: Paperback Despite the fighting scenes that were over my head, I felt this to be a major accomplishment in terms of education, as well as a warning to anyone going to another country while representing our country. In fact, I think people all over the world can learn from this book. It is maddening to think that many of the people who take these overseas jobs are people looking for an easy few years, going to parties & hanging out with the ruling class of these countries. The authors are correct that we should be sending our "Best & Brightest" to represent us throughout the world. I do believe it has gotten somewhat better. I know that they at least hire a few people who speak the language of the country they are going to. Whether the Big Bosses do though, is doubtful & that is a shame. The book begins with a story of what can happen when the Diplomat doesn't speak the language or understand the culture of the country he is supposed to be serving. There are many lessons to be learned here about being a foreign diplomat & I think they covered them all in this short, easy read. I did think the authors' short description of Marx's teachings to be off the mark, but the rest of the book is pretty spot on. Sherrie Miranda's historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” will be out en Español soon. It's about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador: http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P11Ch...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eli

    Very interesting read on what should* have been done during the Cold War in Southeast Asia. Lederer and Burdick managed to pen something that was both enjoyable and fictional yet based in historical fact. There are a lot of characters to keep an eye on, which is something my professor mentioned beforehand. The story manages to be tongue-in-cheek and critical while also offering characters the reader can root for. It really does live up to its name as the synonym for everything wrong with America Very interesting read on what should* have been done during the Cold War in Southeast Asia. Lederer and Burdick managed to pen something that was both enjoyable and fictional yet based in historical fact. There are a lot of characters to keep an eye on, which is something my professor mentioned beforehand. The story manages to be tongue-in-cheek and critical while also offering characters the reader can root for. It really does live up to its name as the synonym for everything wrong with American foreign policy. If you decide to read this, you better not skip the Factual Epilogue! If you do, you basically didn't read the book. *It's hard to say whether their suggestions would have been effective with better results or if they could have even been implemented so immediately.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    This book changed my life back in the summer before 9th grade. I didn't know it at the time, but the seeds of my expat experience and love of languages was planted when I had to read this book and write a Summary, Analysis, Response, Conclusion for each and every chapter. I dug out my old report this past summer and read at the end: "I wonder how to become an Ambassador." Thirteen-year-old me had no idea that only a few years later I would be an exchange student learning my first foreign languag This book changed my life back in the summer before 9th grade. I didn't know it at the time, but the seeds of my expat experience and love of languages was planted when I had to read this book and write a Summary, Analysis, Response, Conclusion for each and every chapter. I dug out my old report this past summer and read at the end: "I wonder how to become an Ambassador." Thirteen-year-old me had no idea that only a few years later I would be an exchange student learning my first foreign language, and that almost twenty years later I would be married to a diplomat and trying to learn my fifth foreign language. The stories and episodes described in this book caused me no small amount of frustration and anger. Because of this book, I am dedicated to at least starting to learn the language of whatever country I live in. I intend to make native friends. I don't want to live "above" everyone else, taking great luxuries for granted. I want to try and understand cultural differences from both sides. I don't want to live on compound. I don't want a driver. I don't want to socialize only with Americans. I struggle with the idea of having any kind of maid. I intend to have my children learn local languages, find local friends, pursue local activities. As I reread The Ugly American, I was reminded why I feel so strongly about these issues today: everyone deserves to be met on common ground. If you intend to try and do some good, the only real and lasting way to do it is to work with the people in their language and their cultural environment. I am grateful for the changes in American foreign policy that allow my husband and his colleagues to avoid many of the pitfalls described in this book, and I intend to reread it now and then as a litmus test to maintain awareness.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Kellaway

    I've learned, or I'm trying to learn, not to trust my first instinct when it comes to books. At first I found The Ugly American difficult to read, the writers seem to break some key narrative rules with these vignettes that are not always sympathetic to the reader. Once I'd passed a hundred pages though (I appreciate that sounds like a lot) I really enjoyed it and even went back and read some of the earlier stories with new appreciation. The book has a powerful message, that of arrogance and col I've learned, or I'm trying to learn, not to trust my first instinct when it comes to books. At first I found The Ugly American difficult to read, the writers seem to break some key narrative rules with these vignettes that are not always sympathetic to the reader. Once I'd passed a hundred pages though (I appreciate that sounds like a lot) I really enjoyed it and even went back and read some of the earlier stories with new appreciation. The book has a powerful message, that of arrogance and colonialism and some of the stories and characters were devastating in their portrayal of ineptitude and racism, that belief that some 'other' is somehow inferior to you. I'm sure much of these shenanigans still go on today and I'm glad I gave myself time to fully appreciate this book, and examine my own approach to my life as an immigrant too.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Karmel

    This book had a big influence on American foreign policy in the second half of the 20th Century. It is an interesting take on what “makes America great” and what makes America not so great. I am glad I read it from a history perspective. The best character in the book, and surprisingly the hero, is the “ugly” American. The phrase “ugly American” has come to mean people who act like many of the other Americans in the book. I hope the United States doesn’t return to the bad-old days of making fore This book had a big influence on American foreign policy in the second half of the 20th Century. It is an interesting take on what “makes America great” and what makes America not so great. I am glad I read it from a history perspective. The best character in the book, and surprisingly the hero, is the “ugly” American. The phrase “ugly American” has come to mean people who act like many of the other Americans in the book. I hope the United States doesn’t return to the bad-old days of making foreign policy without reliance on career professionals in the State Department who understand local language, customs and problems. And I hope the United States does not abandon important programs for winning hearts and minds like the Peace Corps. It seems like the United States is making a lot of the same mistakes now in the Middle East that it made in Southeast Asia in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tony Gleeson

    How many people remember that the "Ugly American" of this book was the GOOD GUY? And maybe the ONLY good American in a cast of mostly venal mendacious idiots? How ironic that the term has come to mean the exact opposite. It's hardly a masterpiece of great writing but it has remained with me over decades as a pretty powerful statement of its time. I can seldom resist comparing books to the movies they spawn, and almost always the movie loses. This is no exception: the Brando flick was pretty tedi How many people remember that the "Ugly American" of this book was the GOOD GUY? And maybe the ONLY good American in a cast of mostly venal mendacious idiots? How ironic that the term has come to mean the exact opposite. It's hardly a masterpiece of great writing but it has remained with me over decades as a pretty powerful statement of its time. I can seldom resist comparing books to the movies they spawn, and almost always the movie loses. This is no exception: the Brando flick was pretty tedious.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    I seriously doubt that I knew/know enough about American politics (let alone American politics in the 1950s) to fully appreciate this book when I read it. But, it was an interesting and profound commentary on incompetent foreign policy. I read it when I first moved permanently from the U.S. to Denmark, and I found it quite valuable as a metaphorical lesson in the importance of engaging with and learning local culture, customs, language, history, etc. I'd love to read it again if I could find my I seriously doubt that I knew/know enough about American politics (let alone American politics in the 1950s) to fully appreciate this book when I read it. But, it was an interesting and profound commentary on incompetent foreign policy. I read it when I first moved permanently from the U.S. to Denmark, and I found it quite valuable as a metaphorical lesson in the importance of engaging with and learning local culture, customs, language, history, etc. I'd love to read it again if I could find my copy...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Page

    YES. a set of fictional short stories grounded in truth. The shorts stories are related and occasionally have an overlap of characters. I think the lessons this book teaches about high handed "help" could be applied to today's voluntourism mindset, even among the "missions trips" many churches sponsor annually. Another aspect of this book I liked was the factual epilogue about the issues in the stories. This was a re-read and worth every minute. I'd highly recommend. YES. a set of fictional short stories grounded in truth. The shorts stories are related and occasionally have an overlap of characters. I think the lessons this book teaches about high handed "help" could be applied to today's voluntourism mindset, even among the "missions trips" many churches sponsor annually. Another aspect of this book I liked was the factual epilogue about the issues in the stories. This was a re-read and worth every minute. I'd highly recommend.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Re-read while thinking about my First Indo-China War IP, this is the cautionary tale of what can go wrong when the Soviet ambassador to Sarkhan speaks the language and has local informers, while the Americans drink and talk loudly among themselves, not to mention what ensues when the expy of Col. Ed. Lansdale announces that the key to understanding the country's culture is astrology. Re-read while thinking about my First Indo-China War IP, this is the cautionary tale of what can go wrong when the Soviet ambassador to Sarkhan speaks the language and has local informers, while the Americans drink and talk loudly among themselves, not to mention what ensues when the expy of Col. Ed. Lansdale announces that the key to understanding the country's culture is astrology.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Phyllis Tallent

    I read this book years ago - and wasn't really that enthusiastic about reading it again. HOWEVER, I was amazed how prescient this book is. Wow. Plus, it's just a very entertaining read. The characters and scenarios are captivating - often comic. And, ultimately, infuriating. I read this book years ago - and wasn't really that enthusiastic about reading it again. HOWEVER, I was amazed how prescient this book is. Wow. Plus, it's just a very entertaining read. The characters and scenarios are captivating - often comic. And, ultimately, infuriating.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David H.

    Retroactive Review: I read this over 10 years ago, so naturally my thoughts here will be a bit hazy! I read this for a class on foreign relations since 1945. It's a novel set in a fictional Southeast Asian country that focuses on both diplomats and civilians. It's an amazing indictment of American diplomacy at the time it was written (1958) and unfortunately when I read it 60 years later, it seems as though it still held true. (Funnily enough, the character referred to as "Ugly" is actually the Retroactive Review: I read this over 10 years ago, so naturally my thoughts here will be a bit hazy! I read this for a class on foreign relations since 1945. It's a novel set in a fictional Southeast Asian country that focuses on both diplomats and civilians. It's an amazing indictment of American diplomacy at the time it was written (1958) and unfortunately when I read it 60 years later, it seems as though it still held true. (Funnily enough, the character referred to as "Ugly" is actually the best character in the book--I say "funnily" since after this book was out, Americans behaving badly overseas are referred to as "ugly Americans".) It's a quick-reading story, and it'll definitely make you think about how we handle ourselves when connecting with other nations. (The true date for this is probably sometime in spring 2008, but at the time, I didn't keep track of books I read for school, only for leisure.)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Greg Fletcher

    I gave this book 4 Stars because it brought to the surface the real reason why our efforts in Southeast Asia have always been fruitless, and probably one the biggest reasons why we lost the Vietnam War. Even today, we Americans think that the best thing we can do for people of another country is to "Americanize" them. It actually makes we Americans more comfortable if they are more like us. This usually entails attempting to change everything these people have known or practiced for generations- I gave this book 4 Stars because it brought to the surface the real reason why our efforts in Southeast Asia have always been fruitless, and probably one the biggest reasons why we lost the Vietnam War. Even today, we Americans think that the best thing we can do for people of another country is to "Americanize" them. It actually makes we Americans more comfortable if they are more like us. This usually entails attempting to change everything these people have known or practiced for generations--including their way of thinking and/or customs. We think we know what they need without asking. It's ironic that even though nations have so many differences, we all seem to have one thing in common. The leaders have no idea what the followers want or need. And that my fellow readers.....is a sad state of affairs.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andie

    This book caused quite a diplomatic stir when it was published in 1958 and accused the American diplomatic community as being a bunch of ignorant , venal idiots who care more about living a luxurious life with lots of servants while going to elegant dinner and cocktail parties than advancing American interests abroad. The book is written as a series of vignettes rather than with a structured plot, and the writing is not very good. But the authors got their point across, and sadly sixty years late This book caused quite a diplomatic stir when it was published in 1958 and accused the American diplomatic community as being a bunch of ignorant , venal idiots who care more about living a luxurious life with lots of servants while going to elegant dinner and cocktail parties than advancing American interests abroad. The book is written as a series of vignettes rather than with a structured plot, and the writing is not very good. But the authors got their point across, and sadly sixty years later, nothing much has changed.

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