Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #71: The Mighty & The Almighty
Madeleine Albright has long been one of my favorites. Her story is a fascinating one. Born in 1937 in a sovereign Czechoslovakia, her father was a diplomat who became part of the country's London-based government-in-exile during WWII. They returned home after the war, only to find Eastern Europe falling under the Soviet yoke. Her father, a staunch anti-communist, sent the family to the US in 1948 when Madeleine was 11. Albright (then Korbel, her maiden name) graduated from Wellesley and went on to a career in journalism and obtained her MA and PhD at Columbia. This is an educated, blisteringly bright woman. She went on to work for Ed Muskie and later Zbigniew Brzezinski on Carter's National Security Council. When Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, Albright became US Ambassador the the United Nations and, in his second term, Clinton's Secretary of State, the first woman to serve in that capacity. (Though she became a US citizen in 1957, she was not natural-born, and was not part of presidential succession though she was, at that time, the highest-ranking woman in American history.)
This book, her second, draws on Albright's personal and political experience around the world as religion and its effects have an increasing impact on global affairs. Her main contention is that faith need not be a divisive, inherently oppressive force in human affairs. Rather, the shared moral tenets of the world's great faiths have more in common than radicals or those who profit from conflict would have us believe. Liberty is a shared value around the world, and piety can help advance rather than deter its spread. Organized religion need not be viewed through the simple prism of good or evil; we need not embrace or shun public zealotry. We can instead find common ground, and build a better world together.
I've had the great good fortune to spend some time with Secretary Albright, and I found that her reputation as a witty, candid, brilliant soul is well-earned. I'm sure in this day and age there's some spot on her record that folks eagerly use to discredit her. That would be a mistake. As it usually is.