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Summary The Ugly American

The multi million copy bestseller that coined the phrase for tragic American blunders abroadFirst published in 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 picture of 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

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The Ugly American

IewsNot 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 Asia 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

William J. Lederer è 5 review

How the United States was losing the struggle with Communism The Ugly MOBI #180 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 Rev 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 agoFrom 1958 to 2014 few things it seems have changedThe 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 notAmong 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 abroadYou 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 AmericansYou can buy the same food in Asia that you can in PeoriaWhen you live overseas it s still on the high American standard 79 80So 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 beenBack to the idiotsThe 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 placeBut for each idiot the book presents there is a well meaning hardworking and intelligent foil Homer Atkins aka 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 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 uestions 205Atkins 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 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 nauseatedWilliam 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 50searly 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 earlierThis book flies in the face of adages accepted as common knowledge eg 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 BurmaAfter 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 CommunismI too am a Catholic but I do not reuire 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 55This 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 prestigious and 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 further who do all of this in the name of DEMOCRACY Well frankly that s idiocracyActual rating 455 stars


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 a

  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 culture under the sun The book is timeless in that we could once again be called Ugly Americans or perhaps

  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

  5. says:

    Again and again while reading this book I found myself flipping to the copyright page to check the publication date 1958

  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 kn

  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 Soviet Union The US is

  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 fiction

  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 Na

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