by Madeleine Albright
A review by Benjamin Schwarz
This memoir's publication provides ample evidence of the peculiarities of the
book business, which is governed neither by the iron law of the bottom line nor
by a high-minded commitment to producing literary works of lasting value or
at least of passing significance. Albright had been out of office less than a
week when Harvey Weinstein, the thuggishly glamorous co-chairman of Miramax Films
(no doubt just off the phone with Gwyneth Paltrow), tracked her down at a spa
in Mexico to urge her to choose Miramax Books as her publisher. That any publisher
would so ardently pursue this quarry is quite odd; that the tinseliest would is
unfathomable. Nearly all high officials' memoirs are as unrevealing as they are
self-serving. (Albright's, no surprise, lacks a forthright account of the Clinton
Administration's complicity, or acquiescence, in Croatia's ethnic cleansing of
the Krajina Serbs; of the decision to expand nato, the most sweeping expansion
of America's security commitments since the late 1940s; or of the causes and conduct
of the war against Yugoslavia the first war the U.S.-led nato waged, and one
fought against a country that, however unsavory, posed no threat to any member
of the alliance, least of all the United States. Readers will, however, find much
State Department spin circa 1998, complete with the inevitable invocation of the
lessons of Munich.) Moreover, such books promise to be boring, for when a former
Cabinet officer — unlike, say, a record producer — reminisces, she perforce
adopts the sonorous and bloated tone of one writing A Work of History, as she
chronicles, for example, her speech endorsing "intercultural communications."
So Madam Secretary won't be flying off the shelves at Costco, nor does it rival
Memoirs of the Prince de Talleyrand. It's neither better nor worse than
others of its ilk, although the former secretary's unwinning attitude and demeanor,
which uniquely combine the attributes of the Democratic Party hack and the self-righteous
Wilsonian, prove as irrepressible in print as they were when she sought and held
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