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A piercing exposé of American incompetence and corruption in Southeast Asia, The Ugly American captivated the nation and caused major controversy 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. The ideas of the novel eventually gained traction and became the intellectual underpinning of the Peace Corps inaugurated a few years later and guided President Johnson’s rhetoric of counterinsurgency theory as strategy in winning the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese.
Eugene Burdick (1918-1965) was a navy commander in the Pacific during World War II, political science professor at University of California/Berkeley, and author and/or co-author of seven books known more for their provocative ideas than their literary style. He was a foreign policy expert, one of the country’s best known public intellectuals, and a member of blue-ribbon commissions. He earned an M.A. in psychology from Stanford and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar.
William J. Lederer (1912-2009) was a former U.S. Navy captain who served in the Asia and Atlantic fleets during World War II. After retiring from a career in the Navy, he concentrated on writing. He was a Far East correspondent for Reader’s Digest, and he authored/co-authored numerous fiction and non-fiction books, including Ensign O’Toole and Me that became the basis for the short-lived television series, “Ensign O’Toole.” Although he was a high school dropout, he ultimately graduated from the US Naval Academy.
Eugene Burdick and William Lederer met in the late 1940s at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont.
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