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Madeleine Albright's teaching continues — through these books

Meghan Collins Sullivan

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright died Wednesday at the age of 84. But her legacy lives on — not only in the history she made as the first woman to hold this post, but also in her teachings.

Albright taught at Georgetown University for 40 years, imparting her wisdom on generations. But these students are not the only ones who have access to her advice and reflections. Albright also wrote several books: She reflected not only on her upbringing and personal history, but also on everything from Russian President Putin to former U.S. President Trump to totalitarianism and fascism and, of course, diplomacy.

If you're looking to learn more about Albright and her legacy, here are a few books, straight from the source.

Fascism: A Warning

The book, published in 2018, starts by describing how Hitler and Mussolini came to power in the 20th century, then warns about today's authoritarian rulers in Eastern Europe, North Korea, Turkey and Russia.

"Part of the reason for writing [the book]," Albright told Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "is to say that, in fact, this can happen in countries that have democratic systems, that have a population that's interested in what's going on, that is supportive. ... That's what's so worrisome, is that fascism can come in a way that it is one step at a time, and in many ways, goes unnoticed until it's too late."

Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir

"Don't let the title fool you," writes reviewer Caitlyn Kim. "Hell in this book isn't some far flung, war-torn or disease-ravaged country. (Although they do make appearances.) It's not the struggles of setting up your own business or even the deflation that comes from being one of the most significant players on the international stage, complete with security detail and airplane, to now getting pulled aside for a bag check at airport security. It's not about the 'hell of a mess' aspects of life. It's about saying 'hell, yes' to what's next."

Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box

In Read My Pins, Albright reveals that she used jewelry as a diplomatic tool during her years with the Clinton administration. There were balloons, butterflies and flowers to signify optimism and, when diplomatic talks were going slowly, crabs and turtles to indicate frustration.

"This all started when I was ambassador at the U.N. and Saddam Hussein called me a serpent," she told Susan Stamberg in 2009. "I had this wonderful antique snake pin. So when we were dealing with Iraq, I wore the snake pin."

She goes on to say: "As it turned out, there were just a lot of occasions to either commemorate a particular event or to signal how I felt."

The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs

In the book, Albright takes a historical view of how religion has had an impact on policy and world events.

"I wanted to really look forward in terms of what the issues were for foreign policy. I wanted to look forward and look at the major forces that were at work as we go into the 21st century," she told Fresh Air in 2006, when the book published.

She notes that many of them are transnational issues — and that "a lot was tuned upside down with 9/11." She said that although many think religion can complicate policy talks, she came to realize that bringing religion into it can sometimes help solve some of the problems. "If religious leaders talk to each other, they are able to find the common threads."

Madam Secretary: A Memoir

In an interview with NPR about her 2003 memoir, Albright discussed what it was like to be the first female secretary of state, her opinion about the timing of the war in Iraq and the lessons of the U.S.-led war in Kosovo.

Being a woman in a male-dominated field of foreign relations "has some downs, but mostly it has ups," she said.

In the book, Albright details the intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy leading up to the 1999 war in Kosovo that resulted in the ouster of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. She cites several lessons of the Kosovo conflict. "You cannot stand by for a long time watching terrible things happen. We also learned that as powerful as the United States is, we cannot do things alone."

You can also hear her talking about the memoir on Fresh Air here.

Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership

Albright's 2008 book Memo to the President starts Chapter 1 with a memorandum addressed "To: President Elect" and dated "Election Night, 2008."

"I am an optimist who worries a lot," Albright writes. "The reasons for worry surround us, some hidden, others visible daily on CNN, Fox News, and Al-Jazeera. The turbulence and vitriol may seem overwhelming. The poison of hate is in the air. Still, my overriding message to you as you prepare to assume the presidency is to have confidence in who we are and what we believe, for, even in my lifetime, we have faced graver risks, kept our nerve, and overcome."

The book continues to explore how to "restore America's reputation and leadership."

"I see this as a crucial election," Albright said on Talk of the Nation. "Even before what has been happening financially, I thought that this was going to be a very difficult presidency."

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948

Madeleine Albright didn't learn of her Jewish heritage until she was an adult. In this 2012 book, she explores her family history, roots in Czechoslovakia and her relatives' lives during the Holocaust, in parallel to the history of the world at the time.

Albright asks: "Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity, while others quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Is it education, spiritual belief, our parents, our friends, the circumstances of our birth, traumatic events, or more likely some combination that spells the difference?"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Meghan Collins Sullivan is a senior editor on the Arts & Culture Desk, overseeing non-fiction books coverage at NPR. She has worked at NPR over the last 13 years in various capacities, including as the supervising editor for NPR.org – managing a team of online producers and reporters and editing multi-platform news coverage. She was also lead editor for the 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog, written by five scientists on topics related to the intersection of science and culture.
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