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Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest Hardcover – 21 May 2015
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"If you want to know what it looks like for a woman to lean in,’ read Ambassador Kounalakis’s book. It is an inspiring example of a businesswoman-turned-diplomat taking every opportunity to effectively advance the interests, values, and security of our country."
Janet Napolitano, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
"Ambassador Kounalakis brings us inside the world of American diplomacy in a personal, accessible way, sharing her experiences as a diplomat during challenging times."
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
"Engrossing, edifying, and funny too. Kounalakis is a great storyteller, and she puts us in the middle of the action. Yes, actioneven the ambassador to a peaceful place like Hungary sees more than her share."
Dave Eggers, author of The Circle
"Eleni Kounalakis demystifies diplomacy and shows how a world shaped by the Internet and social media still needs ambassadors, especially those with strong principles and a good story to tell."
U.S. Ambassador John Shattuck (Ret.)
"This is an all-American story told by the first Greek American woman to serve as a U.S. Ambassador."
Admiral James Stavrides, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
"Kounalakis was a quick study. . . . [Madam Ambassador] offers further evidence, if anyone still needs it, that the European Union now faces the possibility of an autocracy taking shape within its border."
The Washington Post
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
We also get a rare insider look at how diplomacy works around the world complete with all the subtleties and intricacies of customs and traditions. Her shrewd analysis of Hungarian politics and history was fascinating (and eye opening and I was far from an expert in Hungarian affairs) and the insider tales of back door meetings/politics, personalities and public functions were gripping. The opening chapter centered on the boar hunt was hilarious, but also telling as far as how woman tend to be treated and the male hierarchy. The author battles stereotypes on every level and shows how powerful women are and their grip on politics. It reinforced for me that it's about time we have a female president and more female diplomats around the world - few authors would dare share their personal thoughts and reflections the way she did, but that made the book eminently more enjoyable and readable. The pacing was excellent with so many interesting tales to tell from public functions to private meetings and helicopter rides to war zones. It's rare with all the security precautions to read such a candid tale and a well told one at that. Some highlights were her own family history, her trip to Afghanistan (complete with oversized vest and helmet - loved that), visits from foreign dignitaries and her reflections on the role of foreign service. Her pride and patriotism showed through at every turn - her book made me proud of our country and the devotion of all our foreign service whether career or political appointees. Her book in fact was a good argument for NOT taking the "plum" posts in London and France as Hungary was a lot more interesting. A+ account and one of the most engrossing books I've read this year.
This narrative is also an intriguing look at the confirmation process of politically-appointed ambassadors. Many observers of US politics know that the majority of ambassadors around the world are political appointees, many of whom have little experience in or knowledge of the countries to which they are appointed. Such appointees are often viewed negatively as unqualified, but Kounalakis certainly seemed to be a highly qualified and competent ambassador. Her book also provides, perhaps unwittingly, a fascinating look at the exclusive world of the political and financial elite in the US. Growing up in a financially well-off and politically influential California family, her social circle included people like Justice Anthony Kennedy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, influential Greek-American figures, and others. The book contains a photo of her and her father shaking hands with President Clinton when she was barely out of college. It's a social world that most readers will not be familiar with.
As an ambassador, Kounalakis was obliged to pursue official US foreign policy initiatives, and her writing on issues like NATO involvement in Afghanistan is therefore very much about repeating the party line. Even those who support American and NATO involvement in Afghanistan should at least be able to sympathize with the skepticism that many Hungarian citizens and leaders felt about their country's involvement there. I didn't necessarily feel that Kounalakis made a compelling case, but it was interesting to read her account of how she tried to persuade her Hungarian counterparts not to close their mission there.
Overall, this is a highly readable and informative account.