June 07, 1999 12:00 PM

A Twentieth-Century Odyssey

by Michael Dobbs

So dramatic is Madeleine Albright’s story that the major plotline—escaping the Nazis and coming to America, marrying into extreme wealth and then becoming one of history’s most powerful women—makes our first female Secretary of State sound like a Sidney Sheldon heroine. Author Michael Dobbs was the Washington Post reporter who in 1997 broke the news that Albright, although raised a Catholic, came from a Jewish family—a point he belabors in the book. But he does succeed in offering an intimate, behind-the-headlines look at his subject’s journey from poor refugee to the Cabinet. Though Dobbs writes with zero flash, his revealing narrative depicts a woman who is charming, kind and exceptionally hard-working, but also ruthless, abrupt and insecure. “In short, she is not a saint,” writes Dobbs. “She is a human being.” With plenty of real-life problems, it turns out. As soon as Albright starts to get the hang of juggling her career and family, for instance, her husband dumps her for a younger (and slimmer) woman. Weight battles, D.C.’s old-boy male chauvinism, a search for the perfect hat—such encounters are what make this skillful portrait come alive and help us to understand the woman now guiding U.S. policy in the Kosovo conflict. (Holt, $27.50)

Bottom Line: Inspiring biography

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