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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Revenge of Geography comes a sweeping yet intimate story of the most influential humanitarian you’ve never heard of - Bob Gersony, who spent four decades in crisis zones around the world.

“This graceful study of a courageous and humble man reminds us that history can be made, and lives can be saved,  by diplomats  who  know how to reconcile the good with the possible.” (Timothy Snyder, author of The Road to Unfreedom and On Tyranny)

In his long career as an acclaimed journalist covering the “hot” moments of the Cold War and its aftermath, best-selling author Robert D. Kaplan often found himself crossing paths with Bob Gersony, a consultant for the US State Department whose quiet dedication and consequential work made a deep impression on Kaplan.

Gersony, a high school dropout later awarded a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam, conducted on-the-ground research for the US government in virtually every war and natural-disaster zone in the world. In Thailand, Central and South America, Sudan, Chad, Mozambique, Rwanda, Gaza, Bosnia, North Korea, Iraq, and beyond, Gersony never flinched from entering dangerous areas that diplomats could not reach, sometimes risking his own life. Gersony’s behind-the scenes fact-finding, which included interviews with hundreds of refugees and displaced persons from each war zone and natural-disaster area, often challenged the assumptions and received wisdom of the powers that be, on both the left and the right. In nearly every case, his advice and recommendations made American policy at once smarter and more humane - often dramatically so.

In Gersony, Kaplan saw a powerful example of how American diplomacy should be conducted. In a work that exhibits Kaplan’s signature talent for combining travel and geography with sharp political analysis, The Good American tells Gersony’s powerful life story. Set during the State Department’s golden age, this is a story about the loneliness, sweat, and tears and the genuine courage that characterized Gersony’s work in far-flung places. It is also a celebration of ground-level reporting: a pause-resisting demonstration, by one of our finest geopolitical thinkers, of how getting an up-close, worm’s-eye view of crises and applying sound reason can elicit world-changing results.

©2020 Robert D. Kaplan (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"This graceful study of a courageous and humble man reminds us that history can be made, and lives can be saved, by diplomats who know how to reconcile the good with the possible." (Timothy Snyder, author of The Road to Unfreedom)

"For anyone who has stopped believing that one person can make a difference, or that government service is still a noble calling, or that facts still matter or that the American brand can still hold fast to practical idealism, this book is the antidote to those fears." (Jim Mattis, General, US Marines (ret.) & 26th Secretary of Defense, author of Call Sign Chaos)

"In an era in which public service is often belittled and the State Department is being hollowed out, Bob Kaplan offers a powerful rejoinder. His evocative portrayal of a deeply committed humanitarian professional, Robert Gersony, reminds us that American diplomacy can be both smart and humane. The story of Gersony and his generation of practitioners is a timely argument for why humanitarian issues deserve renewed emphasis - and why it’s so important to revive America’s foreign policy institutions and invest in the dedicated people who animate them." (Ambassador William J. Burns, President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former US Deputy Secretary of State, author of The Back Channel)

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  • Carl Hammerdorfer
  • 21-02-2021

Sometimes over the top

An excellent and often exciting story that might have been even better without the hagiography and too frequent stereotypes of NGOs and bureaucrats.

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