The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 67

In trying to cover so ambitious a list of topics in a short space,
Gedda fails to do justice to most of them.
the Washington to which they report.
Making a comparison to Renaissance
craftsmen who spent decades building
cathedral doors which might well be
completed long after their deaths, Smith
concludes that the “craftsman in our field
must pursue his work, understanding
that he does not control the outcome,
contributing what he can, as best he
can, to a worthy endeavor.” Sage advice,
Stephen W. Buck, a retired Senior Foreign
Service officer, served at eight posts in the
Arab world during his 39-year diplomatic
career and was nominated for the Director
General’s Reporting Award for his economic
and, later, political reporting. He has served
on the Foreign Service Journal Editorial
Board since 2003.
Worthy of Its Subject?
The State Department:
MoreThan Just Diplomacy
George Gedda, AuthorHouse, 2014,
$16.95, paperback, 166 pages.
Reviewed by Steven Alan Honley
Longtime readers of
The Foreign Service
will instantly recognize George
Gedda’s name, both for his nearly four
decades as the State Department corre-
spondent for the Associated Press and his
frequent articles in the
. Review-
ing his previous book—
Cuba: The Auda-
cious Revolution
(CreateSpace, 2011)—in
the March 2012
, John Maisto hailed it
as “a great introduction to Cuba for non-
experts. Yet it is also filled with stories
and insights for specialists to ponder.”
It appears that Gedda tried to follow
that same middle-of-the-road formula
with his new book,
The State Department:
More Than Just Diplomacy
. And if anyone
can engage a “lay” audience that is at
least theoretically interested in a book
about the State Department, while offer-
ing some deeper insights for those who
already know the subject, it is George
The good news is that the author
clearly appreciates the importance of
diplomacy and respects its practitioners,
and he makes some useful
points. But I’d be willing to bet
that members of the Foreign
Service community, and just
about anyone else with at
least a passing interest in for-
eign affairs, already know the
vast majority of the informa-
tion he imparts here.
Perhaps the book’s full
subtitle is the first sign
of trouble ahead:
Than Just Diplomacy:
The Personalities, Turf
Battles, Danger Zones for
Diplomats, Exotic Datelines, Miscast
Appointees, the Laughs
and, Sadly, the
Occasional Homicide
. In trying to cover
so ambitious a list of topics in a short
space, Gedda fails to do justice to most
of them.
After a foreword that inexplicably
locates State in southwest D.C. rather
than northwest, Gedda’s first chapter
assesses the Secretaries of State he cov-
ered and traveled with for the Associated
Press. Yet his list omits Edmund Muskie
(1980-1981) and Larry Eagleburger
(1992-1993). (He does allude to both men
later in the book, but fails to note that
Eagleburger is the only career FSO ever to
ascend to the top of the department.)
That is followed by sections devoted
to “Humor,” “Violence at Uncom-
mon Venues,” “The State Department:
Tales from the Home Office, Iran and
Beyond,” “Central America—Turning
Red?”, “Personalities,” “Destinations” and
“Anecdotes.” Alas, most of the content
is painfully dated, thin on substance
and contains randommaterial with no
apparent connection to State or
Nor does it help
matters that I see no
evidence that anyone
proofread or edited
the book. Virtually
every page has sen-
tences with missing or
repeated words, text that
is riddled with punctua-
tion and capitalization
errors, and passages
whose meaning is opaque
at best.
Gedda does share one
amusing quip I’d never heard before:
“Diplomats have to be fast on their feet,
as illustrated by this (possibly apocry-
phal) diplomat’s response to his wife
upon realizing he had forgotten her
birthday: ‘Honey, how can I remember
your birthday when you never seem to
grow older?’”
I truly wish I could recommend
State Department: More Than Just Diplo-
. Instead, I encourage you to check
out Gedda’s previous book,
Cuba: The
Audacious Revolution
, which is every-
thing this one is not.
Steven Alan Honley is the contributing editor
The Foreign Service Journal.
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