From the New York Times bestselling 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.
In his long career as an acclaimed journalist covering the “hot” moments of the Cold War and its aftermath, bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan often found himself crossing paths with a man called Bob Gersony, a consultant for the U.S. State Department whose quiet dedication and consequential work, often underappreciated, 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 theU.S. 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 life in order to better understand the nature of a conflict. 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. For years he worked with his notebook in hand, getting to the truth of what was going on, so as to inform the decisions and policies made back home. 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 Americandiplomacy should be conducted—with a clear eye toward facts on the ground—and he found a paradigmatic approach to the world in which humanitarian and realpolitik considerations were not mutually exclusive. In the midst of the tension and proxy battles of the Cold War, Gersony’s clear-eyed reports and recommendations not only preserved the United States’s strategic goals; they also saved the lives of the most vulnerable around the world, regardless of political alignment.
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. In so doing, it brings the reader to vibrant settings around the world, revealing one man’s immense impact on U.S. foreign policy in a pivotal period of American history. This is a revelatory, essential book for the times we now live in, when diplomacy, hard facts, and humanitarian concerns are too often being left behind. Set during the State Department’s golden age—the late Cold War and post–Cold War—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 page-turning 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.