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.
“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, bestselling author Robert D. Kaplan often found himself crossing paths with Bob Gersony, a consultant for the U.S. 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 U.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 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 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.
An "obsessive-compulsive" freelancer with a knack for talking to people epitomizes what foreign policy should be, according to this poignant and provocative biography of Bob Gersony, a retired independent contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department. Journalist Kaplan (The Return of Marco Polo's World) recounts Gersony's unsung, four-decade career from the 1970s to the 2010s as he parachuted into humanitarian disasters, refugee crises, and civil wars in order to assess the situation up-close and recommend policies through the straightforward mechanism of interviewing ordinary people. Kaplan credits Gersony with crucial policy redirections, including the Reagan administration's decision not to arm Mozambique's RENAMO rebels after he exposed their atrocities in 1988, and recommendations of many aid programs road-paving in El Salvador, water projects in the West Bank that allowed people to work instead of fight. It's a vivid story as Gersony, suffering perpetual nervousness and indigestion, navigates hair-raising conflict zones, and fences with denialist bureaucrats and politicians. It's also Kaplan's love-letter to Reagan-era Cold War diplomacy, when "realism... encompassed a concern for human rights." Liberals may dispute that assessment, but Kaplan's immersive, ground-level view of practical foreign policy-making gives it substance. This incisive account pays tribute to the people who uphold America's ideals to the world.