Friday, February 05, 2010

Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box by Madeleine Albright

Not being a terribly close follower of diplomatic maneuvers, I was unaware of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s famous use of pins to telegraph her thoughts and intentions to world leaders and the press. But lots of other people were aware of it, and now Albright has written a book about it, to accompany an exhibit of her pins organized by the Museum of Art and Design in New York. It’s a good book to curl up with on an afternoon. It only takes about an hour to read through the text and look at the abundance of photographs of her pins, some quite valuable, but most costume jewelry, the kind we can all find in department stores and at thrift shops and garage sales.

Some examples of Ms. Albright’s pin-based messages include wearing turtle pins to signify that negotiations were progressing too slowly, and a famous incident where she wore a snake pin to confront Saddam Hussein. These events and others are related in breezy prose; Albright knows we are probably not reading this book to find out any deep secrets of international affairs. Instead we are treated to a mostly chronological account of the origins and history of her love affair with pins, including a story about wearing her future husband’s fraternity pin in college. I was charmed by Albright’s (brief) stories from her youth and her days as a young mother. I think I had just assumed that she sprang, like Athena, fully grown and ready for battle, from the forehead of Zeus.

(Book 5, 2010)


Thomas Hogglestock said...

I love Madeleine Albright. I find her so compelling whenever she is on a talk show no matter what the topic. When I saw her doing press for this book I thought the title was just meant to catch your attention. I didn't realize it talked so much about pins.

herschelian said...

When I started reading this post I couldn't imagine what Madeline Albright meant - then it clicked, 'pin' is the American English word for a brooch. Ah it makes sense. BTW the word brooch is pronounced 'broach' not 'brewch' despite it's spelling, it is one of the very ancient words deriving from Middle English which is still in common use.

Phil said...

I, too, misunderstood "pin", as used in your posting, and imagined a map of the world on a wall, and Madeleine Albright sticking pins into it to denote particular places.

I hadn't before known that "pin" in American English meant "broach". Now, happily, I do.

What, then, is "pin" (as in sticking in a map) in American English?

Becky Holmes said...

Phil, a pin sticking in a map is also a pin in U.S. English. I'm glad two people brought up this issue. It seems like Albright could have chosen a more international title for the book, like "Read My Jewelry." Many U.S. readers are familiar with the term "brooch" also, though it has a kind of old-fashioned connotation. Queen Victoria wore diamond brooches, if you know what I mean.

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