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Amazon Asks: J. Robert Moskin


Into an era that is embarrassingly opaque when it comes to the role of Americans and American intelligence abroad comes J. Robert Moskin's American Statecraft. A fascinating look at the unsung men and women of the US Foreign Service -- and the inevitable conflicts between political appointees and experienced professionals -- Moskin's tome is comprehensive and engaging, as befits a lifelong journalist and historian both erudite and witty. Below, Moskin answers our Amazon Asks questions.

What is the elevator pitch of the book?

American Statecraft is the first-ever account of the history of the U.S. Foreign Service from March 3, 1776, when Benjamin Franklin sent the first covert envoy to Paris for the thirteen colonies until John F. Kerry became Secretary of State on February 1, 2013.

American Statecraft

What is on your nightstand, bedside table, Kindle?

The latest editions of the New York Review and the New Yorker. I save reading books for when I am wide awake.

Top 3 to 5 favorite books of all time?

Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson
Collected poems of Seamus Heaney
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

Important book you never read?

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I have tried repeatedly.

Book that changed your life?

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. He changed all our lives.

Favorite book or books as a child?

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This lovely story taught me to care for all living creatures.

What is your most memorable author moment?

Take your choice:

Look photographer Jim Hansen and I were the only outsiders to accompany Secretary of State Dean Rusk on a tour of NATO capitols and bases.

I met a U.S. patrol crawling out of the enemy-infested jungle at the end of the dangerous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

As a reporter, I visited Hanoi during the Vietnam War, experienced the war from the enemy's side, and interviewed some of the North Vietnamese leaders.

While the photographer with me captured Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico, I listened privately to the world's most beautiful cello recital.

What talent or superpower would you like to have, not flight or invisibility?

As a writer of non-fiction, I am able to reproduce dialogue; but I would like to be able to create realistic dialogue as a novelist can.

What are you obsessed with now?

I am horrified to realize we live in a most terrible age. Sixty million people were killed during World War II in which I was a participant, and family members were killed in the incredible Holocaust.

What are you stressed about now?

I must accept the fact that I am a nonagenarian and nearing the end. It has been a great trip. I hope we do not come back to Earth because it can never be as good next time.

What are you psyched about now?

Despite the brutal violence of our time, women and minorities have made amazing advances, especially in the Third World.

What is your most prized/treasured possession?

They are not "things" but "relationships" -- with my wife, children, grandchildren and Springer Spaniel.

Who is your author crush?

Emily Dickinson

What's next for you?

I plan to update my history of the U.S. Marine Corps to cover the on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What is the last dream you remember?

They are mostly connected with World War II, not realistically but as projections of my experiences and what could have been. I cannot forget the voyage in the troop ship alone on the Pacific twenty one days out of San Francisco and climbing down the rope netting on the side of the ship at Hollandia, New Guinea. I was sure I had a one-way ticket.

What is your favorite line?

A friend said recently: Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

What is your favorite vice?

Sex and cigars.

What do you collect?

I have been through most of them from stamps and signed baseballs and even some signed books, but at present I am distributing more than collecting.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

A note from President Harry Truman thanking me for sending him an article in 1956 about medical care for all Americans. More than a half century later, the issue is still making headlines.

What is the best piece of advice you ever got?

Don't quote people; give your own opinion.

The worst?

Quote an authority; don't just give your own opinion.

Pen envy, book you wish you had written?

The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

What is your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Watching major league baseball games, especially the Yankees, on television, because as a child I can clearly remember seeing Ruth and Gehrig play in person. I have not had the problem this year since Derek Jeter broke his ankle.

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