MICHAEL MEYER in the NY Times has a very good appreciation of the Ugly American. It is one of those mid fifties books that were held so much cache in there day, but not seem lost in to a different time as literary styles change. Yet there is a salience in reading them. Despite its weaknesses The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is still interesting and Meyer makes The Ugly American seem so too, not so much as a piece of literature but of Americana, a time capsule.
The novel is a series of linked sketches of real people that Lederer, a Navy captain who served as special assistant to the commander in chief of United States forces in the Pacific and Asian theater, and Burdick, a political scientist, encountered overseas during the buildup to Vietnam. The book was originally commissioned by W. W. Norton as nonfiction, but an editor suggested it might be more effective as a novel. “What we have written is not just an angry dream,” the authors note in the introduction, “but rather the rendering of fact into fiction.” Yet the book’s enduring resonance may say less about its literary merits than about its failure to change American attitudes. Today, as the battle for hearts and minds has shifted to the Middle East, we still can’t speak Sarkhanese.