However, this isn't what William Lederer and Eugene Burdick were writing about in the mid 1950s. They were appalled by the poor attitudes of American embassies in Asian countries, whose ambassadors seemed to have no idea what was going on around them. The 1955 novel was based on their own experiences, as summed up in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan. The Ugly American in this case isn't an uncouth traveler, but rather a homely, hard-working man who sees an opportunity to do good in a country that has only seen the worst side of the United States.
Homer Atkins is a millionaire engineer, who tries to initiate projects that actually help people, and some felt he was the progenitor for the Peace Corps. Apparently, Kennedy spread numerous copies of the book among his staff, hoping to create a similar proactive environment with his state department. Eventually, this led to the Peace Corps.
From his description, Homer sounds more like a modern-day Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, using his millions to spread relief around the world, counter-acting the policies of his own government. We also see a similar case where Michael Bloomberg has offered $15 million to continue to pay our dues in the Paris Climate Agreement in spite of the current presidential administration's decision to pull out of the landmark agreement.
One assumes Lederer and Burdick would be proud their book had such a profound impact on American foreign policy. Many ambassadors now take the trouble to learn the language of the country they serve in, as do members of their embassies. The US Embassy in Vilnius is actively involved in promoting programs to improve the education system in Lithuania at the local level, picking up where the Peace Corps left off in 2002.
Still, there is a lot to question in the way the State Department distributes and manages aid around the world. USAID has often come under fire for its dubious practices. A lot depends on the administration in the White House.
I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of the book and hope that we can generate a discussion. In the meantime, I've checked out the 1963 movie based on the book, with Marlon Brando and Pat Hingle as the main characters, Ambassador MacWhite an Homer Atkins.