The Albright Old-Girl Network

Article excerpt

If you want to know about the old girl network in Washington, how a woman can fight her way to the top with flair and toughness, crashing through the glass ceiling at the Department of State, and the attendant personal costs of ambition, "Seasons of Her Life: A Biography of Madeleine Korbel Albright" is a terrific read.

It's heavy on social and psychological Washington, opening with Madeleine (as she likes to be called), the newly-nominated secretary of state, emerging from a bulletproof black Cadillac limousine to attend a New Year's Eve party in 1996 at the Georgetown home of Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee. (She almost didn't go because she was miffed that after living 30 years in Georgetown, this was the first time she made the A-list.)

She arrives right after Lauren Bacall, which tells you about celebrity social ranking in Washington. Colin Powell would arrive even later. This can't have been the opening Mrs. Albright would have chosen for her first biography, but no doubt she'll love it and hate it. According to author Ann Blackman, a former Time magazine reporter, our first woman secretary of state loves the limelight and is obsessed with her image. She thinks "celebrity" helps her do her job as a sort of Henry Kissinger manque, a woman who swims comfortably in the fashionable social scene.

But a powerful woman - or at least this powerful woman - somehow doesn't project power as an aphrodisiac to men the way that a man's power draws women.

That's probably why Mrs. Albright shows somewhat more public humility than Mr. Kissinger. The book closes with another New Year's Eve party at Mrs. Quinn's and Mr. Bradlee's, a year later, where Mrs. Albright arrives on the arm of Australian ambassador Andrew Peacock. All the men, eligible and otherwise, cut in to give the lady secretary a whirl on the dance floor.

"The only reason they're all eager to dance with me," Mrs. Albright tells a confidant, "is because I am secretary of state."

This is a Washington biography as written by a '90s Jane Austen. We learn of the character's pride and prejudice, sense and sensibility through her style, the colorful brooches she wears, her chic scarves, her good manners and hot temper, close friendships and feistiness, along with her interminable struggle to lose weight. It's too chatty for words (and maybe for men), but great fun.

The author is clear from the beginning that she has no intention of analyzing or evaluating the secretary of state's positions on Bosnia, Kosovo or the Middle East. She barely mentions them. This is an old-fashioned book which will be enjoyed much more by women than men and ought to be a classic for any young (and even not-so-young) women aspiring to real power in the nation's capital. It sparkles with gossipy and sometimes bitchy anecdotes from lots of confidential sources. …