The Ugly American in fiction

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Published 50 years ago, The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick remains paramount in the pantheon of novels about Americans bungling about in Southeast Asia. As literature, The Ugly American is not a great novel or even a good novel. But it touched a nerve, and half a century later, the book’s title remains a catch-phrase for incompetent and insensitive U.S. diplomats, arrogant entrepreneurs, and even travelers and tourists from the States who act badly abroad. Nearly all of the books and films discussed here are reflections on the Ugly American theme. Not every American character we meet in Southeast Asia is ugly — but judge for yourself.