Cleopatra had her pearls, the British Empire its crown. Jewelry has long held a symbolic place in world affairs, and for Madeleine Albright, the all-important symbol is the brooch. In her new book Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state offers a colorful view of international politics, explaining how fashion’s classic accessory became an integral part of her “personal diplomatic arsenal.”
During the course of her decade-long career as a public servant, Albright traveled widely, and the pins she bought—or was given—became a vast and varied menagerie. Blending memoir, anecdote and colorful world history, Read My Pins tells the story behind each piece. Albright’s unique use of jewelry began with an 18K gold snake pin worn to a meeting with Iraqi officials (Saddam Hussein’s government-controlled press had called her an “unparalleled serpent”). When meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Albright donned a red-white-and-blue American flag as an outward symbol of her personal belief in the rules of democracy. A Swarovski heart was chosen to pay tribute to the victims of September 11.
Whether a ceramic Valentine’s Day gift from Albright’s then five-year-old daughter or a diamond-encrusted dazzler, every pin is a joy to behold. Albright’s remarkable story offers a fascinating and bejeweled look at America, and American foreign policy, during the latter half of the 20th century.