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Book Review: Read My Pins


by Patricia Syvrud, MBA, G.G.

Ask anyone about Celebrity Jewelry, and we automatically think about Hollywood actors and rock stars.  The word bling comes to mind, draped on shiny bodies under bright lights.  But ask about contemporary world leaders and their stories of jewelry, and our minds draw a blank. Until now. 

In September of 2009, ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright published Read My Pins, Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, in conjunction with an exhibit of her pins at the Museum of Art and Design in NY.   In her book, Secretary Albright shares her relationship with jewelry, and how her pins evolved into a vehicle of diplomatic messaging.  Full of anecdotes about historical events that took place during her tenure as US Ambassador to the UN (1993-1997) and Secretary of State (1997-2001), Secretary Albright describes the circumstances around events that caused her to wear certain pins, along with her general underlying desire “…to inject an element of humor and spice into the diplomatic routine.”1

The book is filled with historical photos of Secretary Albright during her years as a diplomat.  Secretary Albright tells a story about a meeting with Saddam Hussein -- the catalyst for her first deliberate wearing of a pin as a vehicle for communication in 1994. Shortly after being named US Ambassador to the UN,  the Washington Post printed an article. “As the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the 1990s, she criticized Saddam Hussein for his non-compliance with U.N. weapons inspections. The Iraqi press published a poem in which she was referred to as a serpent. Albright responded by wearing a small golden reptile, coiled around a thin branch, on her jacket at the next meeting with the Iraqis. It was, as she puts it, her way of "sending a message."'2

Royalty and statesmen have always used jewelry as an expression of wealth, status and power. Secretary Albright's book places her collection in historical context.  Albright wore her pins to challenge, amuse or underscore her message in meetings with dignitaries from around the world. Readers of the book come to know Secretary Albright as Secretary of State, via an intimate glimpse into the reasoning behind her diplomatic messaging – hot air balloons signifying high hopes; turtles reflecting impatience at the speed with which matters progressed, and lady bugs when she was feeling good.

The book also contains stories of the role jewelry has played in Secretary Albright’s personal life, from gifts of jewelry she received from her parents and other family members, to the significance of getting ‘pinned’ while in college.  She frequently mentions the emotional ties certain pieces have for her. In addition to being a method of diplomatic communication for Secretary Albright, they also represent her unique identity.  For example, she tells of her desire to wear pins for years after her divorce because she no longer wanted to display her wedding ring.

Immensely readable and a delight to look at, Read My Pins is a wonderful addition to any library, whether you’re a jewelry historian, world history buff or a bibliophile in the purest sense.

Read My Pins, Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box can be purchased at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, published by Harper Collins. 

Read My Pins US Traveling Tour

The exhibit 'Read My Pins, The Madeleine Albright Collection' is on view at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. until October 17, 2010. The full US tour of the exhibit is listed below:

Museum of Arts and Design September 29, 2009 - January 31, 2010
Clinton Presidential Center Feb 15, 2010 – Jun 1, 2010
Smithsonian Visitors Center Jun 21, 2010 – Oct 17, 2010
Indianapolis Museum of Art Nov 7, 2010– Jan 30, 2011
Miami - Venue Pending Feb 13, 2011– May 1, 2011
Venue Pending May 22, 2011– Aug 14, 2011
Atlanta - Venue Pending Sept 4, 2011 – Nov 27, 2011
San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design Dec 15, 2011– Apr 1, 2012

Patricia Syvrud, MBA, G.G. is a jewelry industry consultant based in San Diego, CA.

Patricia Syvrud is a pro-bono jewelry industry advisor to Secretary Albright since 2006. She had the pleasure and honor to review the book pre-publication, and believes that the book is a genuine reflection of the Secretary Albright's intelligence, wit and stature as a significant world leader.


1 Read My Pins, Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, Harper Collins Publishers, 2009.  Page 23.

2 Washington Post, “Madame Secretary's Pins were Mightier than the Sword”, Sunday, November 8, 2009