Madam Ambassador

Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest

A wonderfully engaging, compulsively readable story of a remarkable woman’s immersion in the world of foreign diplomacy

“Engrossing, edifying, and funny, too. Kounalakis is a great storyteller, and she puts us in the middle of the action. Yes, action—even the ambassador to a peaceful place like Hungary sees more than her share. Eleni Kounalakis’s memoir is an important—and highly readable—look into the crucial work done by ambassadors.” —Dave Eggers

A helicopter ride to visit troops in the Afghanistan war zone, a tense meeting with the newly elected prime minister, and . . . a wild boar hunt! Eleni Kounalakis was forty-three and a land developer in Sacramento, California, when she was tapped by President Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Hungary under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During her tenure, from 2010 to 2013, Hungary was a key ally in the U.S. military surge, held elections in which a center-right candidate gained a two-thirds supermajority and rewrote the country’s constitution, and grappled with the rise of Hungarian nationalism and anti-Semitism.

The first Greek American woman ever to serve as a U.S. ambassador, Kounalakis recounts her training at the State Department’s “charm school” and her three years of diplomatic life in Budapest—from protocols about seating, salutations, and embassy security to what to do when the deposed king of Greece hands you a small chocolate crown (eat it, of course). A cross between a foreign-policy memoir and an inspiring personal family story—her immigrant Greek father went from agricultural day laborer to land developer and major Democratic Party activist—Madam Ambassador draws back the curtain on what it is like to represent the U.S. government abroad as well as how American embassies around the world function.


“Ambassador Kounalakis brings us inside the world of American diplomacy in a personal, accessible way, sharing her experiences as a diplomat during challenging times.”
—Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
“Engrossing, edifying, and funny too. Kounalakis is a great storyteller, and she puts us in the middle of the action. Yes, action—even the ambassador to a peaceful place like Hungary sees more than her share.”
—Dave Eggers, author of The Cirlce
“If you want to know what it looks like for a woman to ‘lean in,’ read Ambassador Kounalakis’s book. It is an inspiring example of a businesswoman-turned-diplomat taking every opportunity to effectively advance the interests, values, and security of our country.”
—Janet Napolitano, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
“Eleni Kounalakis demystifies diplomacy and shows how a world shaped by the Internet and social media still needs ambassadors, especially those with strong principles and a good story to tell.”
—U.S. Ambassador John Shattuck (Ret.)
“This is an all-American story told by the first Greek American woman to serve as a U.S. Ambassador.”
—Admiral James Stavrides, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
“Kounalakis was a quick study. . . . [Madam Ambassador] offers further evidence, if anyone still needs it, that the European Union now faces the possibility of an autocracy taking shape within its border.”
The Washington Post

News and Reviews

The New York Times

Author Eleni Kounalakis, former ambassador to Hungary, discusses the country's xenophobic response to the Syrian refugee crisis in an op-ed for the New York Times

Goodreads Reviews