Written by former US secretary of state and UN ambassador Madeleine Albright, Prague Winter is a seamlessly woven amalgam: part family memoir, part political and cultural history, and part discerning examination of how people make difficult, sometimes world-altering, moral choices. It covers the turbulent first half of twentieth century Europe and is focused most closely on Czechoslovakia, a distinctive and fascinating country this book made me want to visit. As a naturalized American citizen and government official who was born into a diplomatic Czechoslovakian family just before the onset of WWII, Albright has unique perspectives and insights. The catalyst for this book is that, raised a Catholic, Albright didn’t know about her family’s Jewish heritage until 1997 when a Washington Post investigation uncovered the information. Albright’s parents were dead by then so she couldn’t ask them about their reasons; instead she began to research on her own. What she found and conveys in her writing is a much more complicated history of her native land than the one she had been brought up to believe in. Eastern Europe lost and gained its freedom twice in Albright’s lifetime. Albright examines both the psychological and historical reasons that Hitler and Stalin were able to fool the world about their intentions, and the grim philosophical and ethical dilemmas world leaders and ordinary citizens, including her parents, faced in consequence. For instance, are grand acts of resistance, like the assassination of Czechoslovakia’s top German Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, worth the harsh reprisals they cause? Heydrich’s slaying, an episode Albright recounts in thrilling detail, increased national pride, raised badly depleted moral, helped reinvigorate the opposition and established Czechoslovakia as a key player in the war, a necessary step toward it regaining its independence when the fighting was over. But many innocent people were tortured and killed in consequence. An entire town, mistakenly thought to be complicit, was burned and razed to the ground. The men were shot, the children deemed young and blond enough were taken away to be adopted by German families, the remaining children were murdered in gas chambers and the women were sent to concentration camps. There are no easy answers to the questions Albright considers, and while she usually comes down on one side or another she doesn’t oversimplify the issues involved. It’s a mesmerizing and moving book.