America's Youngest Ambassador: The Cold War Story of
Samantha Smith's Lasting Message of Peace
by Lena Nelson
About the Book
In 1982, amid the nuclear paranoia that engulfed the US and the Soviet Union, Samantha Smith, a fifth grader from Manchester, Maine, wrote a letter to the Kremlin asking the Soviet leader if he was going to start a war. When Pravda, the biggest Soviet newspaper, published her letter—and Samantha received an unprecedented invitation to visit the Soviet Union—her family embarked on a historic journey that helped transform the hearts and minds of two nations on a collision course.
Today, a nuclear war seems like a possibility once again. The story of a young American girl’s letter to the Soviet leader and her innocent curiosity about the other side of the Iron Curtain holds an important lesson for every American: to never stop questioning the status quo, and to recognize that the responsibility for the preservation of peace is not only the purveyance of the government. America’s Youngest Ambassador provides insights into a forgotten era and has an important message for young people who strive to be more involved in facilitating change, both locally and worldwide.
Juxtaposing Samantha’s narrative with that of her own childhood in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Lena Nelson explores the consequences of government propaganda on both sides of the ocean and reveals how Samantha Smith’s journey in the summer of 1983 helped melt the hearts of the Soviets and thaw the ice of the Cold War. Drawing on interviews conducted in both the US and Russia with key players in the events of those days, among them Samantha’s mother Jane, Nelson blends storytelling, anecdotes, and analysis of Soviet-American relations to tell the story of this unprecedented moment in history.
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About the Author
Lena Nelson is a writer, teacher and citizen historian who has spent seventeen years researching and documenting the story of Samantha Smith and creating www.SamanthaSmith.info, the online archive of news articles and videos about Samantha Smith. She was a nominee for the Allegra Johnson Prize and has worked with numerous news, educational, and humanitarian organizations around the world. She has degrees in international studies and linguistics; and lives with her family in Southern California.
“I had all but forgotten Samantha Smith but here she is again — a refreshing dose of idealism revived in a cynical age. The American schoolgirl who exchanged letters with Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov. And who is it who brings the story back to life? A one-time Soviet schoolgirl, now herself an American and the author of this lovely book. Nice!”
- Ted Koppel, journalist, anchor
“In this timely biography, Lena Nelson reminds us that all politics is personal, and that each of us can make the world a better place.”
- Laurie LaBar, Chief Curator of History and Decorative Arts, Maine State Library and Museum
“In 1982, ten-year-old Samantha Smith inspired millions of people around the world when she wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov and made a passionate plea for peace at the height of Cold War nuclear tensions. Lena Nelson’s book America’s Youngest Ambassador, chronicling Samantha’s remarkable journey couldn’t be more timely for the world we are living in today, eerily reminiscent of 1983, with escalating nuclear dangers, and a growing sense of fear and despair. Telling Samantha’s story now can once again inspire millions of people to act, as they did in the 1980s, to back us away from the brink of nuclear war.
A timely and critically important book that will inspire millions of people around the world today, just as Samantha did in the 1980s. Telling Samantha’s story today will bring hope and inspiration and show how one person, through one small act, can open hearts and minds, make a difference, and change the world.”
- Cynthia Lazaroff, award-winning documentary filmmaker, author, US-Russian relations expert, founder of www.nuclearwakeupcall.earth
“Samantha Smith, Sam to me, was one of the most remarkable young women I have ever met. She will always be in my heart and I feel that this book will capture that aspect of her personality. You will enjoy the story of this outstanding young woman.”
- Robert Wagner, actor, author
“I was the granddaughter of The Soviet Ambassador to the United States in Washington DC, Anatoly Dobrynin, and had the pleasure of welcoming Samantha to our Embassy in 1984. She struck me as a very mature and determined girl! For such a young age she managed to change the minds and lives of so many people around the world! Her life was so tragically cut short; I can imagine how much more she could have done to help bring peace and understanding between our countries! She will be forever remembered as the youngest Goodwill Ambassador who tried to help bring our nations closer in this turbulent world!”
- Ekaterina Dobrynina, granddaughter of Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to the US (1962 - 1986)