Richard Stengel is the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in American history (2013-16). While at the State Department, he helped modernize State’s communications and led the department’s counter-disinformation efforts. He helped create and oversee the Global Engagement Center, the United States’ only stand-alone anti-ISIL messaging entity. He spearheaded the creation of the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, the first joint American and foreign counter ISIL messaging hub, which has become a template for others around the world.

He also led department-wide efforts to counter the global rise of disinformation. In addition, the Under Secretary oversees all communications from the podium and beyond. He also oversaw the modernization of all embassies websites and pioneered the use of social media at the Department. He also led the creation of English for All, a government-wide effort to promote the teaching of English around the world and oversaw the departments extensive educational exchanges, including the Fulbright Scholarship.

Early Life

Stengel was a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, where he played on the 1975 NIT winning basketball team. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where he studied English and history. He’s married to Mary Pfaff, a South African photographer whom he met while working on “Long Walk to Freedom” and has two teenaged sons.

From 1992 through 1994, he collaborated with Nelson Mandela on the South African leader’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom.” Stengel later wrote “Mandela’s Way,” a New York Times best-seller, on his experience working with Mandela. He is the author of several other books, including “January Sun,” a book about life in a small South African town as well as “You’re Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery.”

TIME Magazine

Before coming to the State Department, Mr. Stengel was the Editor of TIME for seven years, where he oversaw all print, digital, tablet and marketing functions for the TIME brand. During his tenure, he redesigned, re-focused and reinvigorated the brand, and changed its publication date for the first time in its history.

While editor, TIME won Magazine of the Year for the first time in its history as well as a number of other National Magazine Awards, including for general excellence. He won an Emmy award for executive producing a TIME documentary: “Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience.” Mr. Stengel had been a longtime writer and editor for TIME before becoming the magazine’s editor. He has written more than 25 cover stories for the magazine, including “The Case for National Service” in 2007, which helped launch the national service movement and contributed to the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. He was also managing editor of TIME.com and remade the website in the early 2000s.


Information Wars

During the final years of the Obama administration, Richard Stengel was the single person tasked with unpacking, disproving, and combating both ISIS’s messaging and Russian disinformation. When the 2016 election happened, he quickly came to see how ISIS, Putin and Trump all used the same playbook. An urgent book for our times, Information Wars stresses that we must find a way to combat this ever growing threat to democracy.

Amazon.com    |     GroveAtlantic.com

You're Too Kind

A Brief History of Flattery–and why it’s an art form well worth studying. Ranging from the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt, an outrageous form of physical self-flattery, to the publication of “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” More than mere praise, flattery is praise with a motive. You’re Too Kind looks at flattery and the social contexts in which it is used from Renaissance times up through President Clinton on the opening day of his impeachment inquiry: “I trust the American people. They almost always get it right”.

January Sun

Richard Stengel journeyed to South Africa in the late 1980s to chronicle life under apartheid. He ended up spending months in a small rural town where the white authorities were attempting to forcibly remove a black township. He tells this moving story through the lives of three families—one white, one black, one Indian—over the course of a single day for each of them. The private lives of each family reveal what it was like to live in a society where everyone is judged by the color of his or her skin. Stengel reveals the hopes and dreams of each of these families, and their resilient optimism about the future.

Long Walk to Freedom

The definitive autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world.

Mandela's Way

A compact, profoundly inspiring book that captures the spirit of Nelson Mandela, distilling the South African leader’s wisdom into 15 life lessons. We long for heroes and have too few. Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013 at the age of ninety-five, is the closest thing the world has to a secular saint. He liberated a country from a system of violent prejudice and helped unite oppressor and oppressed in a way that had never been done before.


Thursday, Nov. 7

World Affairs Council 2019 National Conference
1200 18th St NW, Suite 902
Washington, DC  20036
4:00 pm

Saturday, Nov. 9

5015 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
1:00 pm

Monday, Nov. 11

Madison Public Library
201 W Mifflin St
Madison, WI 53703
7:00 pm

Tuesday, Nov. 12

Global Minnesota
Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55401
6:00 pm

Thursday, Nov. 14

Rick Stengel in conversation with Janet Steele
La Fonda on the Plaza
Lumkins Ballroom
100 East San Francisco St.
Santa Fe, NM
1:00 pm

Friday, Nov. 15

Panel: “How Control of the Internet Shapes The Truth”
La Fonda on the Plaza
Lumkins Ballroom
100 East San Francisco St.
Santa Fe, NM
3:30 pm

Tuesday, Nov. 19

15 Eliot St
Taubman Building, 1st Fl
Taubman 135
Cambridge, MA 02138
11:30 am

Tuesday, Nov. 19

McDermott, Will and Emery Law Offices
28 State Street, #34
Boston, MA 02109
6:00 pm




“Why Saying Radical Islamic Terrorism Isn’t Enough” -New York Times Op Ed

“Radical islamic Extremism. There, I said it. For three years as under secretary of state for diplomacy and public affairs, I would not and could not utter that phrase. No one in the Obama administration could or did. We used the much kless specific term “violent extremism.” As in, “countering violent extremism,” which is what we called most of our anti-Islamic State efforts. And all of the time, we were collectively excoriated by conservatives, Republicans and Donald J. Trump.”

The End of the American Century” -Editorial in The Atlantic

“In 1941, a year before America entered World War II, Henry Luce, the founder and publisher of Time, wrote an essay called “The American Century.” It was an argument not just against isolationism but for America as a global moral beacon. Luce, the son of American missionaries to China, wrote that America must “accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence exert upon the world the full impact of our influence.” That vision, he wrote, was only possible if it reflected “a passionate devotion to great American ideals.” He enumerated them as a love of freedom and justice, equality of opportunity, and a commitment to truth and charity and cooperation….Trump ’s administration is the death knell of the American Century.”

“A Time to Serve” -Time

“Today the two central acts of democratic citizenship are voting and paying taxes. That’s basically it. The last time we demanded anything else from people was when the draft ended in 1973. And yes, there are libertarians who believe that government asks too much of us — and that the principal right in a democracy is the right to be left alone — but most everyone else bemoans the fact that only about half of us vote and don’t do much more than send in our returns on April 15. The truth is, even the archetype of the model citizen is mostly a myth. Except for times of war and the colonial days, we haven’t been all that energetic about keeping the Republic.”