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In this paper I want to work with some of the key global issues – modernization, decolonization, development – that preoccupied US intellectuals in the 1950s, as the country moved towards a hegemonic global position following the Second World War and, perhaps more importantly, the breaking-up of European empires. In Burdick and Lederer’s The Ugly American (1958), Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King (1959), and the sprawling manuscript that became Under Kilimanjaro/ True at First Light we see fictional responses to decolonization: these authors constructed narratives that placed American protagonists in the terrain of the vanishing European. All these texts contain quite specific examples of development in action: episodes, vignettes and plots that follow the expatriate, the ‘overseas American’, as he brings ideas of pragmatic development to the post-European sites of Asia or Africa. For Lederer and Burdick, Bellow and Hemingway, the fiction of development is also a stage for presenting a particular figure, the robust and neo-Rooseveltian pragmatic American who will replace the settlers, colonial administrators and fonctionnaires of European empire.