Samantha Power – The Education of an Idealist

New York Times, Wall Street Journal, And USA Today best seller

“A must-read for anyone who cares about our role in a changing world.” (President Barack Obama)

“This is a wonderful book…. The interweaving of Powers personal story, family story, diplomatic history and moral arguments is executed seamlessly and with unblinking honesty.” (Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times Book Review)

“Honest, personal, revealing…about the development of a young womans inner strength and self-knowledge.” (Colm Tibn, author of Brooklyn and Nora Webster)

“Truly engrossing.” (Rachel Maddow)

An intimate, powerful, and galvanizing memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner, human rights advocate, and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power.

In her memoir, Power offers an urgent response to the question “What can one person do?” and a call for a clearer eye, a kinder heart, and a more open and civil hand in our politics and daily lives. The Education of an Idealist traces Powers distinctly American journey from immigrant to war correspondent to presidential Cabinet official. In 2005, her critiques of US foreign policy caught the eye of newly elected senator Barack Obama, who invited her to work with him on Capitol Hill and then on his presidential campaign. After Obama was elected president, Power went from being an activist outsider to a government insider, navigating the halls of power while trying to put her ideals into practice. She served for four years as Obamas human rights adviser, and in 2013, he named her US Ambassador to the United Nations, the youngest American to assume the role.

Power transports us from her childhood in Dublin to the streets of war-torn Bosnia to the White House Situation Room and the world of high-stakes diplomacy. Humorous and deeply honest, The Education of an Idealist lays bare the searing battles and defining moments of her life and shows how she juggled the demands of a 24/7 national security job with the challenge of raising two young children. Along the way, she illuminates the intricacies of politics and geopolitics, reminding us how the United States can lead in the world, and why we each have the opportunity to advance the cause of human dignity. Powers memoir is an unforgettable account of the power of idealism and of one persons fierce determination to make a difference.

Author: Samantha Power
Narrator: Samantha Power
Duration: 21 hours 2 minutes
Released: 19 Oct 2009
Publisher: HarperAudio
Language: English

User Review:

goatskin melodramatic

I’m rather torn about this book because so much of Power’s life & work has been important & valuable in understanding, addressing & preventing human rights violations. And setting the development of her political and moral compass within a deeply personal story reveals much about the formation of a political leader that is often presented as sui generous. That narrative also offers insight into the particular challenges facing women in leadership. From the story of her mother’s struggle to pursue her medical education and career and to leave a toxic marriage to Power’s alcoholic father, to her efforts to become American after emigrating from Ireland, we learn much about the lived experience that shaped Power as a journalist and a diplomat. Her hapless romantic life in her 20s and early 30s, and then the challenge of marrying and having children while serving in the White House, where she forms a sort of sisterhood of similarly situated women in powerful roles counters the bro-culture the Obama administration was known for.

This is all meant to inspire, but a subtext got in the way of what I think was supposed to read as a classical story of triumph over life obstacles. For me, the level of privilege that allowed Power–despite real challenges that face many people–access to options few people have is a much more powerful story. Yes, her mother struggled to become a doctor, but she did have the family resources to ultimately do that, securing a position that allowed her to work in the Middle East, bringing Power and her brother to visit and earn valuable insight on global diversity. Yes, her mother had to petition the backwards, sexist, Catholic (still) Irish court system to leave the country with her children, a divorce from her alcoholic father not being an option. But she did so to be with another doctor in Pittsburgh, where she was able to re-credential in her field while Power shed her Irish brogue and learned about baseball. It was, by all indications, a very economically comfortable life that continued when the family moved to Atlanta, where her mother and step-father took up medical positions at Emory and she attended a “good school” in Atlanta. There, she does note that African American kids who were bussed to the school had the burden of having to spend hours traveling to and from school and suffered overt discrimination once they got there. But she stops short of recognizing the other privileges afforded by her two-doctor-income affluence and its connections.

For instance, she doesn’t seem to recognize that having the ambition to go to an Ivy League college comes from a particular background. So, too, does the idea that you might piss away a Yale education on a sports communication major. That Power is jarred away from that self-indulgent career path when she sees footage of the Tiananmen Square Massacre is presented as a profound transformation of conscience, and it is. But it fails to recognize the social, cultural, and economic circumstances that prevent concern for others to develop earlier.

Likewise, her move into government work and then into journalism are facilitated by connections, first at Yale and then through the internship and jobs that gets her, that few people have access to. As someone who has worked incredibly hard to develop a career as a writer without such connections, I pretty much puked in my mouth when she writes of a connection made by a former boss to an NPR editor who would “take her calls” for possible stories from the Balkans, despite her very limited journalistic experience. Indeed, Power drops connection and connection who helps her along the way, undoubtedly as an admirable acknowledgement that she couldn’t do what she did on her own. But there seems to be no understanding that such support is available to a slim segment of the population.

Later, during her vetting to become UN Ambassador, when she frets over perhaps not having paid taxes on maybe $600 of income for journalistic work, I had to wonder what she had lived on while she was living there. Did her mother, who bought Power her first laptop, pay the way? Had mum paid the way for her first trip through Europe with her boyfriend? How did she afford to rent a beach-front cottage when she went to Harvard law? The book oozes with a level of affluence and privilege that lays bare what it takes — well beyond Pulitzer Prize-winning brilliance — to make your way to the elite levels of government in America. That Power offers this as a story of moral and vocational development while mostly ignoring all this is heartbreaking. You know those Black kids bussed to her “good” high school? Did many of them have a shot at such a life? I doubt it.

That said, the same sort of affluence and connection is of course true for most of the men in elite positions in government, business, and education, of course. That Power is open about her life, though this is largely presented as a field of challenges she overcomes, makes her vulnerable to the criticism above in ways that few men in comparable positions of power are. And, as I noted in the beginning, her contributions to human rights have been considerable. Still, I have to wonder how U.S. policy would be shaped toward the needs of the most vulnerable in America and the world if more people from less privileged backgrounds were able to make their way to the level of influence Power and her Ilk achieve more easily than they care to acknowledge or can even see,