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The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir

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Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, widely known as a relentless advocate for promoting human rights, has been heralded by President Barack Obama as one of America's "foremost thinkers on foreign policy." 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 ci Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, widely known as a relentless advocate for promoting human rights, has been heralded by President Barack Obama as one of America's "foremost thinkers on foreign policy." 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 Power’s 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 Obama’s human rights adviser, and in 2013, he named her US Ambassador to the United Nations, the youngest American to assume the role. A Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, 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. The Education of an Idealist lays bare the 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.


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Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, widely known as a relentless advocate for promoting human rights, has been heralded by President Barack Obama as one of America's "foremost thinkers on foreign policy." 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 ci Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, widely known as a relentless advocate for promoting human rights, has been heralded by President Barack Obama as one of America's "foremost thinkers on foreign policy." 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 Power’s 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 Obama’s human rights adviser, and in 2013, he named her US Ambassador to the United Nations, the youngest American to assume the role. A Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, 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. The Education of an Idealist lays bare the 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.

30 review for The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Power was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”. Power was a journalist covering the Balkan War when she started writing the book. She stated it took her ten years to write the book. She did not finish it until she had graduated from law school. She then had many rejection slips from publishers. The book is well written and researched. Power tells about being born in Ireland and immigrating as a child to the United States. Power was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”. Power was a journalist covering the Balkan War when she started writing the book. She stated it took her ten years to write the book. She did not finish it until she had graduated from law school. She then had many rejection slips from publishers. The book is well written and researched. Power tells about being born in Ireland and immigrating as a child to the United States. She tells about her early life, education and her career in journalism and then as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Power writes in-depth about her attempts to influence foreign policy from both inside and outside government. She also tells of the sexism she had to put up with as the only woman in the room. I was impressed at how well the book is written. Power discusses not only her successes but also her mistakes. Power is now on the faculty at Harvard Law School. I found this to be an interesting book about someone I knew little about. You need to read the book for all the details particularly about being Ambassador to the United Nations; I only highlighted a small sample of the book. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is twenty-one hours and two minutes. Power narrators her own book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aurelie

    What a spellbinding memoir. At first I found the title a bit grandiose, but the book is such a page-turner that I quickly forgot that minor quibble. I discovered Samantha Power when I read her biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello and have followed her career with interest ever since. I remember my surprise when this person I viewed as a journalist rather than a politician was named Ambassador of the UN and this memoir provides a fascinating glimpse into the development of her career and the evolu What a spellbinding memoir. At first I found the title a bit grandiose, but the book is such a page-turner that I quickly forgot that minor quibble. I discovered Samantha Power when I read her biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello and have followed her career with interest ever since. I remember my surprise when this person I viewed as a journalist rather than a politician was named Ambassador of the UN and this memoir provides a fascinating glimpse into the development of her career and the evolution of her thinking regarding how she could best make a difference in the world. The book is very well-written without being pedantic and highly engaging with a touch of self-deprecating humor. I hope she returns to politics some day.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Daeny

    Oh man. I really appreciated this. It reminds me of when I read Madeleine Albright’s memoir in high school and provokes the same emotions - inspiration and a desire to go out there and do something. It makes me wonder if I should switch my major to International Relations (which I won’t do because I’m already having a crisis). It’s really nice to see an insider perspective on US foreign policy under Obama, and to read work from someone who struggled with being outspoken vs. being the perfect fac Oh man. I really appreciated this. It reminds me of when I read Madeleine Albright’s memoir in high school and provokes the same emotions - inspiration and a desire to go out there and do something. It makes me wonder if I should switch my major to International Relations (which I won’t do because I’m already having a crisis). It’s really nice to see an insider perspective on US foreign policy under Obama, and to read work from someone who struggled with being outspoken vs. being the perfect face of the government. I’m so lucky that I get to see Power speak tonight.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dustin

    This was worthwhile, but not exceptional. I rarely say this, because I like long slogs and detailed memoirs and historical texts. But this could have been quite a bit shorter. Power's writing is strongest when describing her childhood and personal evolution as a human rights advocate. Too much time was spent covering her time with the Obama administration, perhaps because it's most recent. There's also quite a bit of preaching about American exceptionalism. Is this just because she and Obama spe This was worthwhile, but not exceptional. I rarely say this, because I like long slogs and detailed memoirs and historical texts. But this could have been quite a bit shorter. Power's writing is strongest when describing her childhood and personal evolution as a human rights advocate. Too much time was spent covering her time with the Obama administration, perhaps because it's most recent. There's also quite a bit of preaching about American exceptionalism. Is this just because she and Obama spent so much time because accused of the opposite by Fox News? I don't fully disagree - I am grateful for my American upbringing and the privilege that has brought me - but I grow tired of that drippy sentimentalism. Also, Hillary supporters, get ready to relive the "monster" quote from 2008.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    I loved just about every minute of listening to this audiobook, narrated by Samantha Power herself. She is a great writer with a great story to tell. The memoir is a chronological telling of her life from leaving Ireland as a child to just about every issue she worked on at the United Nations, but somehow it works as a unified narrative arc with characters and themes that reappear, well chosen details to illustrate bigger points, and a process that includes both change (“education”) but also a l I loved just about every minute of listening to this audiobook, narrated by Samantha Power herself. She is a great writer with a great story to tell. The memoir is a chronological telling of her life from leaving Ireland as a child to just about every issue she worked on at the United Nations, but somehow it works as a unified narrative arc with characters and themes that reappear, well chosen details to illustrate bigger points, and a process that includes both change (“education”) but also a lot of continuity (“idealist”). Often one rushes through the early years in a biography or memoir, but in this one they are fascinating and would have been a great standalone even if Power never went on to her bigger public role. The issues Power confronted and her perspective on them were well told. Personally I found her accounts of major events that I had barely paid attention to (e.g., her helping the United States to get involved to reduce violence in the Central African Republic) was more interesting than her perspective on the more familiar conflict in Syria. But all of it was very much worth reading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Poonam

    Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. The first 1/3 was really interesting as we learn backstory and what helped shape Samantha Power’s beliefs around human rights and dedication to the cause. Once she starts working in the Obama Administration, the chapters get really dry and sort of operate as stand alones. Each chapter gets into a major foreign policy challenge - Ebola crisis, Syrian war, N. Korea missile testing, etc. There’s not a lot of structure and it jumps around from analysis to depicting e Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. The first 1/3 was really interesting as we learn backstory and what helped shape Samantha Power’s beliefs around human rights and dedication to the cause. Once she starts working in the Obama Administration, the chapters get really dry and sort of operate as stand alones. Each chapter gets into a major foreign policy challenge - Ebola crisis, Syrian war, N. Korea missile testing, etc. There’s not a lot of structure and it jumps around from analysis to depicting events. Wish the chapters were more cohesive. I also recognize that foreign policy is not my wheelhouse, so some of it was a challenge to make sense of, and what drove my desire for more cohesion. It was really interesting getting a behind the scenes look into how foreign policy decisions are made. The debates that occur and the eventual decision on how the US would respond to situations around the world. Overall, I’m glad I read it and learned a lot.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    There’s no denying Samantha Power’s career-long commitment to international human rights, often manifested as an implacable defense of US diplomatic and military intervention in places where the potential for genocide exists. As a nascent reporter fresh out of Yale, Power traveled to war-torn Bosnia and reported extensively on the Bosnian-Serb Army’s ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats throughout the region. The experience inspired her Pulitzer Prize-winning first book, “A Problem from Hell: There’s no denying Samantha Power’s career-long commitment to international human rights, often manifested as an implacable defense of US diplomatic and military intervention in places where the potential for genocide exists. As a nascent reporter fresh out of Yale, Power traveled to war-torn Bosnia and reported extensively on the Bosnian-Serb Army’s ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats throughout the region. The experience inspired her Pulitzer Prize-winning first book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” which has been read widely by scholars and politicians since its publication and helped earn her a position in the Obama White House, first as an aide and eventually as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Even her second offering, an homage to murdered UN Ambassador Sergio Vieira De Mello, subtly makes the case for an increased US role in preventing atrocities in places where despotic leaders kill with abandon. It should come as no surprise, then, that Power’s newest book continues her advocacy of a broad internationalist agenda.  While the other recent high-profile memoir from within Barack Obama’s inner circle, former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes “The World as It Is,” laments the limitations of “hope and change” amidst a slowly-recovering post-recession economy and two protracted (and ambiguously aimed) wars in the Middle East, Power regrets the missed opportunities caused by political miscalculation, and in some cases what she appears to view as a lack of moral courage, by the holder of the highest office. The author’s first substantive disagreement with Obama came in 2009 during a discussion about US policy towards Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s crackdown on the Darfuri people following his indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Power rightly sought a strongly-worded public condemnation, and to Obama’s credit he delivered it; but the preceding deliberations, in which the President wavered in the face of a paucity of international support, represents a turning point in Power's relationship with her boss. She accuses Obama, politely enough to be sure, of displaying what renowned Princeton Economist Albert Hirschman terms the “futility concern” - that is, the rejection of a plausible course of action for fear that it won’t make a difference.  Not so polite, however, is Power’s frank observation that, at least in the Darfur case, Obama “seemed less inclined to believe the United States could get its way.” Taken at face value, the statement, albeit a few words among tens of thousands of them in a hefty 556-page book, feeds a key criticism of Power’s foreign policy, and of the neo-liberal military order in general: that underlying the oft-paraded human rights platform is the view that America is divined to intervene where, when and how it sees fit.  Certainly the defining moment of Power’s UN career came when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against rebel forces and civilians in his own country, killing at least 1,400 people, among them not a few women and children. Power advocated vigorously for air strikes against Assad, whose actions clearly violated the now-infamous “red line” established by Obama months earlier. The air strikes never happened, but Power was put in charge of brokering a landmark deal in which Assad relinquished huge portions of his chemical weapons stockpile to neutral parties. Despite that such a large-scale disarmament had never before been achieved at the UN, Power’s disaffection at the outcome is palpable throughout the outsized portion of the book dedicated to this event. She (somewhat begrudgingly, if my senses are accurate) attempts a balanced retrospective on the whole affair: "… we will never know what would have happened had Obama taken a different path, for example, ordering the Pentagon to set up a no-fly zone. Perhaps tens of thousands more Syrians would be alive today and perhaps, without such a huge exodus of refugees, the xenophobic forces rising in Western countries would not have gained such traction. On the other hand, had the US military struck Syria’s air defenses, Assad - sensing how little appetite there was in the United States for a fight - might have called the President’s bluff and dared us to ramp up our military involvement. This escalation could have taken the United States down the very “slippery slope” that all of us sought to avoid, miring our troops in a regional conflagration with Russia on the other side of the line."  Power’s careful selection of the term “regional conflagration” instead of “war” to describe the worst case scenario resulting from a decisive military strike (to say nothing of her reference to that ambiguous “slippery slope”) betrays her desire to downplay the very likely consequences of a targeted assault on Assad. The author all but confirms this in the very next paragraph, in which she uses entirely unambiguous language:   "...those of us involved in helping devise Syria policy will forever carry regret over our inability to do more to stem the crisis. And we know the consequences of the policies we did choose. For generations to come, the Syrian people and the wider world will be living with the horrific aftermath of the most diabolical atrocities carried out since the Rwandan genocide." It is true that we can’t predict what would have happened had the US taken a more aggressive approach to Assad’s alleged offenses. But certainly Power was not without a relevant analogue to the Syrian dilemma. In fact, there are two: Libya and Yemen. On the former, Power spends a few pages explaining the imperative to prevent strongman Muammar Gadaffi from fulfilling his promise to eviscerate an entire city, civilians and all; but ultimately she fails to envisage similar consequences of regime change - specifically the country’s rapid decline into a hodgepodge of warring factions after Gadaffi’s removal - for Syria. As for Yemen, where a Civil War involving US-supported Saudia Arabian forces has raged on since 2015, Power mentions the embattled region twice: once to condemn (quite legitimately) Yemen’s abhorrent anti-homesexuality laws, and the second-time in reference to the Russian Ambassador’s criticism of the Yemeni envoy’s preoccupation with “talking to women.”  As I write this review, the media, the American people and the forces directly involved in the defense of the Kurdish-held Northeastern border of Syria are attempting to make sense of President Trump’s hasty decision to remove US soldiers from the region, a decision which effectively encouraged Turkey to attack one of America’s sturdiest Middle Eastern allies. In only a few days, Turkish forces have reportedly killed a number of civilians, performed at least two battlefield executions, and sat by while former ISIS fighters formerly held in captivity by the Kurds escaped from an internment camp. The conversation about America's responsibility in preventing further atrocities will no doubt intensify. And Samantha Power's voice will be heard.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Prasan

    Samantha Power is an exceptional writer, but the book has serious blindspots. This is written as a personal memoir, taking you from Ms Power's childhood in Ireland, her journey to America, her involvement as a war reporter in Bosnia, and her eventual transformation into an advocate for "liberal interventionism" - that is, a posture that advocates that the United States and its Western allies must intervene militarily to stop massacres of civilians where they occur. In addition, she writes about Samantha Power is an exceptional writer, but the book has serious blindspots. This is written as a personal memoir, taking you from Ms Power's childhood in Ireland, her journey to America, her involvement as a war reporter in Bosnia, and her eventual transformation into an advocate for "liberal interventionism" - that is, a posture that advocates that the United States and its Western allies must intervene militarily to stop massacres of civilians where they occur. In addition, she writes about her experience in the Obama administration, and what goes on behind the scenes when crafting US foreign policy. There are plenty of anecdotes in this book that do make you empathize with her position. War is always horrific, and deliberate civilian massacres even more so. The NATO intervention in Bosnia undeniably saved tens of thousands of lives. She does a good job of communicating her frustration with the Obama administration's inaction in Syria when Bashar Al-Assad employed chemical weapons on his own population, and while I was never convinced that any military action short of total invasion could have stemmed the bloodshed, she at least makes an honest argument for some action (if only to stop chemical weapons). There are two major shortfalls however, that Ms Power never examines. First, she neglects to look at the atmosphere of paranoia created in the developing world by the US having an aggressively forward posture around the globe. Daniel Bessner writes an excellent review on this same book that deals with this issue considerably, available at: https://newrepublic.com/article/15461... A quote from the above review appears below: """The assumption running through Power’s career is that the American empire is able to act as a force for good in the world. At her memoir’s end—and in the wake of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria—she affirms that “on issue after issue, either the United States brought a game plan to the table or else the problem worsened.” Though this might be true in some cases, it is certainly not the rule, especially when one considers the disastrous effects of the nation’s wars in the Greater Middle East; its pointless antagonism of China, Russia, and Iran; its unwillingness to take the business-unfriendly steps required to arrest climate change; and its unhesitating promotion of a capitalist system that has exploited the labor of untold millions. The last several decades have taught us that the world needs far less American “leadership” than it has enjoyed.""" This is something I fiercely agree with. Secondly & even more astoundingly, Ms Power completely ignores the American role in Yemen in her entire memoir, which is really remarkable, given that the war began during her tenure. It is much easier to save civilian lives by not participating in bombing them. Yet, Ms Power ignores this easy option, and focuses on the hard option of trying to stop some unrelated power from bombing civilians in a country where the US is not heavily engaged. This omission can genuinely make the reader wonder if she was ever interested in saving civilian lives at all, or whether humanitarian intervention is just seen as a better cover to advance American imperial interests; rather than an action stemming out of concern for civilian lives. An interesting anecdote occurs after Assad’s first major chemical weapons strike that highlights the rather hypocritical nature in which the foreign policy elite tend to make decisions. Ms Power recounts that when Obama decided to go to Congress (something that is constitutionally mandated) in order to seek approval for retaliatory strikes on Assad, she was extremely upset. This is not merely an odd position to take, it is a dangerous one - suggesting that executive abuse of power should be a routine occurrence, and that relying on a democratic mandate in order to go to war is something one ought to avoid. Again, this doesn’t take away from the numerous merits of the book. If you want to understand how the US foreign policy machinery works, this is an excellent read. The author is also an excellent writer, and the story flows effortlessly and keeps the reader engaged. However, the extreme focus on what to do when somebody outside the US alliance misbehaves comes across quite clearly as a distraction from the US’ own misbehavior on the world stage, which is what makes this book as infuriating as it is engaging.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Owlseyes inside Notre Dame, it's so strange a 15-hour blaze and...30-minutes wait to call the firemen...and

    "Monster?" She didn't mean it. Really. https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-s... https://www.thesun.ie/news/4546321/sa...

  10. 4 out of 5

    KC

    From Ireland to working in the White House alongside President Barak Obama, Samantha Power reveals her climb towards political success, her efforts in protecting human rights, the war on terror, to finding true love and herself. For those who enjoyed anything about RBG or Becoming by Michelle Obama.

  11. 5 out of 5

    James Alan

    Ahistorical rag, suffused with banal American exceptionalism, failing utterly to reinvent the failings of our 'left' wing's interventionist movement. No one who supported the Libyan intervention(as Power did) should be waxing poetically about making the same mistakes. Samantha Power would thoughtlessly send our children to die in poorly thought-out conflicts, endlessly creating power vacuums. This book paired with the policies she supported makes me question if she is sincerely devoted to her mo Ahistorical rag, suffused with banal American exceptionalism, failing utterly to reinvent the failings of our 'left' wing's interventionist movement. No one who supported the Libyan intervention(as Power did) should be waxing poetically about making the same mistakes. Samantha Power would thoughtlessly send our children to die in poorly thought-out conflicts, endlessly creating power vacuums. This book paired with the policies she supported makes me question if she is sincerely devoted to her moral and intellectual commitments. Power vacuums are dangerous and cannot be reliably created, these concepts are dangerously flawed. Were Power's ideas applied to foreign policy, the US would exponentially increase the suffering of common people around the world. The only necessary power vacuum is a vacuum one creates by opting not to add Power's writing to their bookshelves. 0/10

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    Toward the end of my teaching career I had the opportunity of meeting Samantha Power and she proved to be a warm individual with a sardonic sense of humor. The occasion was a Model Congress trip to Washington with over thirty teenagers who were role playing our legislative branch of government with over 1000 other students from all over the United States. During our Saturday afternoon break we walked over to the White House and met with Ambassador Power in her office where she proceeded to spend Toward the end of my teaching career I had the opportunity of meeting Samantha Power and she proved to be a warm individual with a sardonic sense of humor. The occasion was a Model Congress trip to Washington with over thirty teenagers who were role playing our legislative branch of government with over 1000 other students from all over the United States. During our Saturday afternoon break we walked over to the White House and met with Ambassador Power in her office where she proceeded to spend a few hours with us reviewing the national security process in the Obama administration and engaged my students with the myriad of foreign policy issues then facing the United States. The afternoon session is something that my students have still not forgotten and neither have I as Power took the time to try and educate a group of teenagers and make them aware of the importance of protecting American national security and the importance of promoting human rights worldwide. Up until that time my familiarity with Power was as an academic having used her Pulitzer Prize winning book “A PROBLEM FROM HELL”: AMERICA IN THE AGE OF GENOCIDE as a class text, and CHASING THE FLAME: ONE MAN’S FIGHT TO SAVE THE WORLD, the poignant story of Sergio de Mello who worked for the United Nations to try and bring peace to Iraq, Bosnia, Cambodia among others before he was killed in Iraq. Her latest effort is a personal memoir, THE EDUCATION OF AN IDEALIST where Power describes her life’s journey from immigrating from Ireland as a child, war correspondent, to presidential Cabinet official in a deeply personal way, but also providing incisive analysis of the issues she has dealt with during her career. Power was raised in a loving but dysfunctional family. Her mother was a doctor and father a dentist. She received support from both parents, but her father’s alcoholism would ruin the marriage and form a cloud that hovered over Samantha’s childhood. Despite her father’s addiction he was an attentive father who took her to Hartigan’s Pub on a regular basis where he spent time with her, but mostly she read her books. Once her mother had enough, she emigrated to the United States when Samantha was nine leaving her father behind. The situation created deep emotional issues for Power throughout her remaining childhood and adulthood which she explores in a deeply personal and at times sad manner that would impact her relationships with men until she met Cass Sunstein. Power uses her memoir as sort of a catharsis as she explores her unresolved issues with “abandoning her father” who would later die from his disease at a young age. Power deeply ponders if she had remained or at least had a closer relationship with her father might he have survived. The guilt involved plagued her for years. The memoir explores many personal issues that makes the telling of her life story more human than most. She engages the reader through her relationship issues with men and how her courtship with Cass Sunstein evolved and what finally achieving a secure family meant to her. Her discussion of her pregnancy and the birth of her son Declan is a mirror to the type of mother she will become. Her vignettes about breast feeding in the “old boys network” of the State Department is priceless as is her discussion of the “support group” that was developed by woman who served on the National Security Council is entertaining, but projects the reality of women whose career paths took them into a male stronghold. Power’s future political views can be seen developing early on as she dealt with her school’s racial integration in Dekalb County, Georgia while in Middle School. Her education would bring her to Yale and travels to Eastern Europe where she saw the effects of the rise of liberal democracy in Czechoslovakia and Poland, but not in Yugoslavia. She would intern at the National Security Archive, a liberal NGO involved with Freedom of Information requests. With the guidance of Mort Abramowitz, a former Ambassador to Thailand and Turkey, as well as Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research and Fred Cluny, a human rights activist, Power became a journalist where she witnessed the horrors of the Bosnian Civil War in 1993. She encountered the siege of Sarajevo, the massacre at Srebrenica from her base in Zagreb, Croatia which greatly impacted her views on human rights and what could be done to prevent this type of ethnic cleansing from breaking out elsewhere. Her book “A PROBLEM FROM HELL: AMERICA AND THE AGE OF GENOCIDE altered her career trajectory and her life’s path. She raised questions about the nature of individual responsibility in the face of injustice, as she calls “upstanders v. bystanders.” Power interestingly points out that many critics have argued her monograph was a justification for the invasion of Iraq. In reality she condemns the United States for doing nothing about the different genocides she has researched particularly when there were options that Washington could have chosen to lessen the impact of events that resulted in so many deaths. Power describes in detail her relationship with Barack Obama for whom she became a foreign policy fellow on his Senate staff in 2005. She explores Obama’s rise to the presidency and her role as a staffer during the campaign and the pitfalls that resulted, i.e.; calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” which caused her temporary exile from the Obama team. During the Obama administration she would become the Human Rights expert on the National Security Council, worked closely with Ambassador Susan Rice at the United Nations, developed an office in charge of aiding Iraqi Refugees, and eventually replaced Rice at the United Nations. In discussing all of her positions she delves into her frustrations of policies she was not able to impact, the National Security process within the Obama administration, and her successes and failures. Important issues are dissected throughout parts of her book that deal with the Obama administration. Power does a nice job providing the historical context of each crisis that the Obama administration was presented with. Be it Libya, “genocide” controversy with Turkey, Assad’s use of Sarin gas during the Syrian Civil War, or Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and seizure of Crimea she is able to place contemporary crisis’ within a larger historical narrative. The issue of Libya is front and center as Colonel Muammar Qaddafi is overthrown and the ensuing violence would result in the death of US Ambassador Christopher Hill at Benghazi which created a firestorm set by Republicans. Power lays out Obama’s thinking and belief that the US had led the movement that stopped the massacre of Libyan civilians and it was now Europe’s turn to carry the load. He did not want to commit US troops and Power concludes there was probably little Washington could have done to prevent events that transpired following Qaddafi’s death. Of all the sections in the book it seems that the death at Benghazi are given short shrift. I would have expected Power to offer further insights to what transpired and how the issue would dominate politics up until and throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. The Syrian Civil War probably did the most to damage the Obama administration’s reputation in the world and at home. First, when learning of Assad’s use of chemical weapons Obama put forth his “Red Line” that if crossed would result in a military response by the United States. Obama with reasons explained by Powers would backtrack and pursue Congressional approval for US air strikes which was not forthcoming. In the end Vladimir Putin for his own reasons would agree to a UN Resolution to destroy a significant amount of Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, but the damage was done, and Obama’s foreign policy became a further target for Republicans. Power supports Obama’s rationale, but in retrospect she argues that the United States should have followed through and bombed Syrian targets designated by the Pentagon, and at least attempted to mobilize a group of countries to oversee a “no-fly zone.” This would have provided some security for Syrian civilians, but with the numerous factions, the role of Russia, and the vagaries of war anything that might have been tried would not have ended the civil war. Among other frustrations that Power had to work through professionally was the issue of the Armenian genocide that dates back to World War I. As I write Turkish planes and troops are killing hundreds of Syrian Kurds and fostering a migration of thousands. This is a pattern in Turkish history, and when the issue of the April 24, 2009 anniversary of the 1915 genocide of Armenians arose Power worked to include the word “genocide” as part of the American government’s characterization of the event. Power describes how difficult it was to change American policy, from which she failed. But at least there was a decision-making process, unlike the current administration when it decided to give Istanbul free rein to kill Armenians once again. Perhaps the most egregious issue that Power dealt with was Ukraine. In 2014 Putin’s Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine and seized the Crimea. Power reviews the machinations behind the scenes at the United Nations and inside Obama’s National Security apparatus nicely but what is most fascinating is how she evokes some sympathy for Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations. She explores how the ambassador tried to defend positions that he knew were totally indefensible. At times she would surreptitiously meet with Churkin and try to reach an accommodation dealing with eastern Ukraine. Churkin’s usual defense was that Putin was monitoring negotiations and his view was clear; if the western countries embraced a particular cause, then as if by reflex Moscow would pursue the opposite position. An excellent example came with the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenican genocide which Putin refused to label “genocide” in the Security Council. Power would gain a measure of revenge when she worked to block Russia from occupying a seat on the Human Rights Council by one vote! Overall, Power has delivered an exceptional memoir that reflects her humanity and honesty. She puts forth her feelings for the reader to engage and comes across as a warm-hearted person who has overcome emotional baggage that she carried around for years. This book is not your typical memoir and I commend it for its depth of analysis, insights into the human condition, and exploration of how difficult it is for America to lead in a world dealing with problems that Trumpist isolationism exacerbates resulting in a vacuum that Iran, Russia, and China are already beginning to fill. Power’s work at the United Nations should be a model for an American Ambassador to the United Nations, for evidence review her work in dealing with the Ebola crisis in Africa. It is not about being liberal or conservative it is about what is best for the United States and humanity in general, not a platform for racism and demeaning allies. Thomas Friedman sums it up best in describing Power’s book, It’s an unusual combination of autobiography, diplomatic history, moral argument and manual on how to breast-feed a child with one hand while talking to Secretary of State John Kerry on a cellphone with the other. The interweaving of Power’s personal story, family story, diplomatic history and moral arguments is executed seamlessly — and with unblinking honesty. and, When it comes to striking that right balance between idealism and realism, this book is basically a dialogue between the young, uncompromising, super idealistic Power — who cold-calls senior American officials at night at home to berate them for not doing more to stop the killing in Bosnia — and the more sober policymaker Power, who struggles to balance her idealism with realism, and who frets that she’s become one of those officials she despised.* • Thomas Friedman, “What Samantha Power Learned on the Job,” New York Times, September 10, 2019.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Łukasz

    this is a narcissistic tale of half truths written by someone who has her future interests in mind. Is Samantha going to be a Democratic candidate in 2024?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Barton Swain's review, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-educ... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) "The book is too long. Unless you’re a gifted writer, which Ms. Power is not, the job of U.N. ambassador does not justify an account of this size." "Her career is defined, tragically and indelibly, by her failure to respond to Mr. Obama’s failure to respond." [to the Syrian nerve-gas attacks, the President's notorious "red line"] Not for me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    Totally inspiring, a magnificent book about a person determined to make a difference and struggling to be the change she wants to see in the world. Power is frank in describing the nuance of international relations and the failings of U.S. policy, but where the book really shines is in her warm and endearingly personal revelations about her family and anxiety and the mentors she met along the way.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laura Carpenter

    Engaging and captivating, especially on audiobook since Samantha Power narrates. I wish that she had been more forthcoming about regrets and struggles in the Obama administration. She alluded to disagreements with Obama on Syria, but was careful not to directly criticize. I think that this book left many things unsaid, and although Power concluded the book by coming up with a framework for balancing pragmatism with idealism, I don’t know if she is convinced by her own concluding arguments. I cou Engaging and captivating, especially on audiobook since Samantha Power narrates. I wish that she had been more forthcoming about regrets and struggles in the Obama administration. She alluded to disagreements with Obama on Syria, but was careful not to directly criticize. I think that this book left many things unsaid, and although Power concluded the book by coming up with a framework for balancing pragmatism with idealism, I don’t know if she is convinced by her own concluding arguments. I could feel a palpable sense of frustration that she couldn’t do more while in office, or say more in this memoir.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Parth

    I've been following her career since I saw her fiery speech at the UN calling out Russia's support of the Assad regime, and am a big fan of hers. In this memoir she talks about her childhood in Ireland, and how she was forced to leave it when her parents' marriage fell apart. Her inspiration for becoming a war correspondent, then writing her first book, becoming an academic, and ultimately reaching the highest levels of the US government. She goes in-depth about her inner conflict of being an id I've been following her career since I saw her fiery speech at the UN calling out Russia's support of the Assad regime, and am a big fan of hers. In this memoir she talks about her childhood in Ireland, and how she was forced to leave it when her parents' marriage fell apart. Her inspiration for becoming a war correspondent, then writing her first book, becoming an academic, and ultimately reaching the highest levels of the US government. She goes in-depth about her inner conflict of being an idealist in an organization like the UN that is built on compromise, and shows how she learned Barack Obama's old adage: "Better is good". If you are someone critical of Liberal internationalism or the US foreign policy in general like myself, this book won't change your mind, but it will give a bit more perspective. She also talks a lot about struggles in her personal life, like the death of her father when she was a child and how it continued to affect her and shape her into adulthood. Being the UN ambassador is no easy job, and her story will show you the importance of having a strong family and set of friends who lift you up, and help you achieve your dreams (Chapter 35: Lean On). Overall, it's an amazing book, albeit a bit long. However, it is definitely worth the read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lena Nechet

    I admire the author, Samantha Power. The audio book made me cry and laugh, and helped me with an important life transition.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I started this book with high expectations. I had heard her speak in Harvard Square, and was eager to read it so I could learn about her 'education'. But I was disappointed. She grew up in a modest family. She went to Yale. She traveled to Bosnia and lived there for two years. She went to Harvard Law School, and even took a year off. She told us nothing about how she managed to pay for any of this. And to me, that was important. I was a college scholarship and work-study student, for I started this book with high expectations. I had heard her speak in Harvard Square, and was eager to read it so I could learn about her 'education'. But I was disappointed. She grew up in a modest family. She went to Yale. She traveled to Bosnia and lived there for two years. She went to Harvard Law School, and even took a year off. She told us nothing about how she managed to pay for any of this. And to me, that was important. I was a college scholarship and work-study student, for both my undergrad and grad school. I also had outside jobs to pay my rent and spending money. I couldn't study abroad because if I didn't work during each semester, I didn't have money for books or clothes. If I took time off, I'd lose my scholarship. When I completed my Master's degree, I wanted to move to California, but I only had $250.00 in the bank. I had to get a summer job and then a real job for September. I couldn't take off for a foreign country. She also mentions that when she was getting ready to be interviewed for an Ambassador's position in the Obama administration, she and her husband went to a hotel for three days to prepare. She had two young children at home! She had a full-time in-home nanny who was willing to stay with the kids at home for three days. Who has that kind of money? That kind of support? I certainly didn't. And also paying for a hotel for three days? Yikes! So I couldn't related to ANYTHING she did because I have no idea how she managed it, but it had to be with money I never had. Or family support. So: Privilege. How did she pay for Harvard Law? For Yale? I felt that she took these experiences for granted and never gave thought to how those experiences might not have been available to most others. and she also never mentioned working at the ice cream parlor in Harvard Square to make money, having to take time off from work to take her kids to the doctor's, spending all night in the ER with one kid who spiked a temp of 104 degrees one night, and so forth. Would I have wanted a many to do those things? Not really. But I couldn't have the experiences and education she did with the money I had....so her book did not resonate with me on iota. And I am a well-educated woman with a doctoral degree! And a former college professor myself!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Burd

    Definitely the best book that I've read this year - and well-deserving of the 5-star rating. In addition to being an incredibly well-written memoir of a fascinating life, Ms. Power puts context around some of the most difficult foreign policy decisions made during the past decade. Most of us understand that decisions made at the highest levels of our government are not as simple as they seem, but it's difficult to truly imagine the complexity. Most of all, it's difficult to remember that these d Definitely the best book that I've read this year - and well-deserving of the 5-star rating. In addition to being an incredibly well-written memoir of a fascinating life, Ms. Power puts context around some of the most difficult foreign policy decisions made during the past decade. Most of us understand that decisions made at the highest levels of our government are not as simple as they seem, but it's difficult to truly imagine the complexity. Most of all, it's difficult to remember that these decisions are being made by human beings, with their own conscience and values and fallibility and, often, uncertainties. I particularly appreciated that Power did not shy away from criticism of decisions made - particularly the difficult decisions around Syria - but also did not pretend to have had the "right" answer. Overall, just a great book and insight into foreign policy and the power of a single person's commitment to making the world a better place. For foreign policy wonks, I put this one up with Ronan Farrow's "War on Peace" as must-reads.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zack Rearick

    3.5. Good as far as political memoirs go. But if you're going to read Power -- and she is a great writer -- I would read A Problem From Hell. The most interesting parts of this book, I thought, were her reflections on her younger years and her time as a journalist and her (somewhat unlikely) transition into politics and government. I also loved her insight into lessons she took away as an outsider: never assume there is another meeting, make action-forcing events your friend, etc. Valuable and c 3.5. Good as far as political memoirs go. But if you're going to read Power -- and she is a great writer -- I would read A Problem From Hell. The most interesting parts of this book, I thought, were her reflections on her younger years and her time as a journalist and her (somewhat unlikely) transition into politics and government. I also loved her insight into lessons she took away as an outsider: never assume there is another meeting, make action-forcing events your friend, etc. Valuable and candid insights from Power, who is brilliant, as she learned to navigate the Senate and the White House. Some think that she may now have an eye on soon-to-be-President Warren's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. That feels more likely and accurate after reading this. At times it felt cautious,like the writing of someone who is still very much in the game, not quite ready to lay her cards on the table or risk burning bridges. As a citizen and a Democrat, that excites me. As a reader, it left me wanting a little more.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dexter

    First of all, I identify with the title of this book. I was excited to read it to see how Samatha Power navigates her idealism, tones it with pragmatism and compromise, and achieve results. I was not disappointed. The secret is to remain true to yourself and follow your heart. Simple to say but not easy to do. This is a powerful memoir from Samantha Power and sets the bar for this genre. Samatha Power's memoir differs from your typical diplomatic or political memoirs by exposing herse First of all, I identify with the title of this book. I was excited to read it to see how Samatha Power navigates her idealism, tones it with pragmatism and compromise, and achieve results. I was not disappointed. The secret is to remain true to yourself and follow your heart. Simple to say but not easy to do. This is a powerful memoir from Samantha Power and sets the bar for this genre. Samatha Power's memoir differs from your typical diplomatic or political memoirs by exposing herself as a flawed human, an imperfect diplomat, plagued with personal problems--from her parents' divorce, finding a partner, and infertility. Her diplomacy is based on the human condition and human rights informed by her freelance experience in Bosnia. This book takes you into the inner workings of diplomacy of the UN and how a single individual equipped with compassion and the power of the US government could impact global political, socio-economic, human rights, and public health changes. An extra treat is that we get to see the operations of Obama's administration under the cover and the various characters that occupied his cabinet. I call this administration compassionate power as it was composed of a mix of some of the sharpest and most compassionate minds of contemporary time: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry to name a few. Lastly, Samatha Power is a clear and powerful writer. The the format, style, lenght,and layout of the book is amenable to reading. Like Madeleine Albright, she has the talent of frankness and clarity without being offensive while making the pretty dry subject matter of world politics and diplomacy massively interesting--given that the arc of her memoir is more or less linear. Even more so, she makes her story human by injecting just enough of herself and humanity into the book without overwhelming it with her ego. I recommend highly The Education of an Idealist as an addition to your library.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Samantha Power is an incredibly accomplished woman who was born in Ireland, emigrated when she was a child and became Barack Obama's primary advisor on foreign affairs, eventually becoming the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. This book was enlightening about both Powers and about our government's dealings with other countries, especially the Middle East. Possibly the most wondrous part of this book is how Powers explained her job to her young children and their young mi Samantha Power is an incredibly accomplished woman who was born in Ireland, emigrated when she was a child and became Barack Obama's primary advisor on foreign affairs, eventually becoming the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. This book was enlightening about both Powers and about our government's dealings with other countries, especially the Middle East. Possibly the most wondrous part of this book is how Powers explained her job to her young children and their young minds' grasp of government life - precious. I really enjoyed this.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ml Lalonde

    I read most of this book during the hectic month leading up to and including the UN General Assembly, where Samantha Power’s principled and keenly intelligent presence still resonates. What a terrific read this was — as much for her thoughtful reflection on some of the challenges and mistakes of her era, but also for the intimate portrait she paints of a working woman’s struggle to balance relationship, children. friends and life in the midst of a 100 hour work week. She’s razor smart AND vulner I read most of this book during the hectic month leading up to and including the UN General Assembly, where Samantha Power’s principled and keenly intelligent presence still resonates. What a terrific read this was — as much for her thoughtful reflection on some of the challenges and mistakes of her era, but also for the intimate portrait she paints of a working woman’s struggle to balance relationship, children. friends and life in the midst of a 100 hour work week. She’s razor smart AND vulnerable. You don’t get that very often. I want to be her friend. She seems like someone who would be an empowering role model in the workplace. Power also worked as a journalist and wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning study on genocide, so you can be confident that her prose sings.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Vance

    I ordered this book after I read the review by Tom Friedman of the New York Times. He said it was an excellent book and he is right. It is Samantha Power's life story from her childhood in Ireland until 2019. She writes clearly with enthusiasm. She worked with Obama from the time he was Senator to the end of his term as President. She provides great insight to what it is like to work in the White House and then as US Ambassador to the United Nations. It is clear that such people have to be total I ordered this book after I read the review by Tom Friedman of the New York Times. He said it was an excellent book and he is right. It is Samantha Power's life story from her childhood in Ireland until 2019. She writes clearly with enthusiasm. She worked with Obama from the time he was Senator to the end of his term as President. She provides great insight to what it is like to work in the White House and then as US Ambassador to the United Nations. It is clear that such people have to be totally dedicated to their mission of service. Her concern was mainly with the third world, Africa and Middle East. She was involved in so many of the items that were in the news. For example the Ebola crisis. She is to a large degree responsible with Obama in solving the problem of the disease spreading and treatment. US military and Doctors without Borders were also critically involved. Tom Friedman was right, this is an excellent book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Moore

    5 stars is not enough for this book. I’ve been a Samantha Power fan since reading “A problem from hell” about genocide and America’s response to it. Reading her memoir which deftly combines her personal story with plenty foreign policy and stories of her work. If you’re interested in foreign policy or just a good memoir this is an excellent read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    I really learned a lot reading this book. Samantha Power has had a very interesting life that has shaped her experience and perspective. Anyone interested in geopolitical topics will like this memoir. Likely, there will be another book in a few years as she is still extremely active in politics.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary Montgomery

    A moving memoir of a strong woman who was dedicated to making a difference in the world. A bonus to this book was her excellent writing and explanation of the important work that goes on in Washington, and the UN to help make the world a safer place in which to live.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ken Johnson

    What an incredible memoir by a dedicated public servant. It is a sobering reminder - as if we needed one - of just how much poorer we as a nation are with the ascendancy of Donald Trump.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Fantastic for what it covers. Power has led an incredible life and tells her story well. Furthermore she articulates the challenges of implementing a humanitarian foreign policy in a world driven by self-interest. Loses a star because she omits discussions about the war in Yemen, drone strikes, and whistleblowers like Snowden.

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