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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 civil hand in 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 civil hand in 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. She tells ab 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

    Esil

    3.5 stars I would have liked The Education of an Idealist much more if it had been shorter, although I’m still glad I listened to it. Samantha Power is probably best known as an ambassador to the UN under the Obama administration. But the parts of her memoir I liked the best were her childhood in Ireland and family background, her move to the US and her earlier work covering the war in Bosnia. Her discussion of her more recent years felt overly long and a bit too self-aggrandizing. But, still, he 3.5 stars I would have liked The Education of an Idealist much more if it had been shorter, although I’m still glad I listened to it. Samantha Power is probably best known as an ambassador to the UN under the Obama administration. But the parts of her memoir I liked the best were her childhood in Ireland and family background, her move to the US and her earlier work covering the war in Bosnia. Her discussion of her more recent years felt overly long and a bit too self-aggrandizing. But, still, her keen intelligence, tenacity and fearlessness are admirable. And her view on today’s world is extremely relevant. She has a great voice, so this works well as an audio.

  3. 5 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rincey

    Extremely well written and has a great POV on the way activism and government and getting actual changes made can intersect as well as work against each other. But toward the end, it started to feel a bit bogged down

  6. 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    “People who care, act, and refuse to give up may not change THE world, but they can change many individual worlds.” Samantha Power's Memoir "The Education of an Idealist" reads as an honest, upfront, and rather refreshing look at an Irish immigrant's upbringing against the backdrop of quite a politically led life in American politics. There's a great sense of humility as Power brings up her own idealisms whilst consistently upfront about her own shortcomings. That weighted judgement against hers “People who care, act, and refuse to give up may not change THE world, but they can change many individual worlds.” Samantha Power's Memoir "The Education of an Idealist" reads as an honest, upfront, and rather refreshing look at an Irish immigrant's upbringing against the backdrop of quite a politically led life in American politics. There's a great sense of humility as Power brings up her own idealisms whilst consistently upfront about her own shortcomings. That weighted judgement against herself lends to her credibility as a witness to American political history, and is quite rewarding for it. It never feels too preachy or pollyanna, although many could accuse Power of being just those, having not dived into her personal life as this book does. What's more, this book really adds layers to the past 30 years of international politics concerning the government of the United States. There's a lot of touching and moving moments amongst The Education of an Idealist's pages. Power struggles with many human atrocities, such as the genocides in Bosnia and various nations in Africa and the Middle East, while adding some particularly funny moments discussing romance and motherhood. One of the most touching moments in the book comes from her time as ambassador to the UN. There's a particularly touching moment when she visits the UN office of the little known country of the Central African Republic, so small a country it's atrocities and concerns are little known, just like it's tiny "office" of just two people. As Samantha and the CAR ambassador are talking, it becomes apparent that his new suit, fresh roses, and modest but tidy office are attempts to prepare and try and show how important the occasion is for their country, that the US is giving them a meeting. The CAR ambassador tears up whilst trying to explain his country's problems, and says he is emotional not just because of his country's dire situation, but because a country like the United States is actually giving him an audience. It's a very sad but uplifting chapter to read. Another touching chapter is how Sam befriends the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin. This is of particular significance due to the difficult US-Russia relations and the frequent political butting of heads between the two. For anyone who enjoys reading about political and international relations, this can be a rewarding book. However, perhaps the most significant aspect of this book is Samantha's relationship with Barack Obama. It's a relationship that is very informative of the president as a realist man of ideals, and adds to his cool factor. Obama plays hardened but charming and popular heart-of-gold high school quarterback and Power becomes the sort of awkward math and science nerd who's social skills becoming quite hilarious to witness. Quite an enjoyable friendship to witness. This very frank and insightful memoir is a must read for any political reading list.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tzipora

    This was by far the most personal and most interesting- and consistently interesting, never any dull moments for me- political memoir I’ve ever read! I also greatly enjoyed getting to live vicariously through Power, as someone deeply interested in a foreign policy career before severe illness derailed my plans, and as someone who has grown evermore interested in journalism, especially the amazing work of foreign correspondents. I will never have those careers but damn, did I ever enjoy reading al This was by far the most personal and most interesting- and consistently interesting, never any dull moments for me- political memoir I’ve ever read! I also greatly enjoyed getting to live vicariously through Power, as someone deeply interested in a foreign policy career before severe illness derailed my plans, and as someone who has grown evermore interested in journalism, especially the amazing work of foreign correspondents. I will never have those careers but damn, did I ever enjoy reading all the details of Samantha’s experiences. I also deeply admire what a full, varied, and impactful life she’s had so far. Especially to see a woman who had my idea of it all- the incredible and varied career, an amazing husband, and sweet kids. She doesn’t shy away from the hardships of how often her job took her away from her family, even detailing how often her son begged to see her more, but I got the impression she did the best she could on every front and I have tremendous respect for her. I also adored some of the anecdotes she shared about her kids, like them discussing wildlife with various ambassadors during parties at the US UN Ambassador parties or how she would try to briefly and in child friendly language explain conflicts in the world, such as when her son, who loved elephants kept discussing how much he wanted to visit Zimbabwe as they had they highest population of elephants and Samantha was forced to explain that then Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe was “not nice” to his country’s citizens. In response her son first inquired why the country couldn’t pick a different leader and upon being told Mugabe would not allow them to, he then asked how old Mugabe was and after being told he was 91, her son smiled and said “Great. So we’ll be able to see the elephants pretty soon.” Little comments like that, or how upon being shown videos a year or two later of Mugabe stepping down, her son had by then grown wise enough to ask if the new leader was any better, just made it so neat to see how this children growing up in this wildly unusual situation that was the norm to them, viewed and understood things. Or my favorite story, when Obama was about to announce his plan to open relations with Cuba, Samantha was so excited and longing to tell someone that she described it to her son, explaining how the US government had placed an embargo on Cuba. Later that day, just as Obama was set to make his announcement, Samantha received a call from her son’s school describing an incident where another child had accidentally given her son a bloody lip during recess and her son grabbed the phone to urgently request that “Mommy, we need an embargo for Sawyer.” Describing the fancy UN residence at the Waldorf, Power remarked that this was likely the first time young children had lived there and I think those kinds of additions helped depict the uniqueness of Samantha’s position and situation. I also enjoyed her discussions about being a woman in the jobs she held. So often she also showed how she and other women, tiny minorities in their positions were able to band together and help one another cope. She very openly discussed how in her days as a foreign correspondent the women correspondents would send one another emails entitled “Ew” to describe their latest experience of sexual harassment. Or during her days at the National Security Council, the small group of women on the NSC began having Wednesday night gatherings with wine and cheese where they would discuss everything from the job to their dating/spousal or parenting woes. The women who were part of the Wednesday meetups helped empower one another to speak up during meetings which was something Samantha sometimes struggled with, and they made sure to give one another a chance to speak when they each lead meetings. This same group supported her as she went through IVF to conceive her second child. I loved knowing that in the often petty and backbiting world of politics, and in the especially difficult position as women in security, these women all had one another’s backs. There were even fewer women in the UN, a time when Samantha was often the only woman in the room. On advice from Madeline Albright, who had also served as UN Ambassador before her appointment as Secretary of State, and who held her own “G7” or “Girl 7” meetup of what was then only seven female ambassadors, Samantha, being reminded of her Wednesday group at NSC, made sure to do the same. Fortunately, during her time at the UN, the number of female ambassadors was between 36-42 (out of 193 countries, still a long way to go!). I fully admit, a major aspect for my choosing to read this book at all is my tremendous respect for female diplomats and politicians and truly believe, beyond the fact that women deserve equal representation, our governments and world would be a lot better if we had far more women in politics. Perhaps that’s also what kept this book so interesting to read, Power, like many (certainly not all) women in politics before her, genuinely wants to make the world a better place and was in most ways above the power games and petty squabbling that the men so often get caught up in. I appreciated how even when she disagreed with decisions made by President Obama (most notably how he reneged on his promise to Armenian supporters to finally refer to the Armenian genocide as a genocide, and she discusses at length both her views on Assad’s massacres in Syria and where the president was coming from, his deeply torn views, on not doing more, even going so far as to quote interviews he gave where he explained his thinking as well as times he got frustrated with Power.) You can tell she and Obama both have a lot of respect for one another and oof, did I ever find myself missing such a sane government! It was enlightening and fascinating to see how decisions were made (or not) and how day to day happenings went on during the Obama White House. Reading this book also gave me an ever deeper respect and admiration for Barack Obama, both as president and human being. Similarly, I learned so much about the UN and it’s work and as someone (especially someone more entwined in Israeli politics than even those of the US- and even Power acknowledged how screwy the UN Human Rights Council could be with their disproportionate amount of declarations against Israel and how many of the members of UNHRC are countries guilty of horrific human rights violations of their own!) I fully admit to never being fond of the UN. Reading this book changed that for me and I was especially grateful for Power repeatedly pointing out that the UN is not a single entity, just a building where countries gather. Samantha discusses the things she helped accomplish in the UN both small and large- from choosing to meet with the missions from all 193 UN countries (which in a number of cases meant she was the first US representative to visit with some of these countries), or working to release a group of twenty female political prisoners across the world, to how she helped fight for LGBT and women’s rights, how valiantly she fought to try and restrain Russia’s actions as they annexed first Crimea and then Eastern Ukraine, her efforts to get more women involved within the UN, at the security council, even as part of the US’s own mission. Most notable was the incredible effort undertaken to combat Ebola and what a profound example it was of the various countries coming together to prevent a huge disaster that risked becoming a global threat, and how successfully these countries worked together to get the disease first under control and then eradicated, making what was by far the most deadly occurrence of Ebola far, far less deadly than initial estimates had been at its height. I think the Ebola section is truly a highlight of the book and one I’d especially recommend to others who think the UN is ineffective. Towards the very end of the book is a discussion addressing how any one person can help when there’s seemingly so much going on in the world. This was very fitting given the previous 500+ pages one can’t help but both admire and be inspired by Samantha Power and her lifelong work towards change. Here she discusses her own personal motto of “Shrink the Change”, how “big problems are most often solved by a series of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades.” And she also mentions Obama’s own saying that “Better is good”, as in even if you can’t fix or solve a problem, making the effort and making it even a little better is still an achievement and worth doing. More than anything, I think Samantha’s story is one of exactly this, piecing away at major world problems, doing what she could from where she was at- as a journalist, as part of her work at NSC, at the UN, no matter how small the effort might be, proving repeatedly how successful such efforts can be. What an amazing and fascinating life Samantha Power has lead!

  9. 4 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.

  10. 5 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.

  11. 5 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.

  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

    Ella

    This is a tough one. I admire quite a bit about Samantha Power, but maybe this memoir is not one of the reasons. I'd hoped it would be more about the things she did as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (A partial list includes: LGBTQ, women's & human rights; religious freedom; refugee rights and issues; human trafficking; democracy, including shedding the light on activists and journalists jailed by dictators the world over & getting more than a few out of jail by spotlighting them; genocide This is a tough one. I admire quite a bit about Samantha Power, but maybe this memoir is not one of the reasons. I'd hoped it would be more about the things she did as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (A partial list includes: LGBTQ, women's & human rights; religious freedom; refugee rights and issues; human trafficking; democracy, including shedding the light on activists and journalists jailed by dictators the world over & getting more than a few out of jail by spotlighting them; genocide & democratic rights especially in the Middle East and North Africa, Sudan, and Myanmar, and perhaps most famously known: her fury about Russia's invasion of Ukraine...) She held a position of prominence in the Obama White House - I hoped to hear about that and perhaps as a bonus, some things about her life as an activist. She spoke out against genocide when nobody seemed to care (Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia...A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide) She is an impressive woman who is often misunderstood as a hawk or warmonger. Actually, what she wants is for the world to pay attention to the atrocities people bear under governments or other populations. She wants the tools of diplomacy to work - hard, so troops never need to be sent in. But people seem to confuse her stance in her first book with a call for the US to be "Team America: World Police." In any event, she didn't write this book for me. In it she goes a long way to try and describe why she takes the many stands she does, but she also tries to shove her entire life and every big decision or event into one book - that's just impossible. So we have a memoir and a policy book and a "what happened" book, and a "how I do all this as a woman and a mother" book all shoved into one. None are very satisfying or complete. For instance, the whole Benghazi affair gets "it happened. I miss Chris Stevens." and we move on to something like how she played ball in the NYC Ambassador's apartment. The Arab Spring gets far less space than her children. EDIT TO ADD: I forgot my biggest gripe: She talks a LOT about Russia's role in the UN Security Council, but rarely mentions China in this context. She rarely mentions China at all, actually. It's interesting to hear about when she first noticed disparity (as a child immigrant from Ireland, she noticed that the black children in Atlanta were not as welcome as she was.) But we never really DO get an answer to why all of this mattered so much to her. Clearly it does, and she became a war correspondent to try and shed light on the atrocities of genocide, but I came away feeling she'd been more shaped (and her sharp edges worn down) by politics than she was able to shape policy about these very important things. OK, well, maybe I'm being a bit too hard on her. As she notes, sometimes better is the best we can do, and better is a hell of a lot better than worse. Sometimes preventing something awful is the best we can do. I realize the truth in these statements, but I wanted the young, outspoken brash Samantha Power to break through in some of these situations. I'm sure she loves her kids, but I don't really care (harsh but true) and I didn't want to read a "how I did X as a mom" book. Overall, I do think it's worth reading this if only to get a glimpse into how reality can make even the most passionate person exhausted and perhaps a bit less passionate overall.

  14. 5 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.

  15. 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?

  16. 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

  17. 4 out of 5

    Robert Sheard

    Samantha Power's early career–from serving as a freelance journalist/war correspondent covering the genocide in Bosnia to her years working in the Obama administration and as the US Ambassador to the UN–was remarkable. She saw first hand such a dramatic range of world events that it's hard to contextualize it all. And had I ever worked in government, I would have wanted to stand beside her as she campaigned for change. As a book, however, I found her memoir frustrating for a couple of reasons. F Samantha Power's early career–from serving as a freelance journalist/war correspondent covering the genocide in Bosnia to her years working in the Obama administration and as the US Ambassador to the UN–was remarkable. She saw first hand such a dramatic range of world events that it's hard to contextualize it all. And had I ever worked in government, I would have wanted to stand beside her as she campaigned for change. As a book, however, I found her memoir frustrating for a couple of reasons. First, it's simply too long. Each section could have been condensed without altering the essential message. Second, despite her early years as a journalist, the writing itself is uncomfortable. She's been both praised and panned for her writing style in this book, and I have to admit I'm on the "pan" side. She writes like a bureaucrat and splits infinitives like nobody's business. Third, her tone is simultaneously self-congratulatory and defensive. It reminded me of why I abandoned the show Scandal. If I had to hear that group of ethically challenged characters say they "wear the white hats" one more time, I would have chucked my television out the window. While I'm not in any way questioning Power's ethics (far from it), she writes with that same sense of self-praise and humble-bragging that I found off-putting. And fourth, there are some major silences in this book. There's virtually nothing about North Korea, China, Israel and Palestine, or America's own immigration policies–all vital foreign policy issues that were important during Obama's eight-year administration. I'm glad I read it and I feel as if I learned a great deal about foreign policy during the Obama administration, but as a book, I think it was less successful than her actual work at the UN.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Connie Schultz

    It was my good luck to interview Samantha Power on stage last fall for an event hosted by Cuyahoga County Public Library. Of course, this required me to read her memoir in advance. I have been recommending this book to young women especially, as she is so honest about the trajectory of her life, and her career in ways that can inspire.

  19. 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emmkay

    I'm not a political junkie and did not know much about Samantha Power when I began reading her memoir, but it was quickly apparent that she's quite the (ahem) powerhouse. Born in Ireland to two physicians, Power moved with her mother and brother to the US as a child and, after an undergraduate degree at Yale, became a (very young-looking!) freelance reporter during the Yugoslav war, followed by becoming a respected academic and humanitarian activist. Her memoir is an apologia/self-justification I'm not a political junkie and did not know much about Samantha Power when I began reading her memoir, but it was quickly apparent that she's quite the (ahem) powerhouse. Born in Ireland to two physicians, Power moved with her mother and brother to the US as a child and, after an undergraduate degree at Yale, became a (very young-looking!) freelance reporter during the Yugoslav war, followed by becoming a respected academic and humanitarian activist. Her memoir is an apologia/self-justification of sorts about her transition from semi-outsider to insider within the Obama administration, which appointed her Ambassador to the United Nations. It is a real dilemma, isn't it - how to move from critic to the one who has to try to make things happen on the inside? How to be effective? How to respond when things go wrong (e.g. the Syrian civil war)? Her prior self would have demanded her resignation as events in Syria escalated, but Power remained UN ambassador to the end of the administration, hoping to do more good from within than from without. I thought those were very interesting questions to probe, and I enjoyed the inside look at decision-making and (the weird) process in the White House and at the UN. Power's obviously an incredibly driven superstar, and some of her efforts to convey 'stars, they're just like us' aw, shucks-ness were a little awkward, but well-intended and maybe she thinks she's more average than she is. There were some other things I wondered about - e.g. in her earnest commitment to international humanitarian action, I'm also not sure quite where she factors in empire and its messes; Trump's election comes like a mysterious bolt out of the blue towards the end, and I don't see a reckoning with how the system she was a part of fit into what has happened since. A thought-provoking read, nonetheless.

  21. 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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lea

    4.5. Loved this on audio but not sure I could have managed the length on paper. Like Becoming, there’s a transition point where the memoir veers into minutiae of the Obama administration, but I think this one does a better job of (eventually) zooming back out. Greatly appreciated the rawness, especially in the depiction of Samantha’s life as a single professional woman and then as a high-powered mother.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Parth

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 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. Edit (Feb 2020): The one chapter I keep rereading is the one on Ebola. 1 million is a really abstract number, so if you put it in terms of 2X the number of people killed in the Syrian Civil War so far. That’s how many people were estimated to get “wiped” out by the Ebola outbreak of 2014-15. The rapid mobilization of the US military’s logistics and the tireless diplomacy by Power and others to gather the international community to control the problem is by far the most underrated accomplishment of the previous administration. With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, we are once again seeing the necessity for governments to act on what’s good policy, and not what’s good politics.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anne Frances

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. While this memoir started very interestingly, around page 300, it became a monotonous description of Power’s perceived success. I particularly disliked how Power explained away why the Obama administration didn’t support the beliefs she held prior to her engagement in politics (ie calling the Armenian massacre a genocide) while condemning the behaviour of her opponents. Sections of her memoir were unnecessary: she took personal shots at other politicians, one, for instance, who was 25 minutes la While this memoir started very interestingly, around page 300, it became a monotonous description of Power’s perceived success. I particularly disliked how Power explained away why the Obama administration didn’t support the beliefs she held prior to her engagement in politics (ie calling the Armenian massacre a genocide) while condemning the behaviour of her opponents. Sections of her memoir were unnecessary: she took personal shots at other politicians, one, for instance, who was 25 minutes late for a meeting (is that really necessary to mention). Meanwhile, her attempts at humour were cringeworthy. She also seemed to ask for a pat on the back at various times in her life in which she seemed to lower her moral compass: for instance, during her vetting to become Ambassador, she learned how to give politicians the run around so she could get voted in - or when she learned how to speak to Obama so that she could get what she wanted. I had such high hopes with this memoir, I even gave it as a present - too bad. The book is overly long; the pages padded with justification for her actions for, say, not doing enough to stop Assad in Syria. I suppose this book should have been better titled “How I stopped being an idealist.” I gave this book two as opposed to one star because it was informative and well researched — but it was a still wordy justification of her actions.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aditya

    While most of us are content in being the armchair intellectuals in the current political environment..this really is an incredible account of stories which show what its like to work towards a worthy cause.

  26. 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.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    People who care, act, and refuse to give up may not change the world, but they can change many individual worlds (p. 552) There are at least two ways of reading Samantha Power's memoir, as a bird's eye view of the Obama administration or as an inspirational exemplar of someone who stood up and did the hard stuff, when faced with difficult situations. I approached Education of an Idealist from the latter perspective, which made this an especially appropriate read during these anti-immigrant and c People who care, act, and refuse to give up may not change the world, but they can change many individual worlds (p. 552) There are at least two ways of reading Samantha Power's memoir, as a bird's eye view of the Obama administration or as an inspirational exemplar of someone who stood up and did the hard stuff, when faced with difficult situations. I approached Education of an Idealist from the latter perspective, which made this an especially appropriate read during these anti-immigrant and cynical times. Sometimes (always) hard work, persistence, idealism, and optimism are a necessary read. More is possible. Power is an immigrant from Ireland, who was initially almost solely focused on sports, but she was turned into a history freak and a political idealist after seeing a single protestor stand off the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Her education continued with "visiting Anne Frank’s hiding place [which brought] to life the enormity of the Nazi slaughter. I learned a lesson that stayed with me: concrete, lived experiences engraved themselves in my psyche far more than abstract historical events" (p. 45). This theme ran through her approach to work as a journalist, as a diplomat, and as a writer. And, it takes more than good ideas to be successful; she had strong support from friends, families, colleagues, and her nanny. Power described her successes, but she also took responsibility for her mistakes. She was willing to take risks, saying, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” (p. 260). In fact, her attitude to problems is what made her successful. Quoting others, she believed that “as a pessimist, you suffer twice” (p. 427). Following Chip and Dan Heath, she concluded that problems "are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions, sometimes over weeks, sometimes over decades." “Shrink the change” became a kind of motto for me and my team, along with President Obama’s version of the point: “Better is good.” (p. 517). Even "failures" could be successes: [W]ill something else I learn in the process make it worth trying? I would come to call this the “in trying for Y, the most I accomplish is X” test, or the “X test.” This was a kind of self-protective exercise—designed to minimize my sense of risk by preemptively establishing a positive spin on even a negligible potential outcome. (p. 74) This is the sort of person I want representing me in Washington and abroad. I read this book with my mother.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    This excellent memoir by Samantha Power offers reflection on major conundrums in American foreign policy, contained within personal reflection on a remarkably interesting life. Power’s passion was human rights; her anguish was for refugees, victims of war, and the powerless. Power came to the US from Ireland as a 9-year old. Her first-hand acquaintance with genocide was as a free-lance journalist in Bosnia during the terrible siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica. After she went to law This excellent memoir by Samantha Power offers reflection on major conundrums in American foreign policy, contained within personal reflection on a remarkably interesting life. Power’s passion was human rights; her anguish was for refugees, victims of war, and the powerless. Power came to the US from Ireland as a 9-year old. Her first-hand acquaintance with genocide was as a free-lance journalist in Bosnia during the terrible siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica. After she went to law school, she wrote the Pulitzer-winning book A Problem from Hell, which chastised her new country for its inaction in 20th-century genocides like Bosnia and Rwanda. Her name began to mean something. After involvement in other human rights issues, she went to work with the young Senator Barack Obama. In succession, she worked as a fellow in his office, as a foreign policy advisor to his presidential campaign, as a staffer on the National Security Council after he became president, and, finally, as U.N. ambassador during Obama’s second term. This is a big book, so there’s a whole lot of compression in that recitation of events. Power writes well, and her personal reflections were always engaging, propelling the narrative. Her gender, her youth, her idealism, and her thoughtfulness make this a story worth reading. She’s given me new respect for the U.N. and its role, sometimes not obvious, in forestalling disaster. Sometimes, as with Ebola, it deals effectively with disaster. I have three particular takeaways from Power’s memoir: 1. Her descriptions of her domestic arrangements were unusual in a political memoir. She had very young children, and the help from a devoted and valued nanny, plus her mother and step father, were essential to keeping her household functioning while she did an unrelenting job with life-or-death implications. It’s important to recognize the reality and value of such arrangements. 2. The conundrum posed by human rights problems in other countries is the issue that drives Power, and I was grateful for her insights. She believes that military intervention is sometimes necessary but seeks always for the points of negotiation that will forestall such action. The initial failure by the US to intervene in the siege of Sarajevo dismayed her; she saw the benefits when it finally did. Yet she greatly resented any effort to cast her as a hawk. 3. Power struggled with whether to push for social change as an outside activist or to be part of government, where moral compromises are inevitable. She particularly disagreed with President Obama about Syria, feeling that early intervention was called for, at the time when Syria used chemical weapons. She was U.N. ambassador at the time, and she did not resign, choosing instead to remain a voice for human rights within the administration. It’s a recurring theme in government. Every advisor, every cabinet member has a point at which they cannot remain within a particular administration. Power never reached a point where she felt that leaving was her only option. The Education of an Idealist: The inside look at her discussions with Obama were worth the price of admission.

  29. 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 both my unde 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!

  30. 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.

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