The Education Of An Idealist By Samantha Power



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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 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.

About Samantha Power:

Samantha Power is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writer, and academic. She is affiliated with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School, holding the position of Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, she moved to the United States from Ireland at the age of nine. From 1993 to 1996 she covered the wars in the former Yugoslavia as a reporter for the U.S. News and World Report, the Boston Globe, and The New Republic. In 2003, Power won the Pulitzer Prize for her work “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. She has contributed reporting to the Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. She spent 2005 to 2006 working in the office of Senator Barack Obama, then served as the Director of Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council. She is currently the United States Ambassador to the United Nations in New York.

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.

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.

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.

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power