September 10, 2019

The Education of an Idealist

By Samantha Power
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Winning the Pulitizer Prize in 2003 for her book about genocide made Samantha Power a public figure. But joining Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, becoming his White House advisor on human rights and serving as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations made her career front-page news. Power’s new memoir is a record of this impressive life.

Readers need not be foreign policy wonks to read The Education of an Idealist, but wonks will find the most to chew on here. Power writes in-depth about her attempts to influence foreign policy from both the outside and the inside—first covering the Balkan war as a journalist, then as a government official during the crises in Darfur, Libya and Syria. Much of what she has seen is heartbreaking.

Born in Ireland, Power immigrated to the United States as a child after her parents’ divorce. She writes of the lifelong emotional toll of her father’s alcoholism and young death, of her panic attacks and seeking help at Al-Anon meetings and in therapy. Candor from someone of her stature regarding such personal matters is refreshing, and Power draws directly from her own journals throughout the memoir.

She reveals how campaigns, governments and diplomacy operate behind closed doors—the pale, male upper echelons of how the world works. In her political work, Power is often the only woman in the room, and she doesn’t sugarcoat her experiences with sexism at both the White House and the U.N.

But neither does Power gloss over any professional mistakes and regrets, or any missteps made by President Obama. Perhaps because she has no political ambitions of her own, she is free to write what she really thinks (diplomatically, of course).

The Education of an Idealist is Power’s life story, but it also feels like peering through a time capsule into a period when America showed more compassion for refugees and the disadvantaged. But, ever the idealist, Power also clearly hopes that this book will convince readers that, when there is injustice in the world, America has the moral imperative to do something.

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The Education of an Idealist

The Education of an Idealist

By Samantha Power
Dey Street
ISBN 9780062820693

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