The education of an idealist : a memoir

by Samantha Power

Hardcover, 2019




New York, NY : Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow, [2019]


"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." -- From summary.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
Wonderful book; very inspiring and hopeful story of a true doer/leader
LibraryThing member nyiper
I was slightly overwhelmed when I picked up Samantha's memoir---heavy, and LONG---but I was immediately absorbed and finally decided that this has to be one of my very most favorite books of the year---and I am SO impressed with Samantha. She filled in a lot of history for me personally that I had skipped over with her closeup and very personal view of what was happening in her own life in relation to her function as a government employee, and then, our country's UN representative. It's easy to not pay enough attention to what is happening in the world when one's own life take most of the attention. I am amazed with what Samantha Power was able to accomplish. Keeping such close track of what was happening was definitely aided by her experiences as a journalist but how fortunate the reader is to have the results of all of that work in this book. What will her next memoir include years from now?… (more)
LibraryThing member Katyefk
Very worth reading about our foreign service program and the valuable impact the officers and staff have all over the world for our country. Samantha Power is an inspirational American.
LibraryThing member breic
Not as good as I had expected. Power is an idealist, unwilling to let reality intrude on her dreams even if that means that hundreds die to save one. Obama seems to have used her more as an advocate for extreme idealism, than to seriously listen to her policy positions. She has very little big or long-term perspective. Climate change, for example, barely gets even a mention! Often, she comes across as naive, for example,

> Although the effects of this red-line episode were hard to measure, a large number of foreign diplomats told me afterward that America's "flip-flopping" had damaged President Obamas global reputation. I found much of this criticism maddening, given that many of these same ambassadors represented countries that would never have stood publicly with the United States had we gone ahead with air strikes.

It isn't their job to stand behind the US, so why should this be maddening?

Unfortunately, it also gets really boring at times. There is a whole chapter on how she prepared for her Senate confirmation hearings by extensively rehearsing giving meaningless answers to run out each Senator's five-minute clock. Why should we care?

That said, her experiences in Bosnia are interesting. I wonder if maybe Western journalists and journalism are why these people end up blaming the West for their problems. They naturally don't understand how journalists can just be observers. The sections on how she worked as UN ambassador are also interesting.

> Many journalists in Bosnia brought a similar focus to their work. High-minded though it sounds, we wanted our articles to matter and our governments' actions to change. I was aware that this aspiration was more reminiscent of an editorial writer's ambition than that of a traditional reporter, whose job was to document what she saw. But when I wrote an article—no matter how obscure the publication where it appeared—I hoped President Clinton would see it.

> Even after violent incidents in Dublin, I do not recall ever fearing that my mother would not make it home from the hospital or my dad from the pub. At the same time, my early years in Dublin meant that I never saw civil strife as something that happened "over there" or to "those people."

> When I first visited, although the war had already been under way for nearly two years, I spoke to many Bosnians who still held out hope that the United States would rescue them. Their knowledge of the political dynamics in Washington was striking. The columns of American opinion writers (particularly Anthony Lewis and William Safire of the New York Times) were translated and, despite the shortage of paper and ink, widely circulated. Electricity was intermittent, and smuggled batteries for shortwave radios were only sold at exorbitant prices. Nonetheless, many residents knew which members of the US Senate were pushing for air strikes, while some even tracked when these politicians were up for reelection. Often my Bosnian neighbors informed me of obscure happenings in the Clinton administration.

> When I drove with Stacy Sullivan of Newsweek to UN headquarters for the daily press briefing in Sarajevo, we typically passed a cluster of photographers in an expectant scrum at the entrance to the main road, which was known as Sniper Alley. The still and video photographers had their cameras ready, knowing that someone was likely to get shot by a Bosnian Serb sniper as he or she made a mad dash across this exposed portion of road. Elizabeth Rubin, a writer with Harper's who would become a close friend, once saw a woman who managed to survive the crossing yell back at one of the perched photographers, "No work for you today, asshole. I made it alive."

> The words, the photographs, the videos—nothing had changed the President's mind. While Sarajevans had once thought of Western journalists as messengers on their behalf, they had now begun to see us as ambassadors of idle nations. No matter how many massacres we covered, Western governments seemed determined to steer clear of the conflict.

> I begged him to write an editorial demanding that the US government secure David's release before proceeding with the Dayton talks. "He's the only Western eyewitness to the mass graves," I implored. "He's in profound danger."

> the Oxford English Dictionary had added the term upstander, which it wrote was "coined in 2002 by the Irish-American diplomat Samantha Power."

> The Bat Cave, John explained to me, is inside each of our heads—either a place of great stillness, or, on other occasions, a place where bats fly around, flapping their wings in sometimes frantic ways. Being "in the Bat Cave" thereby became our shorthand for times when self-doubt was intruding. The bats fluttered wildly in my head when I worked in Obama's Senate office, and while I tried to slay them by reminding myself "it's not you; it's them," that mantra rarely worked. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote movingly about having her own equivalent of a Bat Cave, but in the end, she found consolation by telling herself, "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."

> In therapy, I became aware of a deeply submerged, misplaced certainty that if my brother and I had remained at home in Dublin, our father would not have died. For years, it seemed, I had been subconsciously blaming myself for my dad's death. Because I had long accepted that alcoholism was a "disease" over which my father was powerless, I believed that it had been my job to save him. But now, with the help of John, Al-Anon, and therapy, I saw that my child-self had not been a capable agent in a grown-up world; I finally recognized that I had been helpless. For the first time in my life—at the age of thirty-five—I began grieving over the monumental loss and rupture that I had experienced. And I started to stop seeing that loss as my fault.

> Cass never put personal sentiments in emails, but many days he would send me an SOS in code: "CWGHN?" (Can We Go Home Now?).

> "Mr. President, the talks are not going to work," I said. "We know that the Turks are engaging in the normalization process precisely in order to convince you not to recognize the genocide. But they aren't serious beyond that. As soon as they get through April twenty-fourth, they'll refuse any compromise." "Well, you know what?" he said sharply, before walking away, "I don't have the luxury of not trying for peace."

> when I met the Mexican Ambassador to the UN for the first time, he chastised me for publicizing something I had discussed during a private UN lunch. "You have to decide whether you are a diplomat or an activist," he said. "You can't be both." "I am both," I told him, "and we should all be both. I’m not going to drink wine at a lunch with the Cuban foreign minister and pretend his government is not responsible for killing one of the country’s best." "I hear you," he said, "but people won't speak freely to you if they think you are more interested in making a media splash than engaging in real dialogue."

> Thomson invoked what he called the "effectiveness trap." US officials unhappy with a policy, he wrote, typically deceive themselves into believing that they are doing more good by staying in government than they could by leaving.
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LibraryThing member tmph
I didn't much care for the writing, didn't exactly like Power herself, but of course the stories and the times are very, very interesting. Her own story is rich and the times/situations she has lived thru, her experiences, and her work are fascinating and often quite moving.
LibraryThing member SuzieBrown
I really enjoyed this book! It is interesting, educational, thoughtful, and moving. Thank you Samantha Power for your service to our country and for your wonderful memoir. I am now looking forward to reading your Pulitzer Prize winner "A Problem from Hell : America and the Age of Genocide."



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