I saw President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speak at the institution where I work a few years ago, and found her story to be incredibly inspiring. I was hoping the book would be more of the same. While inspiration can be found here, it is often bogged down with tedious economic detail (Sirleaf was in banking and economics) and acronyms like you would not believe.
I definitely learned some things, and I think that kept it at 3 stars for me. I don't think I was aware of anything going on in Liberia, ever. Blame my lack of knowledge of the world, blame the lack of American media's focus, but a lot happened that I knew nothing about. Most of the violence is recent and around the same time as Rwanda, but I knew nothing. I also didn't know anything about how Liberia was founded, and was very surprised to find out the connection between the United States and Liberia's original colonies. These connections still have some impact today.
Sirleaf herself was greatly influenced by the United States. This is where she was educated, and she says she learned more about her country from the Harvard library than she'd ever learned while growing up. She was even in the states when JFK was assassinated.
Little factoid and case in point:
"Robert E. Lee, the American Confederate Civil War general, freed most of his slaves before the war and offered to pay their expenses to Liberia."
From the unification of Liberia:
"We are all of us Liberians."
There is some great fodder here about leadership, and that seemed to be what I honed in on.
From Sirleaf's own wisdom:
"So often it is the small decisions in life that end up shaping our future the most."
"I looked around and saw the lives of so many Liberian women, all of these incredibly hardworking market women and housewives and mothers, and what I saw was that their lives were drudgery, a simple trudging from day to day to day. I did not want that; that was not the life for me."
"We always felt that if anything really terrible began to happen, if ever things went seriously awry, America would come to our aid. America was our great father, our patron saint. It would never let us suffer. That's what so many of us in Liberia thought.
But then we found out that everyone has to stand on his own."
"People - usually women - sometimes ask me if, during my long climb up the career ladder, I ever bumped into any glass ceilings or encountered resistance to my taking a seat at the table because I am a woman and African. My answer is that I am sure there have been those who suspected me of being a token or who resented my having the positions I had. But I was usually too busy to worry about them."
"In this global age individuals are sometimes tempted to believe they have no power, not even collectively. This is not true. The public can make a difference if it is willing to take a position and stand up for a cause in which it believes. Against a united and committed public, even the harshest of governments cannot stand."
"This is the way of the world, of human nature, and if you want to lead, you have to accept that there will be conscious attempts to push you into oblivion. You have to be prepared to be very lonely sometimes."
"Progress may be slowed by oppression, but it will not be stopped."
"Men have failed us,' people said over and over again. 'Men are too violent, too prone to make war. Women are less corrupt, less likely to be focused on getting fancy cars and fancy home for themselves."
"Civilized nations must not be indifferent to any conflict - internal or external - regardless of the factors that fuel it."