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Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  916 ratings  ·  153 reviews

The harrowing, but triumphant story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrie
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Simon Schuster
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Diane S ☔
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Prize winner and the first democratically elected female President of an African country. What better role model to read about in March, the month devoted to women. Plus, my own country hasn't even managed to elect a female President.

Her life was not without struggles, she was in an abusive marriage, had four children p, three of which she had to leave. She was talented, educated and loved her country. She saw how unfair it was to women, rape culturally accepted, a
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Don’t miss this book.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, born 29 October 1938, served as President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018*. She was the first elected female head of state in Africa. In 2011 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to fight for the safety and rights of women. In March 2014, during her second term in office, the Ebola virus spread into the country from Guinea. Ravaging Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, in May 2015 Liberia was the first of the three to be Ebola free. Learning from h
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Madame Presidentt, Helene Cooper's biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of Liberia, was not an easy book to read. The history of Liberia is so horrendous, the violence so overwhelming, the suffering of her people unimaginable that I had to often step away; Cooper does not tidy things up for easy reading.

The story of Liberian female empowerment is remarkable, a courageous story from a country where an estimated 75% of the women have encountered rape and sexual abuse. El
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Five stars for content as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was and is a very important figure in world history, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a leader of Liberia and one tough triumphant person.

Four stars for drama. There is so much death and violence witnessed over the decades in war torn Liberia that the narrative seems at times numb to it. I have seen this same effect in a few WWII memoirs that I have read.

Three stars for the writing. I don’t know if the story was difficult to translate into English or s
Apr 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is an extraordinary story, the first female head of state in modern Africa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, a woman who steered her war ravaged, impoverished country onto the road of recovery. The author was obviously enamored of her subject. As a result, this was a decent introduction to this international figure, but definitely not close to a definitive biography. 3.5 stars
Daniel Chaikin
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-favorites
posted on Litsy:
This book is why I’m somewhat random in how I select audiobooks. It never occurred to me that Liberian history was so fascinating and awful, or that the transformation this woman represents could be so special on so many levels. So much to say. Extraordinarily and grotesque violence, 70% of women raped in a civil war before Sarleaf began rebuilding. And then Ebola. Special book, special person, terrific writing, great reader.

Liberia has an odd history where freed mixed-race Amer
Rating: I liked it a lot 😁
2020's ATY in 52 books: 29. An underrated book, a hidden gem or a lesser known book
June's 2020 random pick project
Reto Pecera 2020: Título con 20 Letras o más

I'm doing this challenge where I read a book written by an author, born and raised, in one of every country in the world. This month I decided to make things interesting and picked the country at random, the country I got was Liberia, I had never heard of that in my life. I googled it and was amazed that such a cou
As a public health professional, I was impressed how President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf handled the Ebola Crisis in Liberia (2013-2016). President Sirleaf has now launched a massive mental health program for the Ebola survivors. Liberia was just beginning to make some headway out of its horrible state when it was hit by the Ebola epidemic. I started looking for more information about her. I discovered she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

This book not only provides the biography of Sirleaf but al
African Americans on the Move Book Club
Madame President by Helen Cooper is an inspiring read. Women everywhere will be awed at the work done by one woman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She has gone beyond any other woman of her time in a country that mistreated women as objects. Here, I got to follow the brave and clever woman as she rose from just a mother to a president of a nation. Going to prison, suffering like every other woman has done...,yet she managed to rise dispite the hardships that fell upon her. I was amazed. She kept on goin ...more
Oleksandr Zholud
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a biography of the first Liberian female president and Nobel prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I’ve read is as a part of March/April monthly read at Non Fiction Book Club group.

There is a lot of history outside of the ‘west’ (Europe plus European colonies) about which we rarely hear and that’s a pity! One of such largely white spots on a historical map is Africa. Take as an example Liberia, the focal point of this book: a colony founded by free black (and Quakers) in Africa, who built
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
3.5 stars

I picked this book up primarily because I loved the author’s memoir, The House at Sugar Beach, about growing up in Liberia until political instability and terror forced her family to leave. This book, though, is a biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia from 2006 to 2018 and the first democratically elected female head of state in Africa. It’s a good biography, readable and engaging as all the best journalistic work is, and certainly informative though it lacks the humo
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was my Women’s History Month selection, and what an inspiring selection this was. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf experienced what I wouldn’t think possible to become president of Liberia. It’s quite unbelievable the atrocities women were forced to accept as normal everyday life while in military rule. This abhorrent behavior is typical of military coups that end up with a paranoid and power hungry leader; they are not one for the people or the country’s interest. This has a lot to do with a lack of ...more
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had the opportunity to hear Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speak in 2015 and was deeply impressed by her history, her presence, her decisiveness, her courage, her persistence. This book has only increased my admiration for her as a person, as a politician, and as a bureaucrat.

Trigger warning: violence, rape


"In Liberia a woman's place is in the market, selling oranges and potato greens and kola nuts. It is in the hot outdoor kitchen, sweating as she bends over a mortar to pound fermented cass
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating read. The only things I really knew about Liberia before reading this was that it was founded by freed American slaves and that Charles Taylor was bad. This book, though it purports to be about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, really is more the story of Liberia over the past few decades. Author and journalist Cooper delves into the workings of the Liberian government and the civil war, using Sirleaf as sort of a framing device.

Not realizing this while starting the book, I found it
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Powerfully memoir on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

A visionary who was not limited by circumstances, people nor her gender. A fighter, both literally and figuratively. A woman who took Liberia from obscurity, poverty, hunger and desease to a country slowly on the mend. Like a phoenix, Liberia rose from its war-torn ashes to rebuilding itself all because of one woman's vision and a whole lot of women who believed in her vision too.

A woman who fought with the system. Against the system. Within the system
Jan 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
I considered putting this one off for a bit because I felt run down and the idea of reading about civil war and a pandemic wasn't too appealing, but I'm glad I read this one.

While Cooper details incredible violence (coup, genital mutilation, gang rapes, civil war, mass murder to name a few) she intersperses these decades of unrest with humorous or inspiring anecdotes to keep things from getting too dark.

Madame President not only tells the story of a strong, but imperfect woman, it also tells th
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first female to be elected president of a country in Africa and one of three female African Nobel Laureates. Cooper’s book offers us glimpses into her childhood, but mostly focuses on her rise to fame as an economic expert and, ultimately, as president of Liberia. The author does not shy away from the controversies that surrounded Madame during her presidency, creating a well-rounded biography of the renowned icon.
Rebecca Wilson
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I generally avoid books about contemporary politics—they date themselves quickly, which makes me feel like they're a waste of my time; that's what the newspaper is for. This is not such a book. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a bad-ass of breathtaking proportions. She was THE person to lead Liberia past the legacy of civil war and through the ebola crisis.

Likewise, Helene Cooper is THE person to have written this book. A world-renowned journalist and Liberian-American, her prose is direct and uncompl
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hands down the best book I have read this year. What an incredible woman, who grew from a mother of four and victim of domestic violence into the first female president of an African country. This book on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is also an ode to the power and resilience of women and what they can achieve when they pull together against a world of men who wage wars and let corruption fester. It is telling that when Ellen, with a degree in Public Administration, experience in the World Bank and Uni ...more
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017_prose
All I really want to read right now are life stories of interesting women.

Helene Cooper's memoir 'The House at Sugar Beach' was one of the best books I read over the last few years. I wondered what she would write next and was excited it was this biography of the first woman elected as a head of state in Africa. Reading this was definitely enhanced by having read Cooper's own memoir about growing up in (and leaving and returning to) Liberia, and now that I've read 'Madame President' I have a muc
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An interesting story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who managed to win presidential election (in 2005)and became the first African woman president. Not only that she also received a Nobel Prize for peace in 2011. What a great and strong woman, a great person and a great president.
Before reading this book I didn't know too much about Liberia, life in Liberia, mistreatment of women and many other facts. I knew about outbreak of Ebola but didn't know in detail how much E. J. Sirleaf did for her country a
May 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: liberia
All biographies are written with a point of view. And this point of view was unabashedly pro-Sirleaf. Which is fine, the story was definitely told in a compelling way. However, sometimes the manipulation was too overt, and the point of view so interjected. For me, the clearest example was when describing Ellen's turn to politics as being inspired from sharing a cell with a rape victim, and saying that previously she had grown up wanting to be a teacher. Of course, by this point in Ellen's life, ...more
Wendy Moniz
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It was hard to read this book without thinking of the parallels between the US and Liberia during the recent election – minus the extreme violence and third world setting. Helene Cooper wrote an inspiring biography of a remarkable woman who overcame all odds to become president of Liberia. It should be required reading for anyone who thinks they can’t effect change. And men should take note. Look what happens when women mobilize. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was looking forward to reading this as I have a real connection to the content of this book. I served a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia and was evacuated during the Ebola epidemic. I was most interested to read what Helene Cooper had to say about that period of time and how Ma Ellen handled it.

The first part of the book was good, but I think it kind of glossed over and didn't go into as much detail about the different warring factions during the Civil War. If anyone enjoyed the content and w
Precious  Kerme
You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you are left with. To rise as a woman in this part of the world has been a taboo. Helene Cooper splendid compilation of this real life event does not only portray how EJS or Ma Ellen (as we call her) broke the taboo of a woman becoming president for an African country, neither did it only offset the notion held by men in Africa for ages that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”, but it also displayed how any woman, no matter ...more
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The title says it all – hers was indeed an extraordinary journey. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – from ordinary beginnings as a Liberian wife and mother (although in retrospect perhaps there was never anything ordinary about her) to President of Liberia and winner of the Nobel Peace prize. This is an excellent biography, meticulously researched and accessibly written, and the author is equally at home describing domestic detail as well as events of world importance and significance. I learnt so much tha ...more
Diana C. Nearhos
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
What an incredible story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's life. I had not heard of her before picking up this book (I am woefully uninformed on all things African) and am very glad I have learned of her.
Cooper's story telling makes for a very easy read, even if you aren't accustomed to reading nonfiction.
John DiConsiglio
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president & a Nobel Prize winner, couldn’t have commissioned a more flattering bio than Pulitzer Prize-winner Cooper’s adoring profile. It’s all about her indomitable willpower as she survives coups, prison, near-execution & Ebola. Complications need not apply. The too–conversational tone (please, please, stop calling her “Monkey”) can make this feel like history-lite, even as it keeps the story moving. Brisk, not bold. Fans won’t mind.
Ryan Moore
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic biography about the first female president in Africa. She is extremely interesting.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Because of my good friends, Carney and Ophelia Johnson, I've had the privilege to meet Madam President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. Ophelia had our delegation of six staying at the Todee Mission School, and when Madam President asked us where we were staying she sighed and rolled her eyes at Ophelia for keeping us in the rudimentary lodging. Reading this book, I'm so delighted to have stayed at Todee, privileged to have had the generator on all night, just so my wife and I could have an ele ...more
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Helene Cooper is a Liberian-born American journalist who is a White House correspondent for the New York Times. Previous to that, she was the diplomatic correspondent for the paper based in Washington, D.C.. She joined the Times in 2004 as assistant editorial page editor.
At The Wall Street Journal, Cooper wrote about trade, politics, race and foreign policy at the Washington and Atlanta bureaus fr

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Readers have a lot to look forward to this year! Just feast your eyes upon all of these debut books to check out and emerging authors to...
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“They walked, some of them for miles, from rural villages deep in the bush. They came in wheelbarrows, in wheelchairs. They came with babies on their back. They came the night before, some of them sleeping on the hard ground outside the polling booths so they could vote when morning came. The” 3 likes
“The family sought solace at an aunt’s house, and Grace-tee’s forty-eight-year-old mother went out to forage for food. She was quickly accosted by Johnson’s soldiers, ran from them, and in running, terrified, she had a heart attack. Eventually someone brought her home, and Grace-tee and her father took her to Redemption Hospital, but there were no beds. Soon she died.” 0 likes
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