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The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  1,011 ratings  ·  142 reviews
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 ci
ebook, 592 pages
Published September 10th 2019 by Dey Street Books
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Power was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”. Power was a journalist covering the Balkan War when she started writing the book. She stated it took her ten years to write the book. She did not finish it until she had graduated from law school. She then had many rejection slips from publishers.

The book is well written and researched. Power tells about being born in Ireland and immigrating as a child to the United States.
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
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 evolu ...more
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, buys, for-school
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 fac ...more
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This was worthwhile, but not exceptional. I rarely say this, because I like long slogs and detailed memoirs and historical texts. But this could have been quite a bit shorter. Power's writing is strongest when describing her childhood and personal evolution as a human rights advocate. Too much time was spent covering her time with the Obama administration, perhaps because it's most recent. There's also quite a bit of preaching about American exceptionalism. Is this just because she and Obama spe ...more
Jason Furman
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
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 l ...more
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. The first 1/3 was really interesting as we learn backstory and what helped shape Samantha Power’s beliefs around human rights and dedication to the cause.

Once she starts working in the Obama Administration, the chapters get really dry and sort of operate as stand alones. Each chapter gets into a major foreign policy challenge - Ebola crisis, Syrian war, N. Korea missile testing, etc. There’s not a lot of structure and it jumps around from analysis to depicting e
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Samantha Power is an exceptional writer, but the book has serious blindspots. This is written as a personal memoir, taking you from Ms Power's childhood in Ireland, her journey to America, her involvement as a war reporter in Bosnia, and her eventual transformation into an advocate for "liberal interventionism" - that is, a posture that advocates that the United States and its Western allies must intervene militarily to stop massacres of civilians where they occur. In addition, she writes about ...more
Steven Z.
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Toward the end of my teaching career I had the opportunity of meeting Samantha Power and she proved to be a warm individual with a sardonic sense of humor. The occasion was a Model Congress trip to Washington with over thirty teenagers who were role playing our legislative branch of government with over 1000 other students from all over the United States. During our Saturday afternoon break we walked over to the White House and met with Ambassador Power in her office where she proceeded to spend ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it liked it
There’s no denying Samantha Power’s career-long commitment to international human rights, often manifested as an implacable defense of US diplomatic and military intervention in places where the potential for genocide exists. As a nascent reporter fresh out of Yale, Power traveled to war-torn Bosnia and reported extensively on the Bosnian-Serb Army’s ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats throughout the region. The experience inspired her Pulitzer Prize-winning first book, “A Problem from Hell: ...more
Robert Sheard
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Samantha Power's early career–from serving as a freelance journalist/war correspondent covering the genocide in Bosnia to her years working in the Obama administration and as the US Ambassador to the UN–was remarkable. She saw first hand such a dramatic range of world events that it's hard to contextualize it all. And had I ever worked in government, I would have wanted to stand beside her as she campaigned for change.

As a book, however, I found her memoir frustrating for a couple of reasons. F
Lena Nechet
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humanism
I admire the author, Samantha Power. The audio book made me cry and laugh, and helped me with an important life transition.
From Ireland to working in the White House alongside President Barak Obama, Samantha Power reveals her climb towards political success, her efforts in protecting human rights, the war on terror, to finding true love and herself. For those who enjoyed anything about RBG or Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Brandon Forsyth
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally inspiring, a magnificent book about a person determined to make a difference and struggling to be the change she wants to see in the world. Power is frank in describing the nuance of international relations and the failings of U.S. policy, but where the book really shines is in her warm and endearingly personal revelations about her family and anxiety and the mentors she met along the way.
James Alan
Sep 23, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ahistorical rag, suffused with banal American exceptionalism, failing utterly to reinvent the failings of our 'left' wing's interventionist movement. No one who supported the Libyan intervention(as Power did) should be waxing poetically about making the same mistakes.

Samantha Power would thoughtlessly send our children to die in poorly thought-out conflicts, endlessly creating power vacuums. This book paired with the policies she supported makes me question if she is sincerely devoted to her mo
Zack Rearick
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5. Good as far as political memoirs go. But if you're going to read Power -- and she is a great writer -- I would read A Problem From Hell. The most interesting parts of this book, I thought, were her reflections on her younger years and her time as a journalist and her (somewhat unlikely) transition into politics and government. I also loved her insight into lessons she took away as an outsider: never assume there is another meeting, make action-forcing events your friend, etc. Valuable and c ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
this is a narcissistic tale of half truths written by someone who has her future interests in mind.
Is Samantha going to be a Democratic candidate in 2024?
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've been following her career since I saw her fiery speech at the UN calling out Russia's support of the Assad regime, and am a big fan of hers. In this memoir she talks about her childhood in Ireland, and how she was forced to leave it when her parents' marriage fell apart. Her inspiration for becoming a war correspondent, then writing her first book, becoming an academic, and ultimately reaching the highest levels of the US government. She goes in-depth about her inner conflict of being an id ...more
Chris Burd
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
Definitely the best book that I've read this year - and well-deserving of the 5-star rating. In addition to being an incredibly well-written memoir of a fascinating life, Ms. Power puts context around some of the most difficult foreign policy decisions made during the past decade.

Most of us understand that decisions made at the highest levels of our government are not as simple as they seem, but it's difficult to truly imagine the complexity. Most of all, it's difficult to remember that these d
Peter Tillman
Oct 26, 2019 marked it as not-interested
Barton Swain's review, (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers)
"The book is too long. Unless you’re a gifted writer, which Ms. Power is not, the job of U.N. ambassador does not justify an account of this size."
"Her career is defined, tragically and indelibly, by her failure to respond to Mr. Obama’s failure to respond." [to the Syrian nerve-gas attacks, the President's notorious "red line"]

Not for me.
Laura Carpenter
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Engaging and captivating, especially on audiobook since Samantha Power narrates.

I wish that she had been more forthcoming about regrets and struggles in the Obama administration. She alluded to disagreements with Obama on Syria, but was careful not to directly criticize.

I think that this book left many things unsaid, and although Power concluded the book by coming up with a framework for balancing pragmatism with idealism, I don’t know if she is convinced by her own concluding arguments. I cou
Oct 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I started this book with high expectations. I had heard her speak in Harvard Square, and was eager to read it so I could learn about her 'education'. But I was disappointed.

She grew up in a modest family. She went to Yale. She traveled to Bosnia and lived there for two years. She went to Harvard Law School, and even took a year off.

She told us nothing about how she managed to pay for any of this. And to me, that was important.

I was a college scholarship and work-study student, for
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really learned a lot reading this book. Samantha Power has had a very interesting life that has shaped her experience and perspective. Anyone interested in geopolitical topics will like this memoir. Likely, there will be another book in a few years as she is still extremely active in politics.
Helen Jacoby
Oct 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This memoir is surprisingly engaging. I got it from the library, thinking I would simply skim a few sections, but I ended up reading it cover to cover. Power has led an interesting and unusual life - I found it fascinating to read how she has accomplished so much at such a young age. She is also frank about some of her failings and challenges, which I appreciated. I also learned more than I expected about the workings of the NSA and the UN. The section detailing Power's time in the NSA during Ob ...more
Ryan Moore
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 stars is not enough for this book. I’ve been a Samantha Power fan since reading “A problem from hell” about genocide and America’s response to it. Reading her memoir which deftly combines her personal story with plenty foreign policy and stories of her work. If you’re interested in foreign policy or just a good memoir this is an excellent read.
Mary Montgomery
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A moving memoir of a strong woman who was dedicated to making a difference in the world. A bonus to this book was her excellent writing and explanation of the important work that goes on in Washington, and the UN to help make the world a safer place in which to live.
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First of all, I identify with the title of this book. I was excited to read it to see how Samatha Power navigates her idealism, tones it with pragmatism and compromise, and achieve results. I was not disappointed. The secret is to remain true to yourself and follow your heart. Simple to say but not easy to do.

This is a powerful memoir from Samantha Power and sets the bar for this genre. Samatha Power's memoir differs from your typical diplomatic or political memoirs by exposing herse
Dennis Vance
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I ordered this book after I read the review by Tom Friedman of the New York Times. He said it was an excellent book and he is right. It is Samantha Power's life story from her childhood in Ireland until 2019. She writes clearly with enthusiasm. She worked with Obama from the time he was Senator to the end of his term as President. She provides great insight to what it is like to work in the White House and then as US Ambassador to the United Nations. It is clear that such people have to be total ...more
Masha Samartsava
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting read, and the proof must be in the fact that I have fully finished this mammoth of a book, without losing steam.
This book has highlighted a lot of geopolotical points for me about which I have only heard of before briefly, leading me to do further research, which is a big plus in my opinion. It was also insightful to see the workings within the White House and the UN, in detail I have not read before.

As with all autobiographies, I believe it is impor
Samantha Power is an incredibly accomplished woman who was born in Ireland, emigrated when she was a child and became Barack Obama's primary advisor on foreign affairs, eventually becoming the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

This book was enlightening about both Powers and about our government's dealings with other countries, especially the Middle East. Possibly the most wondrous part of this book is how Powers explained her job to her young children and their young mi
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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
“We decide, on issues large and small, whether we will be bystanders or upstanders.” 1 likes
“Early on in my tenure, I was given a cartoon that circulated widely at the UN. The cartoon showed dozens of people listening to a speech. In the first panel, the speaker asks, “Who wants change?” and all audience members enthusiastically raise their hands. In the second panel, the speaker refines his question, asking, “Who wants to change?” This time, each audience member looks toward the ground, demurring.” 1 likes
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