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The Education of an Idealist

A Memoir
Written by: Samantha Power
Narrated by: Samantha Power
Length: 21 hrs and 2 mins
5 out of 5 stars (9 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

“This is a wonderful book. […] The interweaving of Power’s personal story, family story, diplomatic history and moral arguments is executed seamlessly—and with unblinking honesty.” (Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times Book Review)

“[Power’s] absorbing, heartfelt, and remarkably candid memoir […] offers essential lessons to anyone aspiring to follow in her footsteps in shaping the world for the better.” (Madeleine Albright)

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 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. In 2005, her critiques of US foreign policy caught the eye of newly elected senator Barack Obama, who invited her to work with him on Capitol Hill and then on his presidential campaign. After Obama was elected president, Power went from being an activist outsider to a government insider, navigating the halls of power while trying to put her ideals into practice. She served for four years as Obama’s human rights adviser, and in 2013, he named her US Ambassador to the United Nations, the youngest American to assume the role.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Power transports us from her childhood in Dublin to the streets of war-torn Bosnia to the White House Situation Room and the world of high-stakes diplomacy. Humorous and deeply honest, The Education of an Idealist lays bare the searing battles and defining moments of her life and shows how she juggled the demands of a 24/7 national security job with the challenge of raising two young children. Along the way, she illuminates the intricacies of politics and geopolitics, reminding us how the United States can lead in the world, and why we each have the opportunity to advance the cause of human dignity. Power’s memoir is an unforgettable account of the power of idealism - and of one person’s fierce determination to make a difference. 

©2019 Samantha Power (P)2019 HarperAudio

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  • Susan G.
  • 2019-09-20

A Balm to My Soul

Power writes movingly about her family, her life in Ireland, moving to the US, her loves and losses, her education, sports, her work as a journalist, her commitment to truth and justice in an imperfect world.
She is a wonderful writer. I love her voice, so listening to her read her memoir was a great pleasure.
Obama clearly respected her wisdom, integrity and moral values — as a human rights adviser in the White House and as Ambassador to the United Nations. To quote Power: “Tell the truth. Count and share your blessings. Treat everyone equally.”
The US is reeling from almost hourly scandals emanating from this misogynistic degenerate in the White House.
Power inspired me to work hard for a free, fair election in 2020. Democracy is worth fighting for.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Listener
  • 2019-09-16

Excellent Memoir - Very Candid

I found this to be very entertaining with a lot of insider details - in White House and at UN. She is so much more than a past US Ambassador to UN. This memoir is very honest about her personal life (maybe TMI in some cases :) and seemed candid on professional life. She is very compassionate about people in other countries suffering from violence . Not that I knew much about her, but this memoir surprised me. I hope she does well with the rest of her career. (And it sounds like her mother could also write an interesting autobiography.)

13 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-09-25

Buy it you will enjoy it!

Not a boring book in any way, shape, or form. Samantha is very forthcoming about the demands of the Government and the moral dilemmas that can be overcome when one sticks to their guns and values.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • RelizzScholar27
  • 2019-11-09

Sam's Power: Privilege in U.S. Politics

I'm rather torn about this book because so much of Power's life & work has been important & valuable in understanding, addressing & preventing human rights violations. And setting the development of her political and moral compass within a deeply personal story reveals much about the formation of a political leader that is often presented as sui generous. That narrative also offers insight into the particular challenges facing women in leadership. From the story of her mother's struggle to pursue her medical education and career and to leave a toxic marriage to Power's alcoholic father, to her efforts to become American after emigrating from Ireland, we learn much about the lived experience that shaped Power as a journalist and a diplomat. Her hapless romantic life in her 20s and early 30s, and then the challenge of marrying and having children while serving in the White House, where she forms a sort of sisterhood of similarly situated women in powerful roles counters the bro-culture the Obama administration was known for.

This is all meant to inspire, but a subtext got in the way of what I think was supposed to read as a classical story of triumph over life obstacles. For me, the level of privilege that allowed Power--despite real challenges that face many people--access to options few people have is a much more powerful story. Yes, her mother struggled to become a doctor, but she did have the family resources to ultimately do that, securing a position that allowed her to work in the Middle East, bringing Power and her brother to visit and earn valuable insight on global diversity. Yes, her mother had to petition the backwards, sexist, Catholic (still) Irish court system to leave the country with her children, a divorce from her alcoholic father not being an option. But she did so to be with another doctor in Pittsburgh, where she was able to re-credential in her field while Power shed her Irish brogue and learned about baseball. It was, by all indications, a very economically comfortable life that continued when the family moved to Atlanta, where her mother and step-father took up medical positions at Emory and she attended a "good school" in Atlanta. There, she does note that African American kids who were bussed to the school had the burden of having to spend hours traveling to and from school and suffered overt discrimination once they got there. But she stops short of recognizing the other privileges afforded by her two-doctor-income affluence and its connections.

For instance, she doesn't seem to recognize that having the ambition to go to an Ivy League college comes from a particular background. So, too, does the idea that you might piss away a Yale education on a sports communication major. That Power is jarred away from that self-indulgent career path when she sees footage of the Tiananmen Square Massacre is presented as a profound transformation of conscience, and it is. But it fails to recognize the social, cultural, and economic circumstances that prevent concern for others to develop earlier.

Likewise, her move into government work and then into journalism are facilitated by connections, first at Yale and then through the internship and jobs that gets her, that few people have access to. As someone who has worked incredibly hard to develop a career as a writer without such connections, I pretty much puked in my mouth when she writes of a connection made by a former boss to an NPR editor who would "take her calls" for possible stories from the Balkans, despite her very limited journalistic experience. Indeed, Power drops connection and connection who helps her along the way, undoubtedly as an admirable acknowledgement that she couldn't do what she did on her own. But there seems to be no understanding that such support is available to a slim segment of the population.

Later, during her vetting to become UN Ambassador, when she frets over perhaps not having paid taxes on maybe $600 of income for journalistic work, I had to wonder what she had lived on while she was living there. Did her mother, who bought Power her first laptop, pay the way? Had mum paid the way for her first trip through Europe with her boyfriend? How did she afford to rent a beach-front cottage when she went to Harvard law? The book oozes with a level of affluence and privilege that lays bare what it takes -- well beyond Pulitzer Prize-winning brilliance -- to make your way to the elite levels of government in America. That Power offers this as a story of moral and vocational development while mostly ignoring all this is heartbreaking. You know those Black kids bussed to her "good" high school? Did many of them have a shot at such a life? I doubt it.

That said, the same sort of affluence and connection is of course true for most of the men in elite positions in government, business, and education, of course. That Power is open about her life, though this is largely presented as a field of challenges she overcomes, makes her vulnerable to the criticism above in ways that few men in comparable positions of power are. And, as I noted in the beginning, her contributions to human rights have been considerable. Still, I have to wonder how U.S. policy would be shaped toward the needs of the most vulnerable in America and the world if more people from less privileged backgrounds were able to make their way to the level of influence Power and her Ilk achieve more easily than they care to acknowledge or can even see,

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • 2019-10-15

Captivating

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. She tells about her early life, education and her career in journalism and then as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Power writes in-depth about her attempts to influence foreign policy from both inside and outside government. She also tells of the sexism she had to put up with as the only woman in the room. I was impressed at how well the book is written. Power discusses not only her successes but also her mistakes. Power is now on the faculty at Harvard Law School. I found this to be an interesting book about someone I knew little about. You need to read the book for all the details particularly about being Ambassador to the United Nations; I only highlighted a small sample of the book.

The book is twenty-one hours and two minutes. Power narrators her own book.


3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • David L. Koch
  • 2019-10-02

An Exceptional Memoir of Our Times

I am so glad I chose to listen to this telling in the author's voice rather than reading it. There is as much more in hearing her tell it as there is in the words alone.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Frank M.
  • 2019-11-19

Whether you love this story depends on you

If you think the eight years of the Obama administration are America's finest hour, you will love this view inside Ambassador Power's life and career. If you think Trump is MAGA, you will hate it. It all depends on you.

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  • Barbara Milton
  • 2019-11-14

My Shero

I learned so much and am Inspired. We we’re fortunate to have had her service and stewardship. God bless her. I pray God we get back to true democratic ideas in our foreign and domestic policy.

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  • Steve
  • 2019-11-13

Extraordinary!

A wonderful listen... personal and honest, yet broad in scope. I finished listening two weeks ago and the scenes and stories have really stuck with me. Wonderful to have the author reading her own work -- I wish all autobiographers did the same.

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  • Fernando
  • 2019-11-09

Phenomenal book and narration!

Samantha Power should run for POTUS. She’s an extremely talented writer, diplomat, politician, journalist, mother, and wife. This a touching, superbly written, and informative book. Listening to it being read by the author herself with her articulate and pleasant voice makes it all the more enjoyable. My only regret is that 5 stars don’t make it justice.