This is a wonderful book ... It’s an unusual combination of autobiography, diplomatic history, moral argument and manual on how to breast-feed a child with one hand while talking to Secretary of State John Kerry on a cellphone with the other. The interweaving of Power’s personal story, family story, diplomatic history and moral arguments is executed seamlessly — and with unblinking honesty ... The older Power is not at all a cynic, but she is less ramrod straight ... Always tilted toward using American power to defend the defenseless, moderate the tyrannical, rescue the needy and inspire and strengthen the forces of decency — but when she loses the argument to do so in one country, she doesn’t resign. She looks for somewhere else to fix. Does that sound like an idealist selling out to hold onto the perks of power, or one who keeps looking to fight another day another way? You decide. And you can — because Power is unstinting in giving you all the ammunition you need to denounce or defend her.
Amid the flood of memoirs from Obama administration veterans, Powers’ stands out as worth reading. For starters, she’s a better writer than a lot of them—she was a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author long before she got into government. She’s also done more that’s worth reading about. Like the best journalists, Power has a gift for finding the perfect anecdote to illustrate a larger idea or theme, and this is the rare political memoir where you definitely shouldn’t skim the 'early years' chapters ... Powers writes movingly ... Also fascinating is Power’s account of her unlikely friendship with her Russian counterpart at the U.N., the late Vitaly Churkin ... She certainly did learn something.
Power’s apologia is insistent—and unexpectedly compelling. She cannot justify every administration policy, and she flays many of its most cynical decisions, such as Obama’s broken campaign promise to recognize the Armenian genocide. This tale is filled with half-measures, disappointments and bureaucratic defeats (a far cry from the usual autobiographical victory tour) ... Power writes with heart about her upbringing—in Ireland, Pittsburgh and Atlanta—and she is especially poignant when recounting a few traumatic episodes ... Still, the book is suffused with humor, and the president furnishes the funniest anecdotes that don’t come from her charming children ... A few issues, though, receive a more muddled treatment ... Even so, The Education of an Idealist is a moving account of how to serve righteously, or at least how to try. It’s true that Power never travels any kind of character arc; she does not meaningfully change, even as she accepts the exigencies necessary to govern—and that is to her credit. Her education is not about compromising her ideals for influence but about figuring out how to deploy them to move a bureaucracy.
... vivid and engaging prose ... The most startling thing about a book titled The Education of an Idealist is that Power appears not to have learned very much ... [Power] barely mentions Israel or Saudi Arabia—she says nothing about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank or the Saudi war on women and LGBTQI+ people. These silences are deafening, because the type of world Power wants to build will never be realized if only certain countries—namely, those that stand outside America’s imperial sphere—are held to account. Her approach does not make much sense from a pragmatic perspective either: U.S. officials have the highest likelihood of ending human rights abuses in countries that depend on us; there is little point in spending political capital in a mostly quixotic attempt to transform antagonists like North Korea ... Meanwhile, Power completely ignores the human rights violations that took place in her own country under Obama’s watch; like many liberal interventionists, she is far more vexed by suffering abroad. Nowhere does she address police violence against African Americans, mass surveillance, refugee detention, or mass incarceration. Nor does she give much thought to the colonial violence that defines American history ... does not account for these social ills, or consider that the only way we can avoid them is by giving up the capacities that enable us (theoretically, if not in practice) to alleviate foreign suffering ... Power’s memoir shows how much the discourse of humanitarian intervention obscures. By focusing on the question 'Do we save innocent lives?' liberal interventionists like Power shift our attention from an equally important query: 'How do we change conditions so lives don’t need to be saved?' A world oriented around this last question would look very different from the one we have now.
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 ... There are some memorable moments, mainly at the book’s beginning ... I doubt many readers will care much about how the federal government’s human-resources department initially assigned Ms. Power the wrong salary tier (the mistake was soon corrected, you’ll be relieved to know) or about what she and her husband, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, did on their first night in the U.N. ambassador’s residence at the Waldorf Astoria ... is more than an exercise in vanity. It’s also, fundamentally, a defense of the author’s reputation ... Ms. Power tries hard to make Mr. Obama’s indecision on Syria look like something other than the disaster it plainly was, failing even to mention the substantive reason for the president’s sudden change of heart—Iran ... In the end, Ms. Power lamely portrays the administration’s worst foreign-policy blunder as a qualified success.
... incredibly long, at forty chapters, and not tightly edited. It’s written in flat, workmanlike prose ... One hungers for an unusual insight in its 500-plus pages. Instead, there are passing mentions of mysterious anxiety attacks and a few stalled forays into personal therapy, but these feel like they were grafted on in response to a pointed editor’s note ... Power extracts no real lessons from the most intense foreign policy issues of those eight years [under Obama], which are flatly retold here. It is hard to tell what conclusions she draws from Libya, where she and other humanitarian hawks convinced Obama to intervene in 2011 and overthrow (by way of grotesque murder) the dictator Muamer Gaddafi. The country is wracked to this day by Islamist insurgencies, sectarian violence, and chaos ... She seems to have regarded inaction in Syria as less disgraceful ... Her account of such episodes—among the Obama administration’s worst foreign policy embarrassments—adds little to the public record ... her learned naiveté, ahistorical optimism, and warm embrace of military force could have emerged from no other country ... In the most interesting case studies in Power’s otherwise ultra perfunctory memoir, the Obama administration even made several productive 'humanitarian interventions,' using 21st century instruments rather than 20th century ideas: The heroic effort to contain Ebola in Africa, for instance, or the air-drops of supplies to Yazidis under siege by ISIS.
It's a great platitude, but her memoir also shows a person can care more and work harder and still get U.S. policy that is weak, unsuccessful or wrong, like Syria, Ukraine, Crimea or Yemen (one of this century's worst humanitarian disasters, beginning under the Obama administration, which barely gets a mention in the book) ... At times, this memoir feels a mile wide and inch deep. But when she does really dig down, you get a better sense of who Power is—a flawed, complicated and complex human being like the rest of us. She opens up ... is an idealist, but now with realistic expectations for what governments and the people making policy decisions can — or cannot — achieve.
Readers of A Problem from Hell will recognize Power’s lean, evocative prose line ... As a portrait of President Obama, Power’s book immediately ranks right alongside that of her administration colleague Ben Rhodes, The World as It Is ... Power is every bit as candid when the recollections tell against her; she shares some brutal moments when she and Obama disagreed, moments made all the sharper by Power’s willingness to allow readers to see her as not just a frustrated idealist but a sometimes dangerously naive one ... doesn’t read like a standard Beltway exercise in self-justification. It’s too roughly honest for that, and, alarmingly, there are patches all throughout where the author’s naivete still lies fresh on the ground ... It’s this bluntness of assessment that makes the book’s broader points on power and purpose feel disappointingly anodyne.
Power is polite. Unfortunately, their good manners come at the reader’s expense ... Power’s talent as a writer comes through most eloquently in the book’s opening chapters, when she describes her relationship with her magnetic, alcoholic father ... At times, it’s frustrating that Power isn't as self-reflective about American foreign policy as she is about herself ... The price of entry for continued public service is discretion. The price of entry for serious policy discussion is honesty. Both are legitimate choices. But there’s a tension between the two. Power chose discretion, which undermines the quality of her analysis ... Perhaps it is fitting that in a memoir that describes the many constraints under which the Obama administration labored, Power manifests those constraints herself by failing to challenge one of the most politically treacherous, and least morally defensible, aspects of American foreign policy. This too, evidently, is part of what Power, in her book’s title, calls 'the education of an idealist.' One can only hope that in the future, it’s an education that able and decent policymakers like them will feel comfortable doing without.
This is an amazing tale—a veritable profile of courage plus persistence ... The book educates the reader about multiple crises in world affairs and how an idealist comes to think about and deal with them ... this is a good read for any empathetic, intellectually alive reader wondering about the world and the meaning of life.
... a uniquely personal and absorbing account of [Power's] time at the heart of US foreign policy ... Power’s book gives a riveting fly-on-the wall insight into the Obama administration’s foreign-policy decisionmaking and the inner workings of the United Nations. From the mundanities of the federal-bureaucracy machine to the sometimes unpalatable compromises and choices that grease the UN machine, Power’s book chronicles an important moment in world affairs ... an honest, probing account of the challenges facing policymakers and a timely reflection on the limits and responsibilities of the United States’ role in the world. Ultimately, Power’s youthful idealism survives despite the challenges and frustrations of political power.
Readers need not be foreign policy wonks to read The Education of an Idealist, but wonks will find the most to chew on here ... Candor from someone of [Power's] stature regarding such personal matters is refreshing, and Power draws directly from her own journals throughout the memoir.
She reveals how campaigns, governments and diplomacy operate behind closed doors—the pale, male upper echelons of how the world works. In her political work, Power is often the only woman in the room, and she doesn’t sugarcoat her experiences with sexism at both the White House and the U.N. ... The Education of an Idealist is Power’s life story, but it also feels like peering through a time capsule into a period when America showed more compassion for refugees and the disadvantaged. But, ever the idealist, Power also clearly hopes that this book will convince readers that, when there is injustice in the world, America has the moral imperative to do something.
In this gripping and revelatory memoir, Power chronicles, with vibrant precision and stunning candor, her best and worst moments navigating the obstacle courses within the White House and the UN, daunting global crises, and personal struggles. She is utterly compelling in her eye-witness accounts of violence and political standoffs and shrewdly witty in her tales about balancing diplomacy and motherhood. Ultimately, Power affirms the possibility for positive change and asserts that America’s power resides in its respect for human rights.
The author, who was later appointed the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, clearly admires her former boss, though not uncritically ... Still, she clearly understands the use of soft power, noting, for instance, the long-standing understanding of U.N. officials that conflict often has an economic basis that can be averted by delivering aid judiciously. She is not uncritical of that organization, either, pointing to procedural quirks that enabled Vladimir Putin to exercise outsized influence on events. On that note, she has no use for Obama’s successor ... A fine handbook for anyone interested in the workings of international policy.