Review of Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power      BPS Bookclub, Feb 2024

 Gosh, this was a hard one to summarise the reviews! My notes read ‘ loved it / hated it/ loved her / hated her / not enough personal stuff/ too much personal stuff ’ …. she’s definitely Marmite Power. From a numbers perspective it broke down like this, remembering that scores are out of a possible 5.

50% gave it 4.5 or higher

15% gave it 4

20% gave it a 3 or 3.5

15% gave it 2.5 or less

 So – 65% of readers rated it as a good or great book – but the criticisms were tough and valid at the other end too.

Simply having got through the book was like a revision course in global history and politics, Power’s remit, energy and earnest attitude could be overwhelming even to read. Her thorough journalistic style covered many angles, but certain snippets stand out -the insights into Obama and the inner workings of Washington and the UN were fascinating. The high levels of international diplomacy were interesting, particularly for these ‘hybrid’ characters who flit between a life of academia and then being called up to think through some of the toughest of world problems. Her sense of no work/life balance at all was apparent – the fleeting references to her children are touching but it is apparent that work takes priority.

She may be flawed, but she is a woman to admire. Her childhood issues were alluded to with some honesty, but not dwelt on – in fact some felt that she didn’t give enough coverage to her wider family or colleagues (other than those who ‘merited’ a name check)

Whilst this book is full of recent history – up to around 2021 – there was still a sense that it was a slightly different time, when the USA fully engaged in all worldwide issues, and her unerring sense that the US embodies both power and the moral high ground may raise some eyebrows in 2024.

Those that didn’t like it so much felt her prose was very curated, the name checks felt more like name drops, and her journalistic style was perhaps lacking in emotion – and could have been edited down a little. She rarely gave other nations or individuals credit for what achievements were made. Did she recognise her own privilege, or gloss over it and make too much of her own assimilated ‘immigrant’ experience? Does she end up still as an ‘idealist’ or has she actually joined the ranks of apologists with a lack of effective action?

Perhaps the most interesting part of anyone’s memoir is the early part, with struggles and learnings all part of the journey. Once that person is ‘established’ in a role it is difficult to outline achievements without sounding a little self- satisfied. Nevertheless it was a unique insight into how someone from Ireland can end up in a position of high influence on a global stage, at least for a short time.

March 18, 2024 by Books Scissors

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