The Education of an Idealist

A Memoir
Narrated by: Samantha Power
Length: 21 hrs and 2 mins
4.7 out of 5 stars (1,596 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today best seller

One of Audible’s Best Audiobooks of 2019

A New York Times Notable Book of 2019 

An NPR Best Book of 2019 

One of Time’s Must-Read Books of 2019 

An Economist Book of the Year 

A Washington Post Notable Book of 2019 

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019

“Her highly personal and reflective memoir...is a must-read for anyone who cares about our role in a changing world." (President Barack Obama)

An intimate, powerful, and galvanizing memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner, human rights advocate, and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power.

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.

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.  

"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

"Honest, personal, revealing...about the development of a young woman’s inner strength and self-knowledge." (Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn and Nora Webster)

©2019 Samantha Power (P)2019 HarperAudio

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Editor's Pick

The case for optimism
"Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a story about a diplomat whose lofty dreams get shattered. The idealist in this memoir gets things done. Samantha Power is an Irish immigrant, shaped by an unpredictable childhood and personal tragedy, who is fearless in her determination to effect change in the world. With her compelling narration, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations chronicles how she achieved her American dream and candidly describes experiences such as grueling on-the-ground reporting during the Bosnian War in the 1990s, which helped influence her Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell. Power also gives behind-the-scenes accounts of presidential campaign flubs, Situation Room scenarios, and humanizing moments among leaders who are supposed to have all the answers. Nothing has educated me on foreign policy quite like this impactful—and hopeful—listen."—Valerie B., Audible Editor

What listeners say about The Education of an Idealist

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Hit Home

I, a die-hard idealist, originally purchased this book thinking that "Education of an Idealist" might help me cope with my own disillusionment over the unraveling of American values and increasing prejudice against, well, EVERYBODY; but that notion was dispelled almost immediately by Ms. Power in her introduction. Initially disappointed (easily accomplished, as of late), I was intrigued by all that followed. Not only did I come away from this book better educated about the role of the United States in the United Nations and the incredibly dedicated staff who serve that purpose, but I also learned much more about the contributions of the very humble and self-effacing Barack Obama. (While I'm sure Ms. Power didn't write with this intent, the latter will give me accurate information when engaged with Obama-haters in my small, rural town - not as weaponized words, but as facts that just MAYBE some of them will actuallycheck!) (Once an Idealist, always an Idealist...) When the book reached the election of Donald Trump, I admit I grieved all over again, especially when Ms. Power recounted the scene the next day: While she tried to encourage her staff, they voiced their optimism that their advice would be needed by the incoming administration.... And then I really cried. As a former special education teacher and as a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer, I have seen my share of terrible things; but I have always been able to retain my sense of place and my optimism. Much of my hope for my country and the world has been undermined by Trumpian policies and rhetoric. I must say, however, the Education of an Idealist has helped me to regain at least some of my perspective. Thank you, Samantha Power, both for your service to our country and for helping to get me back on track! Cheryl Petretti

109 people found this helpful

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Wonder how she got clearance to share the info

Interesting insights to her diplomatic work with Obama and the UN. Amazed though by how she could share the info, especially conversations with other diplomats and discussions on national security.

21 people found this helpful

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Personal, couldn't put it down

From the start, thoroughly engaging, a bunch of great stories - even as, and especially when, - she tells on herself. This author kept a journal all her life, so detailed stories were kept all along that now make her her memoir riveting; we are learning things just as she was learning them at the time. A truly interesting blow-by-blow of how someone grew up, learned what was important to her and found her path to doing just what she was meant to do. Stands beautifully above any other great memoir I can think of.

14 people found this helpful

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Incredible memoirs by an outstanding US statesperson

I wish I could refrain from flatter but this book is simply extraordinary! A rare insight into the world of US and global politics, as well as personal life of a brilliant woman, presented in elegant and exquisite language.

11 people found this helpful

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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,

149 people found this helpful

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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.

56 people found this helpful

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Every American Should Read This...

...and Irish Americans especially! Samantha Power’s immigrant story is exceptional in every way! It is truly amazing how she came to the US as a young Irish girl with hopes of an American Dream and then became the US Ambassador to The United Nations!! Thank you for sharing so many interesting details of your remarkable life with us, Madam Ambassador! Thank you too for your service to our country, we are all indebted to you.

7 people found this helpful

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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.

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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.)

20 people found this helpful

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Absolutely Outstanding

A powerful memoir, beautifully written, about an Irish immigrant with an incisive mind, incredible courage and a commitment to the highest of ideals, who came to serve as the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration. An inspiring story, especially so through Audible because it is read / told by the author herself!

2 people found this helpful