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Condoleezza Rice: An American Lifeby Elisabeth Bumiller
Synopses & Reviews
Condoleezza Rice, one of most powerful and controversial women in the world, has until now remained a mystery behind an elegant, cool veneer. In this stunning new biography, New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller peels back the layers and presents a revelatory portrait of the first black female secretary of state and President George W. Bush's national security adviser on September 11, 2001. The book relates in more intimate detail than ever before the personal voyage of a young black woman out of the segregated American South and also tells the sweeping story of a tumultuous half-century in the nation's history.
In Condoleezza Rice: An American Life, we see Rice's Alabama childhood under Bull Connor's reign of terror in "Bombingham," the name given to Birmingham when it was the central battleground of the civil rights movement; her education in foreign policy under Josef Korbel, a charismatic Czech intellectual who also happened to be the father of Madeleine Albright, the only other female secretary of state in U.S. history; and Rice's confrontations with minorities and women while she was provost at Stanford University in the 1990s.
Examining the current administration, Bumiller explores in depth Rice's extraordinarily close relationship with George W. Bush, her battles with Vice President Dick Cheney, and her indirect but crucial role in the ousting of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Bumiller shows us Rice missing clues to the September 11 attacks, waging war against Saddam Hussein, and counting election returns with Karl Rove in 2004. In addition, we watch Rice's recent attempts to salvage the ruins of the Iraq policy she helped create and to avoid war with Iran.
Drawing on extensive interviews with Rice and more than 150 others, including colleagues, family members, government officials, and critics, this book offers dramatic new information about the events and personalities of the Bush administration. With great insight, Bumiller explores Rice's effectiveness as national security adviser and secretary of state, her attempts to revive classic American diplomacy, her longtime political ambitions, and her future on the world stage.
"If either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton becomes president, George W. Bush should receive some of the credit, not only because he is out of favor but also because he helped Americans get used to both blacks and women in high office. It is now 11 years since Warren Christopher, the last white male secretary of state, stepped down and Bill Clinton made Madeleine Albright the first woman in charge of... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the State Department. In a blink of history's eye, Bush followed with the first female national security adviser (Condoleezza Rice), the first black secretary of state (Colin Powell) and the first black female secretary of state (Rice). Elisabeth Bumiller's biography is the third recent book (following Glenn Kessler's 'The Confidante' and Marcus Mabry's 'Twice as Good') to examine Rice's modest record as national security adviser and secretary of state. Despite able research and nearly a dozen interviews with Rice, Bumiller found little new information about her Washington years. We already are familiar with her record on 9/11, al-Qaeda and Iraq. We already know that, as a smitten Bushie, Rice forgot her allegiance to pragmatic realism and giddily threw in her lot with the alchemists hoping to use war in Iraq to transmute autocracies and monarchies into Middle Eastern democracies. But as national security adviser, she could not force administration bulls to stop butting heads or make sure Bush heard the advice and intelligence of people other than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. As secretary of state, she quietly tossed aside Bush's cowboy unilateralism while refusing to admit any past errors, hers or his. However well-known this account may be, it is still stunning to read Rice's startled 'Oh, my goodness, Hamas won?' about the Palestinian elections of January 2006. Bumiller's devastating comment is that 'anyone who had more than a passing involvement in the Middle East' knew the socially conscious if murderous Hamas might well whip the shady leftovers of Yasser Arafat's Fatah party. Bumiller shines not in portraying Rice in Washington but in telling her earlier story, meticulously and sensitively describing how she came to play such a significant role in Washington's new era. The story is something of a paradox, for Rice — a conservative who mostly disdains affirmative action — seems ill-cast as a racial pioneer, even though her home town is Birmingham, Ala. There Bull Connor's police turned dogs and fire hoses on Martin Luther King Jr.'s child crusaders, and a friend of Rice's died in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. But her parents, Angelena and John Wesley Rice Jr. (a Republican), did all they could to shield their talented only child from social and political turmoil. They sequestered her from the violent eruptions at King's youth marches, which John Rice disapproved of. They had her reading at age 3 and taking piano, French and etiquette lessons by 8; typing, modeling, ballet and tap dancing followed. When she was 11, the family moved to Denver. In Birmingham, she had known hardly any whites; in Denver she knew few but whites. Today she is probably more Denver than Birmingham. The author herself is a product of Cincinnati's elite Walnut Hills High School and of Northwestern University. A New York Times reporter and author of books on women's lives in India and Japan, Bumiller sympathetically portrays Rice's post-Birmingham academic path as rocky, its successes often dependent on male patrons. Connections made by her father, as well as affirmative action, boosted her several times. Rice's charm and elegance helped smooth her way, as did a fine talent for identifying powerful male mentors, with whom she could trade football anecdotes as an equal. After she surrendered hopes of becoming a concert pianist, she found a home in Soviet studies and — overcoming a dead-end master's degree experience at Notre Dame — completed her PhD at the University of Denver (where she had also earned her undergraduate degree) with Madeleine Albright's father, Josef Korbel, as a main source of advice and inspiration. A postdoctoral fellowship took her to Stanford, where she found new sponsors, including the Hoover Institution's George Shultz and two Stanford presidents. So aided, she secured a tenure-track professorship, put in a stint on the staff of George H.W. Bush's National Security Council and later spent six rough years as Stanford's provost. Slashing right and left to eliminate large budget deficits, she pleased her sponsor — Stanford President Gerhard Casper — but antagonized faculty colleagues with shows of insensitivity on affirmative-action issues and intolerance of those disagreeing with her. Working for her ultimate patron in Washington, however, she ran into such bureaucratic powerhouses as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell, whom she could not tame (as she could bureaucrats of inferior standing, such as former NSC staffer Richard A. Clarke). We already have noted the collective failure of both Rice and the untamable powerhouses. Bumiller concludes that as of mid-2007, Rice had 'no intention of stepping off the world's stage,' though in what capacity she might remain on it is anyone's guess." Reviewed by Robert L. Beisner, professor emeritus of history at American University and author of the prize-winning 'Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Elisabeth Bumiller, a Washington reporter for The New York Times, was a Times White House correspondent from September 10, 2001, to 2006. She is the author of May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons: A Journey Among the Women of India and The Secrets of Mariko: A Year in the Life of a Japanese Woman and Her Family. She wrote much of this book as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and as a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband, Steven R. Weisman, and two children.
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