The Education of an Idealist: Samantha Power’s riveting insight into the Obama years

Book review: Samantha Power’s memoir is a timely reflection on the United States’ global role

Foreign-policy player: Samantha Power in Washington in 2015. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

Foreign-policy player: Samantha Power in Washington in 2015. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

Diplomat, immigrant, journalist, mother. Samantha Power occupies many roles. Born in Dublin in 1970, she rose to become one of the most senior figures in the Obama administration, appointed US ambassador to the United Nations in 2013.

She first emerged on the public scene with the publication of A Problem from Hell, a work inspired by her time as a war correspondent in the former Yugoslavia. The book is an intellectual tour de force, breathtaking in its analysis and argument, as it chronicles key episodes in 20th-century history exposing how the United States’ foreign-policy establishment stood by in the face of genocide. Although the book cemented her stardom – a young senator from Illinois called Barack Obama invited her to work for him after reading it – it also proved something of a poisoned chalice. Once she became a policymaker Power was bound to be scrutinised for her adherence, or otherwise, to the ideals she so passionately espoused in her book.

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