Sunday, December 12, 2010

Extraordinary, Ordinary People

This extraordinary autobiography by former National Security Advisor and Secretrary of State Condi Rice has been a wonderful surprise for me. It's the first book that I downloaded from the library to my new Nook and I worried about finishing it in the 2 week time frame. I needn't have.

You can breeze through this story in no time because the writing style is simply delightful. I felt like I was just sitting around talking with a friend throughout most of it. (until she got to the last chapter - her belief in W) I'd always wondered how Ms. Rice could be a Republican, it just didn't compute for me. She very briefly touches on her reasons, which date back to Jimmy Carter's administration and pieces of his foreign policy with which she says she disagreed. She left the Democrats shortly after.

Yes, she's feisty, pro-military, hawklike and a big believer in the right to bear arms, so I'm going to guess, though she doesn't say it, that his failure to secure the release of the hostages was the turning point for her. I've always felt that Carter got a bum rap on that and his recent interview on the Diane Rehm show backs me up. But for one extra helicopter, that mission may have been saved. He listened to his military advisers, the advice was lacking, but he took the blame as he had to.

At any rate, Condeleeza Rice has written an ode to her loving, foresighted parents who put their hearts and souls into her upbringing, making sure that she had every single opportunity available to a middle class black girl in 1950's Birmingham, Alabama. They never had to force her, she was a force to be reckoned with all on her own. At 3 she sat at her mom's piano in church and began to play, lessons ensued. In school she was pushed ahead a year so that she wouldn't be bored. An interest in ice-skating, after moving to Denver, evolved into an obsession with perfection. Condi never did anything half way!

Having educators for parents almost assures a leg up. Teachers don't stop at the end of the school day. Believe me, I know. Yes, I hated it at the time. I was more rebellious than she, but now I realize how very, very lucky I was to have parents who always had books in their hands and expectations for us kids. Condi's folks were extraordinary. Their whole lives revolved around her and the democratic process began at home at an early age. All job changes and moves were discussed among the three of them.

What struck me most is Ms. Rice's sense of humor and self-deprecation. She never seems to brag about her accomplishments, they just are what they are, and they are many. Provost of Stanford at 38 years old! And parents out there, don't despair when your kids have trouble settling down. Condi was well into her 20's before she figured it out, going from studying to be a concert pianist to becoming a foremost, international Russian expert.

Most interesting were her descriptions of the dark days in Birmingham when her neighborhood was being firebombed most every evening and her dad, a Presbyterian minister at the time, sat outside on the porch with his shotgun over his lap to protect her home and family. Rev. Rice had deep misgivings about Rev. King's non-violent movement, especially after the bombing of the neighborhood church that killed four girls from their community. Can you even imagine how that incident would affect someone for years to come? I can't.

But I loved it when she wrote about her dad starting the first Black Studies program at Denver University under the tutelege of an old friend from Alabama who was now President of Denver. The first guest speaker, Stokely Carmichael, shook the very foundations of this very white school and he became a close friend of Condi's family for many years. Who'd have thought that?

Enough, I've said enough. Read for yourself and see what you think. If I had any complaint it would be that she didn't really delve into the politics of the Bush administration at all. Perhaps she's saving that for another book or maybe she's protecting her long friendship with the senior Bush and his wife Barbara who she credits as important mentors. Either way, I now feel that Condi Rice is a woman I'd love to get to know better. Never thought I'd say that!

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