Condoleezza Rice has excelled as a diplomat, political scientist, and concert pianist. Her achievements run the gamut from helping to oversee the collapse of communism in Europe and the decline of the Soviet Union, to working to protect the country in the aftermath of 9-11, to becoming only the second woman - and the first black woman ever -- to serve as Secretary of State.Read more...
Condoleezza Rice has excelled as a diplomat, political scientist, and concert pianist. Her achievements run the gamut from helping to oversee the collapse of communism in Europe and the decline of the Soviet Union, to working to protect the country in the aftermath of 9-11, to becoming only the second woman - and the first black woman ever -- to serve as Secretary of State.
But until she was 25 she never learned to swim.
Not because she wouldn't have loved to, but because when she was a little girl in Birmingham, Alabama, Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor decided he'd rather shut down the city's pools than give black citizens access.
Throughout the 1950's, Birmingham's black middle class largely succeeded in insulating their children from the most corrosive effects of racism, providing multiple support systems to ensure the next generation would live better than the last. But by 1963, when Rice was applying herself to her fourth grader's lessons, the situation had grown intolerable. Birmingham was an environment where blacks were expected to keep their head down and do what they were told -- or face violent consequences. That spring two bombs exploded in Rice's neighborhood amid a series of chilling Klu Klux Klan attacks. Months later, four young girls lost their lives in a particularly vicious bombing.
So how was Rice able to achieve what she ultimately did?
Her father, John, a minister and educator, instilled a love of sports and politics. Her mother, a teacher, developed Condoleezza's passion for piano and exposed her to the fine arts. From both, Rice learned the value of faith in the face of hardship and the importance of giving back to the community. Her parents' fierce unwillingness to set limits propelled her to the venerable halls of Stanford University, where she quickly rose through the ranks to become the university's second-in-command. An expert in Soviet and Eastern European Affairs, she played a leading role in U.S. policy as the Iron Curtain fell and the Soviet Union disintegrated. Less than a decade later, at the apex of the hotly contested 2000 presidential election, she received the exciting news - just shortly before her father's death - that she would go on to the White House as the first female National Security Advisor.
As comfortable describing lighthearted family moments as she is recalling the poignancy of her mother's cancer battle and the heady challenge of going toe-to-toe with Soviet leaders, Rice holds nothing back in this remarkably candid telling. This is the story of Condoleezza Rice that has never been told, not that of an ultra-accomplished world leader, but of a little girl - and a young woman -- trying to find her place in a sometimes hostile world and of two exceptional parents, and an extended family and community, that made all the difference.
You and your family may also enjoy Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Parents and Me, a fascinating and inspirational story for young people to be published simultaneously with the above memoir.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-07-12
- Reviewer: Staff
Former secretary of state Rice only briefly treats her tenure during the second Bush administration in favor of a straightforward, reverential chronicle of her upbringing under two teachers in the segregated Deep South. Rice acknowledges upfront the complicated, intertwined history of blacks and whites in America, which lent a lightening of skin to her forebears that was looked upon favorably at the time. Her father, John Wesley Rice Jr., came from a family of well-educated itinerant preachers in Louisiana, while the family of her mother, Angelena Ray, were Birmingham, Ala., landowners; both were teachers at Fairfield Industrial High School and determined to live "full and productive lives" in Birmingham, despite the blight of segregation (e.g., poll tests in the largely Democratic South resolved John Rice to become a lifelong Republican). Cocooned in an educational and musical environment, Rice was a high-achieving only child. Yet the encroaching racial tension broke open in Birmingham in the form of store boycotts, bombings, and demonstrations. Eventually, the family moved to Denver, where Rice attended the university, majoring first in piano then political science, due to the influence of professor and former Czech diplomat Josef Korbel. Rice moves fleetingly through her subsequent education at Notre Dame and Stanford. Swept into Washington Republican politics by Colin Powell and others, she sketches the "wild ride" accompanying the Soviet Union's demise, but overall records a thrilling, inspiring life of achievement. (Oct.)
Rice's success is firmly rooted in her childhood
Looking for a blow-by-blow account of Condoleezza Rice’s years as George W. Bush’s secretary of state? You would do well to find one of the many Rice biographies already on the shelves. In this remarkably clear-eyed and candid autobiography, Rice focuses instead on her fascinating coming-of-age during the stormy civil rights years in Birmingham, Alabama.
Extraordinary, Ordinary People is Rice’s love letter to her fiercely proud and supportive parents. An only child, Rice grew up in an age and place where middle-class black children were told they had to be “twice as good” as their white peers to succeed. As a result, young Condi was an excellent student, a competition-level ice skater and a concert pianist. “Ironically, because Birmingham was so segregated, black parents were able, in large part, to control the environment in which they raised their children,” Rice writes. “They rigorously regulated the messages that we received and shielded us by imposing high expectations and a determined insistence on excellence.” But Rice did not escape some of the harsher reminders of Birmingham’s bitter racial struggles; as a child, she played with one of the girls later killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963.
The book ably chronicles Rice’s years of higher education and her first experience in Washington, D.C., when she worked on the National Security Council and met future mentors and colleagues Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft. Rice also relays her sometimes stormy tenure as Stanford provost with clarity and humor, though she avoids delving too deeply into her romantic life. She casually mentions a couple of boyfriends over the years, before dispensing with the entire subject in a single paragraph: “In the back of my mind, I had always assumed that I would get married and have kids. . . . But as I told (and still tell) my friends, you don’t get married in the abstract; you have to want to marry a particular person.”
Perhaps it speaks to Rice’s character that in this salacious age of celebrity tell-alls, she chooses to focus on her many public accomplishments. Extraordinary, Ordinary People is a rich, insightful examination of Rice’s successes and their deep roots in her childhood.