Monday, March 14, 2011

#BookReview: Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family - Condoleezza Rice


I've never really had an opinion of Condoleezza Rice before now.  My daughter questioned why I picked up her audio book and the only explanation I could come up with was that she has accomplished some things that should be recognized.  She has always come across as uptight, in my opinion, and I hoped that listening to her narrate her book would give me some insight into who she really was.  On top of that, as someone that majored in Russian and East European Studies 20 years after she did, I felt some affinity to her.

As someone in the global intelligence and security realm, I absolutely admire Condoleezza Rice.  As a person, she leaves something to be desired. I can't question that she's extremely knowledgeable in matters of foreign policy, but she's completely lacking in matters of domestic policy, particularly as it relates to those that look like her.

Raised in a Republican household, simply because the Republicans were the party willing to allow her father register as a voter, she declared herself a Democrat given the opportunity to vote for the first time.  A differing of opinions with Jimmy Carter's foreign policy led her to change parties and become a fervent Republican.  The line that especially stood out to me when she talked of her love of the party was, "I would rather be ignored than pandered to."  I'll admit that I had to rewind that a few times to make sure I heard her right.  The Republican party is not known for diversity, so to hear someone say that they're okay with being ignored by their own party really struck me as odd.  But politics aside, I forged on.

In another section of the book, she speaks of attending a program at Harvard and visiting friends in the area on several occasions while in the area.  When she arrives at their house before them one day, she unwittingly sets off their alarm.  Her first thought of what to tell the police when they arrive is, "I'll tell them I'm the maid."  What in the entire hell??? What does it say about your view of yourself and people that look like you when your immediate thought is that being black and being the maid makes sense, but being a black woman with a master's degree or a PhD doesn't?

At any rate, this book was intended to be a memoir.  I came away feeling that I didn't know any more about her personally than I did before I picked it up.  She didn't sound like a black woman born and raised in Birmingham during the heart of the civil rights era.  She sounded like an out of touch upper class white man that couldn't relate to anyone that wasn't a part of the isolated world that can be created when one has the means to do so.

By no means am I saying that anyone of any race is obligated to reach back and help others, but as the daughter of parents that worked tirelessly to help those around them that struggled, it's shocking that none of her parent's good works seemed to rub off on her.  In fact, it took her father moving to California and once again getting involved in the community for her to recognize that there were indeed people that looked like her struggling in an area in which she had lived for over ten years. 

Rice chose to narrate the audio book herself and her cadence was a bit off and she was quite formal the entire time.  As my daughter put it, "She sounds so unimpressed with her own life."  I'd have to agree.  The only times she sounded excited were when she spoke of the fall of the Berlin wall and meeting the Bushes.  Everything else, including her parent's deaths, was spoken of in such a flat tone that I wouldn't be surprised if she put people to sleep while listening.

What did you like about this book?
The author's parents sounded like really good people.  Perhaps a book about them and their work would have been more interesting.

What didn't you like about this book?
Seriously?

What could the author do to improve this book?
I mean, you can't tell someone to live better, but if she was truly writing a memoir to show people who she was and who her family was, it would have been helpful if she took down the mask and showed a human side of herself.  This was less of a memoir about her family, but more about the various jobs she's held.







352pp
Published October 2010


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