Just what one would expect from the no-nonsense Elders: an unvarnished account that tells as much about our society as about her remarkable life. In collaboration with writer Chanoff (a visiting scholar at Brandeis Univ.), whose labors are happily invisible, Elders tells an inspiring story of a child born to an Arkansas sharecropper in 1933 who 60 years later became the first black woman surgeon general of the US. Family and church instilled in her early a commitment to education and a high moral sense. With a college scholarship, good role models, hard work, the GI Bill, and strong mentors, she rose swiftly. When she became chief resident at the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1963, it was an unheard-of honor for a black woman, and with the help of an NIH fellowship grant in biochemistry, she was soon Arkansas's resident expert in pediatric endocrinology. Elders's story is much more than a brilliant career râ€šsumâ€š. She shares details of her personal life--her strong marriage, her husband's deep depression, the loss of a child, and her younger son's problems with cocaine--and her introduction to public life. In 1987, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton asked her to direct the state's health department. With this appointment, Elders--a pragmatist, not a politician--battled ""antichoice, antieducation, anticondom fundamentalists"" outraged by her plans for distributing condoms in school clinics. Six years later, when Clinton picked the outspoken Elders as his surgeon general, he knew exactly what he was getting. Her account of her brief tenure, only 15 months, is restrained, but it's clear that relations with her boss, Donna Shalala, were rocky, and she blames Shalala and Leon Panetta, not Clinton, for her dismissal after the masturbation flap. Now back in Arkansas teaching pediatrics, Elders says she has no regrets. She knows who she is and what she stands for. After reading this absorbing autobiography, readers will too.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996
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