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A Memoir of Family

by Condoleezza Rice

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-58787-9
Publisher: Crown

Former Secretary of State Rice presents a low-key, modest memoir about growing up an only child to highly educated teachers in segregated Birmingham, Ala.

The author poignantly depicts a Southern black culture strongly centered on the schools and the churches. In the era of Jim Crow segregation, racial prejudice permeated every facet of society, even within black communities where lighter-skinned people were offered better opportunities. Rice’s mother, Angelena, hailed from Birmingham and was college-educated and musical; her father, John, from Baton Rouge, was an ordained pastor, educational crusader and athletic director. The author was named after a melodious Italian musical term, con dolcezza (“with sweetness”), adjusted for American ears. Pushed at a very early age to achieve, she excelled at the piano, ice skating and the debating team. Early on she became keenly aware of the pernicious nature of segregation. By 1962, Birmingham had become a racially-charged, violent city. As John Rice’s career shifted from preaching to education, the family moved to Denver, where Rice entered college at age 16. Casting about for a major, she was influenced by former Czech diplomat turned professor Josef Korbel (father to Madeleine Albright) and embarked on Soviet studies and political science. The author chronicles a dizzying academic trajectory from Notre Dame to Stanford, where she eventually became a tenured professor—clearly an affirmative-action hire, of which she is “a fierce defender”—and, later, provost. While completing various prestigious fellowships, she befriended Colin Powell, who mentored her, and Brent Scowcroft, who invited her to join the Bush I team at the National Security Council in 1989, a time of spectacular changes in the Soviet Union. Rice briefly touches on these times, but keeps the focus on the last years of her parents, ending with her father’s death just at the election of Bush II.

Provides some interesting tidbits but no great revelations, except on why she became a Republican: “I would rather be ignored than patronized.”