A consistently captivating memoir by a woman of apparently endless accomplishment.
“I have lived a most interesting and productive professional life,” Brundtland writes at the outset. That’s an understatement, but consistent with her humble and often humorous approach to relating her meteoric rise. Born in Sweden to refugee resistance fighters and postwar socialist stalwarts, Brundtland took degrees in public health and medicine from Oxford and Harvard, returned home to Norway, and promptly became involved in the politics that seemed her birthright. (Describing a childhood spell in summer camp, for instance, she recalls regarding it as unjust that the boys there got to learn woodworking but were excluded from cooking classes, which, she posits, may help explain the inferiority of Scandinavian cuisine.) Appointed minister of the environment at 35, she undertook an ambitious program of reforms that earned her and her country high marks among ecologists, especially for the reduction of acid rain. Six years later, in 1981, she became Norway’s first female prime minister and one of the few women heading a state anywhere in the world. (About the most prominent of her peers, England’s Margaret Thatcher, she offers guarded but cordial words.) Brundtland’s memoir has its folksy and even gossipy moments—we learn that the German leader Willy Brandt’s wife was unhappy in her marriage—but in the main it is respectful and highly serious as she considers such matters as the “Nordic balance of power,” which undoubtedly helped contain Soviet expansionism in northern Europe, and the importance of the European Union in world affairs. Along the way, she unfolds a personal vision of feminism and political responsibility, explains the peculiarities of Norwegian society, and champions the work of the World Health Organization, of which she is currently the director-general.
Inspirational reading for young women seeking careers in politics or nongovernmental organizations, and instructive for policy wonks of every stripe.