Samantha Power: TOP TEN BOOKS


Watching Chinese tanks crush democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 was something of a baptism of fire for the young Samantha Power, who switched her focus from sports journalism to foreign affairs as a result. A few years later found herself in Bosnia as a 23-year old freelancer watching in horror as the international community failed to figure out a response to the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims (she once ran the Boston marathon wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Remember Srebrenica – 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys murdered”). Recognizing the limitations of journalism, she enrolled at Harvard Law School with the vague idea that she would find a path to the Hague to prosecute war criminals. Instead she wrote a Pulitzer-winning book, A Problem from Hell, charting the failures of successive U.S. administrations to respond adequately to genocide such as the one in Rwanda. From there it was a short hop from being hired as a foreign policy consultant by the young Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, to her elevation to US ambassador to the United Nations. In her new memoir, The Education of an Idealist (published in paperback on January 26) she goes on the record with her deep frustration at the Obama administration’s failure to intervene in Syria after UN inspectors confirmed the use of sarin gas by President Bashar al-Assad. She also writes about failing to persuade the administration to recognize the 1915 massacre of Armenians as a genocide. In January 2021, her rigorous commitment to human rights was rewarded by Joe Biden, who announced Power as his nomination to head the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Below are Samantha Power’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe
Achebe’s debut novel from 1958 tells the story of a successful warrior named Okonkwo, who tries to defend his tribe’s traditions after the arrival of Christian missionaries and British colonists. As two very different worlds collide, it is the complex, richly-drawn characters who leave their mark.
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The Long Loneliness

Dorothy Day
A bohemian anarchist turned devout Catholic, Day launched the Catholic Worker movement during the Great Depression. She lived her belief that the most vulnerable among us are made in the image of God and worthy of love. Day tells the story of her spiritual journey in this autobiography, but also writes revealingly about the challenges of aspiring to be good while trying to do good.
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Selected Stories

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
Among the many miraculous contemporary Irish short-story writers one could choose from, the lesser known Éilís Ní Dhuibhne stands out to me. She writes with striking originality and economy, her characters springing from the page into our own lives.
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Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison
“I am an invisible man,” Ellison writes, “When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.” As a Black man in America, Ellison’s narrator grapples not only with racism and exclusion, but ubiquitous moral blindness about the enduring legacies of slavery, racial violence, and bigotry.
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No Ordinary Time

Dorothy Kearns Goodwin
If I ever need a reminder of the resilience of Americans in times of crisis, I dip back into No Ordinary Time. Aided by his partnership with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR proved masterful in rallying an isolationist country ravaged by the Depression—offering profound insights for our divided present.
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John Hersey
Ever since high school, when I first read Hersey’s magisterial portraits of six survivors of the atomic bomb dropped by the US on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, their experiences have remained etched in my consciousness. Published just a year after the bombing, Hersey shows how painstaking reporting can bridge vast geographical and experiential divides, and he reminds us why the horror of nuclear war must never be repeated.
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Thinking Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman
The Nobel Prize winning psychologist whose insights about human behavior have helped revolutionize the field of economics and the practice of public policy pulls together a lifetime of insights in this masterpiece. After reading Kahneman, one’s thinking about oneself—and one’s thinking about thinking—is permanently altered.
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Bernard Malamud: The Complete Stories

Bernard Malamud
The Brooklyn-born son of Russian immigrants, Malamud is a noticer who brings remarkably fresh eyes to the big and the small happenings around him in America. I have yet to come across a better encapsulation of the longing for dignity and agency that lives in every human heart than his harrowing “The German Refugee,” included in this collection.
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The Tender Bar

J.R. Moehringer
Recommended to me by the late, great journalist David Halberstam, Moehringer shows us how the corner bar—and the men who populate it—answers a young boy’s cravings for a father. A soulful, at times hilarious, and poignant account of the longing for belonging in us all.
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We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria

Wendy Pearlman
The brilliance of this book comes from the fact that Pearlman listened. She sat down, tape-recorder in hand, with hundreds of Syrians—teachers, artists, doctors, soldiers, hipsters, parents and children—and collected their first-person testimonies of tyranny and fear, protest and hope. I incorporate the book into my classes, and students feel a powerful connection to the Syrians whose voices Pearlman captures.
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