Reviewed by John Brown
Elisabeth Bumiller, Condoleezza Rice: An American Life: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2007. 400 pages, $27.95.
Marcus Mabry, Twice As Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power. New York: Modern Times/Rodale, 2007. 362 pages. $27.50
Few persons have been more associated with the George W. Bush administration than Condoleezza Rice. She has been among the longest-lasting members of the President's team, serving for nearly eight years--as National Security Advisor during Bush's first term, and as Secretary of the State during his second. Long a focus of media attention, she is now the subject of two biographies--Elisabeth Bumiller's Condoleezza Rice: An American Life: A Biography and Marcus Mabry's Condoleezza Rice and her Path to Power.
Despite their considerable research (Mabry and Bumiller, journalists with extensive experience, were granted in-depth interviews by the Secretary), the authors make no major revelations about Rice to those familiar with her life and career. It is well known that she grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, the only daughter of doting middle-class parents; figure-skated and played classical piano in her teen years; attended the University of Denver, where she received her Ph.D. in Soviet-area studies; went on to Stanford University, where she became provost, an influential position she obtained despite her youth; served in the Bush I administration as the Soviet and East European Affairs Director in the National Security Council under Brent Scowcroft; and was George W. Bush's foreign-affairs adviser during his first presidential campaign. After Bush's election, she reached the apex of power in Washington, relatively unscathed by Congressional questions about her role in 9/11 and emerging quietly victorious in her turf-wars with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. That her life has been a success--she's "made it" in the USA as a black woman--has become the conventional wisdom Bumiller and Mabry confirm.
Their volumes underscore, however, that Rice's personal advancement (both authors see it as an example of the all-American process of reinvention) was not matched by her achievements in foreign policy--as the United States and international media are increasingly pointing out. "From a realist perspective," Mabry writes, "while Rice has succeeded in increasing her own personal power, she has failed to enhance America's internationally," with Iraq her most notable failure. Unless...