The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power

If Samantha Power had never won a Pulitzer Prize for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide or worked for Barack Obama, first as his human-rights adviser and then as U.N. ambassador, her life would still be worth a memoir. The Dublin-raised daughter of two doctors, Samantha was brought to America at age nine by a mother intent on furthering her medical career and just as intent on leaving her husband, whose second home had become the local pub. School in Atlanta led to college at Yale, a freelance-journalism career covering the Balkans, Harvard Kennedy School, and a job in then senator Obama’s office.

After a famous dustup over rival presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (she called Clinton “a monster” in an interview she thought was off the record) and the resulting departure from the Obama campaign, she joined the new administration after the election. The pages about her time in office oddly offer less drama than the first part of her book does, perhaps because victories in her new world consist of getting a sentence of your own into an Obama speech or keeping a country out of a U.N. council. Those seeking damning criticism of Obama need to look elsewhere. Power’s biggest disagreement with the president is over his refusal to respond more forcefully to Bashar al-Assad’s genocide of his own people, an indelible red blot on Obama’s foreign-policy record that haunts her still.

Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection by Brian Grazer

Looking at the title of Grazer’s new book, one might think that he just should have called it “Let’s Take a Meeting.” After all, he is the successful, Oscar-winning co-founder (with Ron Howard) of Imagine Entertainment, and has produced dozens of hit movies and TV shows that surely required meeting stars, writers, and executives face to face and making connections. Yet the book constantly surprises you, since Grazer recounts all the times his curiosity led him to some unexpected places, like being asked to join the Freemasons (he declined) and killing a disastrous real-estate deal by connecting the agent’s name to a warning from a feng shui expert he had met in Hong Kong. Grazer values asking questions and listening more than he does talking, which makes Face to Face such an engaging read.

Francesca Woodman: Portrait of a Reputation by Nora Burnett Abrams and Drew Sawyer

To call Woodman simply a surrealist or a feminist is to miss the elusive and nuanced artist behind her photographs, so many of them exploring her own body as if that was the best way for her to understand herself. Woodman’s career was brief—she jumped to her death at age 22 in 1981—but her reputation has grown steadily. Her most creative years, from 1975 to 1979, are explored with insight and deftness in Portrait of a Reputation with the help of photographer and good friend George Lange, whose collection of letters and pictures of her at work and play show Woodman to be exuberantly crazed. The essays by Abrams and Sawyer are invaluable in understanding the photographer and her times; Abrams is also responsible for curating the exhibition at MCA Denver (September 20–April 5) that coincides with the book’s publication.