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.