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Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell Paperback – November 6, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Washington Post reporter DeYoung covers Powell's entire career in this nuanced, comprehensively researched first complete biography to bring to life the Jamaican immigrants' son who became chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, secretary of state and a widely supported potential candidate for president. DeYoung presents her subject as above all a soldier, with an ethic of honor and service shaped by his career in the U.S. Army, during which he brought a combination of intellectual force and moral courage to his senior military appointments that distinguished him among his contemporaries. DeYoung, who obtained six in-depth interviews with Powell, explains that he wrestled with whether or not he had the duty to run for president in 2000, but ultimately realized he didn't want the presidency from the "depth of [his] stomach or soul." She correspondingly demonstrates that his continuing commitment to public service drove his ascension to secretary of state—a commitment that was strained to the limit during Powell's four years in office. DeYoung paints a favorable but balanced portrait of Powell, and she avoids using him as an instrument for Bush-bashing. Powell emerges from her account as a person who grew to meet his wider responsibilities. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Despite the slight tarnish to Powell's reputation following revelations that his earnest testimony before the UN in support of the war on Iraq was mostly baseless, he remains one of the most trusted figures in the U.S. Washington Post editor DeYoung offers an absorbing look at Powell's long journey from the son of Jamaican immigrants to one of the most powerful and esteemed soldiers and statesmen of our time. DeYoung details Powell's challenges in a 35-year career to overcome racial restrictions and to navigate the cultures of military and civilian life as well as politics. Powell eventually gained a status that often superseded issues of race and made him a frequent object of speculation as vice president and even president. Through a series of powerful positions from national security advisor under Reagan to Secretary of State under the current Bush, Powell was in the midst of controversies from the first Gulf War to the current war in Iraq. Readers will, no doubt, be most interested in the later chapters of the book that detail Powell's mounting reservations about the Bush policy in Iraq and visceral tensions with other powerful--and considerably more hawkish--advisors, including Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, eventually leading to Powell's resignation. A thoroughly engrossing look at a man of uncommon duty and loyalty who has held his tongue at some cost to his reputation. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400075645
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400075645
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,290,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung clearly finds the mark in her most auspicious biography of, in my opinion, America's finest leader in recent memory. Colin Powell truly is a great American and merits such a treatment of his life's story. I had the good fortune of speaking with him at some length one time on the telephone and found him to be a leader among leaders, in charge without being dictatorial, and utterly "cool." I trust that he will continue to inspire budding leaders of like integrity and ability to step forward and serve.

DeYoung captures the essence of Powell by delving deeply into his world. This she accomplished through a series of comprehensive interviews that offer a full picture of the man. Powell may have his shortcomings, but try and find another like him! DeYoung also succeeds, because of her skills and experiences as a Washington insider. She talks Powell's language of "intel-speak" and "Realpolitik." A pragmatist and not an ideologue, Powell always has been a good soldier. He is at once loyal in service, yet also unafraid to raise a flag as a referee might do at a sporting event. He kept administration extremists at arm's length and tried to exert a moderating influence over policies and events.

As good as he is, Powell is not Superman. In some ways, he fell short of steering administrations away from such pitfalls as the Iran-contra affair and the present quandary in Iraq. Even the euphoria of the 1991 liberation of Kuwait did not translate into a regime change in Iraq, because it would have fractured the coalition, turned the Muslim world against the US, and left America hard-pressed to win the peace amid sectarian violence and groping to come up with an exit strategy. Like today.
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Format: Hardcover
Having read Powell's "My American Journey," I enjoyed contrasting the first 250 (or so) pages of this biography with his autobiography. With that in mind, Karen DeYoung does a good job addressing Colin Powell's early life as well as his military career outside of Washington. However, it's obvious that those topics are not her primary interests. Her writing is not bad as she covers these non-political topics, but the discussion ALMOST seems obligatory in nature.

Once Colin Powell's life starts revolving around Washington, though, the author's strengths really do come out and the book becomes a very good read.

Like many (all?) of the other reviewers, I am a fan of the book's subject, so I had a strong desire for this book to succeed from the moment I saw the title. However, that positive bias alone would not be enough to grant four stars. This is a quality book.

I do, though, strongly encourage people to read Powell's autobiography prior to reading this biography. The combination (in that order) will allow you to develop a much more informed picture of the man.
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Format: Hardcover
There are two verses that appear to summarize the essence of Colin Powell, as portrayed by Karen DeYoung in her brilliant biography of this beloved American hero.:

" . . . soldiers didn't' quit when they disagreed with the decisions of their commanders . . . he would be a soldier until he drew his last breath."

"I've had tough days. I've had great days . . . There are days where things don't go so well and a position you might have been pushing isn't successful . . . That just comes with the business. And if that's going to put you into a blue funk, then you're in the wrong business . . . I've been shot at for real, as opposed to the way I get shot at now."

The reviews of excellence written about DeYoung's large-scale undertaking about this extraordinary man are accurate. The story of Powell's life from the time he was asked to resign by President Bush to his family ties in Jamaica, and his beginning in the United States Armed Forces and back again, to give a speech at the War College . . . and everything in between is simply brilliantly and fluidly portrayed.

DeYoung answers, as I needed answers, why this man of great integrity appeared to have lost his credibility during the sent off mission he was asked to extend himself to with respect the WMD issue during the Iraq War. DeYoung further answers a very important question of why Colin Powell, now going on age 69 (I didn't know that!) chose not to become involved with electoral politics. Nevertheless, here is Colin Powell, personally the one individual who could have brought this nation closer together in a way not seen since the times of President Lincoln. Missed opportunity or a soldier being a soldier? Perhaps a little of both. Somehow, I believe Colin Powell is far from done.
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Format: Hardcover
You don't hear much about Colin Powell these days. A man who until recently was featured routinely in the daily news and once courted by both political parties as Presidential timber now passes his time quietly in private life. Like an inactive volcano he is still there, quiet but respected for the power he could wield if he chose.

Karen DeYoung, a senior editor and foreign policy reporter at the Washington Post, examines Powell's life in fascinating detail in this book. She does her best to get inside his head and explain some of the puzzling aspects of his personality. When you turn her final page, you know an awful lot about Colin Powell as a person and about his career path, but whether you truly understand what makes the man tick is hard to say. In important respects he remains an enormously respected enigma.

DeYoung covers the early stages of Powell's military career in workmanlike detail, but inevitably her main focus, dominating the last half of her 523-page text, details his four-year tenure as George W. Bush's Secretary of State and his involvement in the run-up to the Iraq war.

The obvious questions abound: What was his attitude toward the Iraq venture? Did he try to derail it? Why did he not resign when his counsel was ignored? Why did he reject the idea of running for President himself? Is he in any sense blameworthy for the unfortunate turn of events in Iraq? If he is not, who is?
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