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This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President [Paperback]

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2010

In January 2006, after the Republic of Liberia had been racked by fourteen years of brutal civil conflict, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—Africa's "Iron Lady"—was sworn in as president, an event that marked a tremendous turning point in the history of the West African nation.

In this stirring memoir, Sirleaf shares the story of her rise to power, including her early childhood; her experiences with abuse, imprisonment, and exile; and her fight for democracy and social justice. She reveals her determination to succeed in multiple worlds, from her studies in the United States to her work as an international bank executive, to campaigning in some of Liberia's most desperate and war-torn villages and neighborhoods. It is the tale of an outspoken political and social reformer who fought the oppression of dictators and championed change. By telling her story, Sirleaf encourages women everywhere to pursue leadership roles at the highest levels of power, and gives us all hope that we can change the world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (1 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061353485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061353482
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 14.2 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 486,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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“This is the incredible story of a woman who spent her life talking tough to the lunatics surrounding her. It is an accessible walk through Liberian history, told by someone who was somehow always in the center of the political storm.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Exceptionally well written, a true story that seems as much a thriller as the remembrances of an ambitious and brave woman. . . . This timely book, essential for anyone who hopes to understand West Africa in general and Liberia in particular, is a lesson in courage and perserverance.” (Washington Post)

“An inspiring inside look at a nation struggling to rebuild itself and the woman now behind those efforts.” (Booklist)

About the Author

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has received several prestigious awards, including the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom. She holds numerous degrees, among them a master's in public administration from Harvard University. President Sirleaf lives in Monrovia, Liberia.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By G. Venn
I was inspired to buy this book after seeing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appear in a fascinating interview on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. In the book Sirleaf talks openly and frankly about both her own personal life experiences, recounting tales from her humble background to her privileged education in the United States and is not afraid to make bold statements or admit to instances where she feels she made an incorrect decision.

The work naturally centres on the harrowing events of Liberia's bloody civil war which lasted for many years, during which time she was imprisoned, and the subsequent brave role she played in bringing peace to the nation, eventually being voted in as President. Inevitably there are many tragic stories along the way, however, while not detracting from the grim realities facing Africa's first woman president the account remains both positive about the future and genuinely uplifting. If the term 'remarkable' is over-used then it certainly isn't in this instance, Sirleaf offers a real hope that this century will be kinder to her nation and to Africa. This is unlike any other political (auto)biography I have ever read and through this extraordinary woman offers a fascinating and honest view into a country and continent which we, perhaps to our detriment, know so little about.
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By Isaac
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable memoir from an equally remarkable woman.She put the interest of her beloved country first, before her own interest.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for those who like to be inspired 30 Aug 2013
By Jo Shap
Format:Kindle Edition
Inspirational memoir about an outspoken, passionate and tolerant woman achieving extraordinary heights personally and for a nation of people. Eloquently written while clear and readable to even the non-political reader.
A highly recommended read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational read 3 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting read for those curious about African history and how this one woman has impacted African politics and the direction of this small country, Liberia.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbeaten and Unbossed 9 April 2009
By Lecil Wills - Published on
This is a very honest autobiography of an extroardinary woman. Madame Sirleaf doesn't include many specific dates such as her birthdate but nevertheless guides the reader through a honest protrait of her life. She discusses the hardships of her tribal and mixed race origins, as well as the elite Americo-Liberian background she was born into as the daughter of a lawmaker and teacher. She talks honestly about her strained marriage which she entered into at age 17. She even relates how her pocessive husband put a gun to her head inorder to control her. Yet she managed to leave her husband, despite having four boys to raise and pursue her career as an economist and technocrate. A brilliant and confident woman who refused to except her nations and genders limitations, refuse to give up her beliefs despite being jailed and threatened by brutal dictators, would go on to become a folk hero in her native land and revered throughout the world. Sirleaf worked for and ruffled the feathers of every President she worked for in Liberia from Tubman to Tolbert to Doe and Taylor in a span of nearly 40 years, until she herself at age 67 became the first woman to be elected President of an African nation. Her ability to rise through the male dominated Liberian and International Monetary culture, is what makes her story so compelling and an inspiration to women around the globe. And her ability to incorporate Liberia and her own legacy in an acurate historical perspective makes this an very important work for scholars around the world.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important, Illuminating, and Timely 17 April 2009
By Layli Maparyan - Published on
H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's rise to power in Liberia as the first democratically elected woman president in Africa stands as one of the most definitive events of 21st century politics. Not only does her presidency firmly establish the integral importance of women leaders on the world stage, but her unique positioning as a woman with both African and Western roots -- genealogically, geographically, and intellectually -- signals a new kind of 21st century leadership consciousness of which we can suddenly see reflections everywhere. This new memoir traces her rise to power and the development of her distinctive leadership style, reveals her innovative philosophies of governance, and offers her timely reflections on current world affairs and pressing global concerns.

Those who found the Liberian civil conflict from 1989-2003 confusing and confounding will also find that this book provides illuminating insights about what happened and why. More importantly, President Sirleaf offers guidance through example and commentary about how to move beyond political and social conflict to peace, reconciliation, development, and, ultimately, prosperity. President Sirleaf's gift is the ability to look at the big picture and hone in on how people with fundamental disagreements and historical animosities can be harmonized and coordinated into a thriving open society that cultivates dissent under the banner of democratic process. The words "visionary pragmatism" (see Stanlie M. James and Abena P.A. Busia's academic book, Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women) come to mind.

Despite the challenges that President Sirleaf, and indeed Liberia, still face, we observe in this book a vision, a plan, sound strategy, and dogged determination in action. What President Sirleaf evidences in her story is how realpolitik and peacemaking can and, arguably, must be reconciled and integrated for effective 21st century leadership. While certain aspects of this book are clearly addressed to other world leaders, whether political or economic, and other aspects are clearly addressed to the Liberian citizenry, the generality of this text is addressed to everyday people worldwide who are genuinely concerned about social change and peace and are looking for both inspiration and real world example. Additionally, in my view, this book is well situated to help rehabilitate the relationship between the US and Liberia in ways that will ultimately set a new model for altering North/South and donor nation/developing nation relations more generally.

My only criticism of this book - which is really just a jumping off point for discussion - is President Sirleaf's treatment of the ongoing debate about African values (collectivism) vs. Western values (individualism). While her discussion is illuminating and nuanced, my sense is that this is no longer an either/or question but rather one which must be approached with an eye towards unapologetic integration of these two value sets. However, she more than makes up for this limitation in her cogent advocacy of gender development and gender mainstreaming as a feature of the way forward, not just in Liberia but worldwide.

No leader is perfect, but some leaders really change the quality of life on Earth. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is one such individual and we have the good fortune to read all about it in This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President. I recommend this book highly, and, if you are similarly concerned with women, politics, and peace, offer the following suggestions for further reading: Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai, Love and Courage: A Story of Insubordination by Pregs Govender, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza, Learning True Love: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War by Sister Chan Khong, and It's Always Possible: One Woman's Transformation of India's Prison System by Kiran Bedi.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Child Will Be Great 21 Jun 2009
By J. McCrary - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President

President Sirleaf's absolutely riveting memoir clearly explains how and why Liberia imploded in 1980. She gives us an unvarnished look at Liberia's founding in 1822 by freed American slaves, carries us through the superficially peaceful Tubman years, and explains how her country's history and American ties led to the horror of 14 years of total anarchy. She ends her story with hope, pride, and plans for both Liberia and Africa.

Her personal story is a strong, honest and inspirational narrative. From an abused teenage wife to a United Nations assistant secretary general, from living in exile to being elected president, she has lived an amazing life and she tells the story well.

My family lived in a mining town in the Liberian bush from 1964-1972. We knew many of the problems that the country faced, and we had fears for its survival. President Sirleaf's memoir makes me want to return to help rebuild this remarkable country.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Believable and Inspiring 12 Oct 2009
By Carol E. Smith - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having taught in Liberia with the first group of Peace Corps volunteers (1962-64); and having returned for a two week visit in the midst of upheaval, between one coup and the next attempt (1985); and having heard Ellen Sirleaf Johnson speak in Portland, OR in 2008; having recently visited with Bishop Bennie Warner, vice president in Tolbert's administration (1977-1980) who escaped the executions on the beach by happening to be in the U.S. at the time; and now reading Sirleaf Johnson's memoir, I believe her history to be accurate and her viewpoint believable. Would also recommend the memoir, The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper, a family member of what are called Americo-Liberians or Congos, who also escaped to U.S. in 1980 and is currently a journalist with Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage in the face of great danger 5 Dec 2009
By John Gibbs - Published on
The current president of Liberia's autobiography is entitled "This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President". With a title like that, the reader cannot expect a tome replete with self-deprecating humility; but in amongst the politician's appreciation of her own achievements there is plenty for the reader to appreciate as well. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is an outstanding leader and a truly remarkable person.

Liberia was colonised in the 19th century by emancipated American slaves, the descendants of whom formed a powerful political elite in a country culturally divided between Americo-Liberians and native Liberians. The author, despite being of native Liberian heritage, managed to work her way up to the position of finance minister in the government before tensions arising from political and economic inequalities erupted into a bloody military coup in 1980, followed by a downward spiral of corruption and violence and then many years of savage civil war.

Time and again Ellen Johnson Sirleaf showed astounding courage in confronting injustice and oppression, first standing up to the president and demanding better conditions for the poor in the days of the Americo-Liberian government, then standing up to the brutal military dictator President Doe and expressing her opinions freely notwithstanding the imminent risk to her life. After many years in exile working for the World Bank and Citibank, the author returned to Liberia to run for president and surprised the experts by winning. The book is very interesting to read and contains many useful leadership lessons.
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