cover image Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Helene Cooper. Simon & Schuster, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9735-3

Cooper, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times journalist, shares a riveting tale of civil war, political corruption, and personal ambition. Like her memoir, The House at Sugar Beach, this biography delves into Liberia’s modern-day travails. Its heroes are women—not only Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female president of Liberia (and its current president), who earned a Nobel Peace Prize and handled the 2014 Ebola crisis, but the ordinary market women who threw their influence behind her. In 1938, Sirleaf was born into a Liberia divided by ethnic rivalries. Though Sirleaf hailed from a family of indigenous Liberians, she physically resembled the elite Congo people, descendants of American migrants. This provided her “the gift of camouflage” and eased her movement among different groups. Hardworking and well educated, Sirleaf carved out a career in finance, her entrée into government and politics. Sirleaf narrowly survived Samuel Doe’s 1980 military coup, and she lived in exile for most of Charles Taylor’s corrupt and bloody rule. She unsuccessfully challenged him for the presidency in 1997, but backed by a cross-section of women, she won in 2005. Cooper writes from the perspective of an affectionate native daughter, and though clear-eyed about Liberia’s problems, she offers little criticism of Sirleaf, leaving that delicate issue to future historians. Agent: Dorian Karchmar, WME. (Mar.)