The piano at top is a Chickering grand piano. In her autobiography Condoleezza Rice recounts how her parents struggled to get a Chickering grand piano for her. That piano remains in her possession.
Sunday, February 13, 2011


Condoleezza’s story focuses on her parents, and on growing up in Alabama. It is not concerned with policy issues, so if you’re looking for gossip about the decisions made in the wake of 9/11, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

I don’t know if this is a real difference or not, but we often hear that contemporary black youths do not value education. Doing well in school is portrayed as selling out to white values. Both sides of Condoleezza’s family valued education, and became what she describes as “educational evangelists.” One story that she tells illustrates this:

“One day Granddaddy Rice came home very excited about a new purchase. It was during the Great Depression, and my grandmother was trying hard to manage on their meager resources. Yet there was Granddaddy with nine leather-bound, gold-embossed books: the works of Hugo, Shakespeare, Balzac, and others. Each book began with a summary essay about the author and his work. My grandmother asked how much they had cost. Granddaddy Rice admitted they cost ninety dollars but told her not to worry because he had purchased them on time—they would only have to pay three dollars a month for the next three years. Grandmother was furious, but Granddaddy held his ground and refused to return the books. I am so grateful he did not give in. One of the proudest days of my life was when my father gave me the surviving five volumes as I left for the ceremony to receive my PhD.”

Even in the days of Condoleezza’s grandfather there was a greater probability of being able to earn a decent living as teacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer, than as a superstar athlete. Has the emphasis in the Black community really shifted away from education, or is that a misperception?

One thing that I noticed, and this may be because I don’t think my dissertation adviser particularly liked me, and I have to admit that I didn’t care for him, is that her mentors at the University of Denver seemed to take a more active part in helping her finding a position after graduating. This may be because there is much more competition in English and language disciplines than in Political Science. It may be departmental, with a department at UD being more helpful than one at CUA, or it may be personal. I’m not sure. I know that my experience in the academic job market, 1,000 applications and 3 or 4 interviews over a 3 year period, was largely negative. Condoleezza’s experience was an immediate hire to a tenure track position at Stanford.

The normal course for an academic in languages is that he or she has to start cranking out papers, and getting published, practically as soon as they hit grad school. They need to do this so their CVs look impressive, and they can get hired upon graduation. They then endure seven years of servitude while waiting for tenure. That means more publication. Now most of this material goes into journals that no one reads but are stored in libraries so future students can write more papers that will largely go unread. Condoleezza seems to have escaped this dreary fate. She doesn’t mention a large number of publications, so I assume that she had it pretty easy in terms of publication. She also got tenure fairly easily.

What the reader probably wants to know is the details of her work for the various presidents she served under. She mentions her service, but as I’ve already said doesn’t go into a lot of detail. Her book goes up to the death of her father, and the election of George W. Bush.

Next up is a biography of one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction, Robert Heinlein.