Tough Love

My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For

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About The Book

Recalling pivotal moments from her dynamic career on the front lines of American diplomacy and foreign policy, Susan E. Rice—National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama and US Ambassador to the United Nations—reveals her surprising story with unflinching candor in this New York Times bestseller.

Mother, wife, scholar, diplomat, and fierce champion of American interests and values, Susan Rice powerfully connects the personal and the professional. Taught early, with tough love, how to compete and excel as an African American woman in settings where people of color are few, Susan now shares the wisdom she learned along the way.

Laying bare the family struggles that shaped her early life in Washington, DC, she also examines the ancestral legacies that influenced her. Rice’s elders—immigrants on one side and descendants of slaves on the other—had high expectations that each generation would rise. And rise they did, but not without paying it forward—in uniform and in the pulpit, as educators, community leaders, and public servants.

Susan too rose rapidly. She served throughout the Clinton administration, becoming one of the nation’s youngest assistant secretaries of state and, later, one of President Obama’s most trusted advisors.

Rice provides an insider’s account of some of the most complex issues confronting the United States over three decades, ranging from “Black Hawk Down” in Somalia to the genocide in Rwanda and the East Africa embassy bombings in the late 1990s, and from conflicts in Libya and Syria to the Ebola epidemic, a secret channel to Iran, and the opening to Cuba during the Obama years. With unmatched insight and characteristic bluntness, she reveals previously untold stories behind recent national security challenges, including confrontations with Russia and China, the war against ISIS, the struggle to contain the fallout from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, the U.S. response to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the surreal transition to the Trump administration.

Although you might think you know Susan Rice—whose name became synonymous with Benghazi following her Sunday news show appearances after the deadly 2012 terrorist attacks in Libya—now, through these pages, you truly will know her for the first time. Often mischaracterized by both political opponents and champions, Rice emerges as neither a villain nor a victim, but a strong, resilient, compassionate leader.

Intimate, sometimes humorous, but always candid, Tough Love makes an urgent appeal to the American public to bridge our dangerous domestic divides in order to preserve our democracy and sustain our global leadership.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Tough Love includes an introduction and discussion questions for your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Introduction

Recalling pivotal moments from her dynamic career on the front lines of American diplomacy and foreign policy, Susan E. Rice—National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations—reveals her surprising story with unflinching candor in her memoir, Tough Love. Whether as a mother, wife, scholar, diplomat, or fierce champion of American interests and values, Rice conveys with clarity and humor how her many roles protecting the home front—of her family and the nation—were informed by the tough love she received growing up and throughout her life. Through the strong examples of her parents and of generations past, she was encouraged to compete and excel in settings where women and people of color are few. Rising to the highest echelons of the U.S. government, Rice never forgot her origins, and now she shares the wisdom she learned along the way with her characteristic humility, integrity, and conviction.

This inside look at a woman whose public persona has been both praised and attacked spans three decades of recent, poignant history—from “Black Hawk Down” in Somalia to the genocide in Rwanda and the East Africa embassy bombings in the late 1990s, and from conflicts in Libya and Syria to the Ebola epidemic, a secret channel to Iran, and the opening to Cuba during the Obama years. With unmatched insight and her usual bluntness, she reveals previously untold stories behind recent national security challenges, including confrontations with Russia and China, the war against ISIS, the struggle to contain the fallout from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, the U.S. response to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the surreal transition to the Trump administration. Clarifying her positions on incidents that have incensed and motivated world powers, Rice offers an unvarnished opinion on her own role in the country’s legacy on the world stage, as well as her optimism about the future. Ultimately, Tough Love makes an urgent appeal to the American public to bridge our dangerous domestic divides in order to preserve our democracy and sustain our global leadership.

Tough Love is a wonderful read for anyone who wants to compete and thrive in unforgiving environments and to get back up if they’ve been knocked down.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What about Rice’s upbringing and family roots made her path in government a logical, perhaps expected, one, and what made her decision exceptional? Consider her parents’ work in economics, politics, and education and the impression their work ethic made on her as a child.

2. Rice says of her own children, “I believe that kids come into this world precooked to a substantial extent, with the capacity to be molded and shaped, but with much of their nature established” (218). How is this idea of one’s innate personality manifesting itself from an early age apparent in Rice herself? Consider her relationship with her brother, Johnny, and her third-grade teacher’s advice to “Stay strong [but] try to be more gentle and less impatient with the other kids” (56).

3. Unlike today, Rice grew up in an age of three news networks, which she describes as delivering the news “unvarnished and un-spun” (53). What were some of the events or issues in the news that had the strongest influence on her understanding of the U.S. government, and how did her family’s engagement with the news help shape her opinion on policy and forge her skills as a negotiator?

4. In what ways has the role and presence of the media changed in delivering information to the public? Consider what Rice learned in later years from her friend at Fox News about how the network used her Sunday show reports on Benghazi, as well as the public defamation she was made to endure for having delivered the Intelligence Community’s initial assessment about the attack. Did the explanation of the network’s turning to Rice as their new “villain” for a “ratings bonanza” make sense to you, and do you observe similar things happening in the media today (333)?

5. Writing in the era of #MeToo, how does Rice describe her experience of sexual harassment when she was a fourteen-year-old page in Congress? She also describes an uncomfortable encounter with Donald Trump and Charlie Rose. What was her response at the time, and how does she feel about her actions now?

6. During her first government post, in the Clinton administration, Rice went to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide of 1994. How did that searing experience shape her approach to Africa as a public leader, and her response to instances of gross human rights violations in the future?

7. What is Rice’s comfort level in seeking assistance and advice from mentors, ranging from her schoolteachers to senior leaders like Madeleine Albright, Tony Lake, and Richard Clarke? How does she combine both humility and confidence in engaging with people who are more experienced than she is?

8. Throughout her life, Rice faces implicit and explicit challenges to her career because she is a woman, wife, and mother. What seemed to you to be the hardest trials Rice had to face, such as her struggles breastfeeding while making dangerous trips to Africa, the commute between Washington and New York to serve at the U.N., and even her decision to serve tea to an opposition leader in Nigeria?

9. What do Rice’s views about the power of meeting people where they are say about her? She writes, “I learned that leadership is more like conducting a symphony than performing as a virtuoso player of any single instrument—often with multiple, potentially dissonant musicians and the need to achieve harmony among them. . . . The most enduring outcomes are not always the swiftest ones; indeed, the best route from Point A to Point B is not always a straight line but could be a path with twists and turns” (203). Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

10. Did any of the events Rice describes, such as the 9/11 attacks, Ebola outbreak, several elections, the capture of Osama bin Laden, and others, bring up memories or feelings in you? How did hearing her perspective as a government official change your view of these events? Did you come away from reading the book feeling differently about anything or anyone, including Rice herself?

11. Rice calls the false accusations published in Vanity Fair in 2002—that she refused incriminating evidence against Osama bin Laden during her talks with Sudan—her “maiden national hazing” (210). How would you have reacted if you were in this position? Consider how she describes the effect of such stress and anxiety on herself and on her family in this instance and others.

12. Rice has a unique relationship with Barack Obama given what she describes as similarities in temperament, management style, and values. How does this match enhance their working relationship throughout his administration?

13. Recall for yourself how and to what extent you heard about the 2012 Benghazi attacks and Rice’s involvement with them. What does this book’s testimony clarify for you about Rice’s statements? What do you imagine would have happened if she had listened to her mother and did not go on the morning shows? Did you agree with Rice’s decision to drop out of the running for secretary of state? Has your understanding of how government information is shared with the public changed at all? Does her experience make you question whether you have been told the full truth of other stories in the news?

14. Rice shares behind-the-scenes details of many highs and lows of the Obama administration, especially in Chapters 20 and 21. Which stories surprised, amused, disturbed, or enlightened you the most? Consider both moments of major conflict or decision making, such as Syria, the discovery of the Snowden leaks, or Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, and day-to-day anecdotes, such as Rice’s wardrobe advice to Obama for St. Patrick’s Day. Did these accounts change your previous opinions on the government or president during that period?

15. How do Rice and her top NSC deputies, collectively dubbed “the Furies” by President Obama, complement, challenge, and support each other? What is significant about their collaboration as women in these top-leadership positions?

16. Consider what insights Rice brought to policymaking as a woman and mother: “Motherhood . . . has given me a sense of priority about what matters most. It has invested me more deeply in the future and in the long-term consequences of policy choices” (218).

17. Rice describes the dangers of our country’s increasing polarization as, among other things, “afford[ing] our adversaries easy openings through which to pit Americans against one another—to distrust, discredit, and ultimately, detest each other” (478). Do you see this happening within your own family or communities? What concerns you most about our current political climate, and are you inspired by Rice’s encouragement that you look for ways to connect with others?

18. Consider Rice’s relationship with her son, Jake, whose political views have diverged from hers. What keeps their bond loving and mutually supportive despite their different political views? Is there anyone in your life whose views conflict with yours, and how do you get along?

About The Author

Photography by Christopher Patey,

Ambassador Susan E. Rice is currently Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow at the School of International Service at American University, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She serves on the boards of Netflix and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and previously served on several nonprofit boards, including the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

Rice earned her master’s degree and doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University. A native of Washington, DC, and a graduate of the National Cathedral School for Girls, she is married to Ian Cameron; they have two children. Rice is an avid tennis player and a long-retired basketball player.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 8, 2019)
  • Length: 544 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501189975

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Raves and Reviews

  “This is a breathtakingly honest account by a true American patriot about what it’s like to grow up with tough love and then deploy those values on behalf of our nation’s foreign policies. Weaving together the personal and the professional, Susan Rice describes how her upbringing in a distinguished but at times struggling family helped prepare her to be a fierce champion of American interests and survive the unfair attacks on her in the aftermath of the Benghazi tragedy. This book will not only inspire you about the true sources of America’s greatness, it will also provide some lessons in empowerment, tenacity, and fearlessness.” -Walter Isaacson, New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci 

Susan Elizabeth Rice is one of the most gifted, tenacious, and influential foreign policy voices of our times, and in her revelatory new memoir Tough Love, she takes us to the seats of power she’s occupied from the State Department to the United Nations to the West Wing of America’s first black president, whom she served as National Security Advisor. In reading these pages, it’s easy to see why President Obama would trust her to give him the clearest assessment of the facts on any day, at any moment, and to offer him unvarnished counsel on how best to keep the country safe. At the core of Rice’s story, and brilliant career, is a fearless commitment to the truth and an unwavering devotion to the lessons she inherited as the descendent of Jamaican immigrants in Maine and enslaved Africans in South Carolina: to prize education as the path up to the American Dream and to have the confidence to be herself. In this remarkably honest examination of the opportunities and struggles confronting those charged with national security, Rice has given us an inspiring autobiography while making a critically important addition to the history of U.S. foreign policy.­— Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

“In Tough Love, Susan Rice provides a compelling look at what it is really like to work in the inner sanctums of the White House and what it really means to walk the corridors of power.  In a gripping display of humor and grace, Susan invites us all to share in her triumphs and her failures – and she teaches some important life lessons along the way.  Reading Tough Love is like taking a master class in how to be a powerful woman.  It is also a classic American tale, relatable to anyone who has ever dreamed of success.  I was riveted from the first page of Tough Love to the last.” — Shonda Rhimes

“Susan Rice’s intellect, strategic prowess, and integrity are unrivalled among today’s national security leaders. I have seen firsthand how she has achieved vitally important results for American interests and values. Tough Love finally reveals who Susan Rice really is, much of which has been lost or misunderstood in public portrayals of her.  The fearless, compassionate, funny and selfless woman whom I have known since she was a child emerges as she shares with bracing honesty her challenges with family, motherhood, and leadership in the most demanding of male-dominated fields.” — Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State

“Tough Love is a must-read for leaders and their teams. A brilliant, courageous woman with a remarkable personal story, Susan Rice provides a riveting and moving account of rising to the highest ranks in national security and diplomacy along with unmatched insight into the most complex global challenges.  She offers a masterclass for all who aspire to excellence, with invaluable lessons about high performance leadership and effective management of complex teams in unforgiving circumstances.  Her powerful, hopeful appeal to our shared values as Americans and all that we stand to gain by coming together is profoundly inspirational and more urgent than ever.” — Indra Nooyi, Former Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo

“The daughter of up-by-their bootstraps Jamaicans and African Americans, Rice achieved early success through disciplined hard work, intellectual brilliance, and friendships with the likes of Madeline Albright… Rice is able to look back on her experiences with pride, gratitude, and bracing realism.” Booklist, Starred Review

“A stellar debut...Rice writes of juggling work and motherhood, and of the importance of being one’s own advocate. Rice’s insightful memoir serves as an astute, analytical take on recent American political history.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review 

“A tribute to American leadership—and a unifying call for us to do our part to protect it.” –President Barack Obama

“Personal and honest… [Rice] owns up to her decisions — the good and the bad. In many ways, this memoir is an ode to public service. There is a dignity to serving your country, be it in uniform, at an embassy overseas, or at a national park in the middle of country.” –NPR

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