Biography Paper comparing the lives of Colin Powell and Judith Nies
December 6, 2012
The first book I selected to read for this assignment was “The Girl I Left Behind: A Narrative History of the Sixties” by Judith Nies and published by HarperCollins Publishers Inc. in 2008. The book is an autobiographical history of the authors personal and professional experiences. Judith Nies is a feminist activist and has spent much of her adult life promoting equal rights for women. She is a graduate of John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and has written several books and many articles appearing in such magazines and newspapers as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, Ms., the Harvard Review, and other publications. The second book I selected is also an autobiography “My American Journey” by Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico. It was published by Ballantine Books in 1996. Colin Powell is a former Secretary of State and a retired four-star general in the United States Army. He was Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He was the first African American to serve in that position. During his military career, Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989), as Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993), holding the latter position during the Persian Gulf War. He was the first, and so far the only, African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Coauthor, Joseph E. Persico was a Naval Officer during the Korean War. After the war he worked for the U.S. Information agency and was posted to Brazil, Argentina, and Washington. He has written may books including The Imperial Rockefeller, a biography of Nelson Rockefeller; Edward R. Murrow: An American Original; and Nuremberg: Infamy of Trial. For the purposes of this paper I will be concentrating on the first half of Colin Powell’s autobiography which cover’s his childhood and early military career, which began in the late 1950’s through the early 1970’s.
Judith Nies begins her autobiography by talking about her early adulthood. It does not follow a chronological order. She starts in 1970 discussing her marriage and her husbands career and how it’s affecting her. Her husband is up for a promotion in the Department of the Treasury requiring a higher level of security clearance which prompted an investigation of her by the FBI. This is how she finds out that the FBI already has an extensive file on her. She does not devote much text to her childhood or upbringing except to illustrate the she grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts in a working class family.
“Where I came from, summer was not a verb. Summer was a time when I worked as a camp councilor or a waitress and saved money for college. My father was a foreman in a factory. I had worked since I was fourteen and had gone to college as a scholarship student.” (Nies, Location 146)
Colin Powell writes about his child and his parent background in great detail in the first chapters of his autobiography. He grew up in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. He moved their when he was six from Harlem. His parents were immigrants from Jamaica. The thing I found most interesting about his childhood was that he did not experience the kind racism that you typically hear about in the US during the 20th century.
Bibliography: 1. Nies, Judith. The girl I left behind: a narrative history of the Sixties. New York: Harper, 2008.
2. Powell, Colin L., and Joseph E. Persico. My American journey. 1995. Reprint, New York: Ballentine Books, 1996.
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