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Playing Powell Politics: The General's Zest for Power

In This Review

My American Journey

By Colin L. Powell
Random House, 1995
643 pp. $25.95

Memoirs by retired generals and admirals usually have titles like A Soldier Reports or Command Missions, more simply, Soldier, or even the starkly declarative Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Colin Powell has called his book My American Journey, a curiously nonmilitary title, and the marketers at Random House have put on the dust jacket the no less civilian description, "The life story of a young boy from the Bronx who grew up to live the American Dream."

These minor facts illustrate the curious and powerful mixture of simplicity and artistry in the writing of the book, and perhaps in the man as well. The title is, it is fair to say, better suited to a general who wishes to make a political career than would be something like My Life in Uniform. This is not surprising, for the principal character is the most politically adroit general the United States has seen since Dwight D. Eisenhower (whom Powell admires greatly).

Having secured the services of a distinguished collaborator, Joseph E. Persico, himself the author of several excellent books, General Powell paints a self-portrait of the bluff and simple soldier who is also, however, a canny Washington infighter. The way he blends these two characters lends his story much interest--as do the careful interjections of judiciously expressed interest in serving his country further in unnamed higher office.


Powell's life story, impressive as it is, is not a tale of struggle against adversity. Born into a strong middle-class family of Jamaican immigrants, growing up in a relatively safe and cohesive multiethnic neighborhood in the Bronx, Powell attended City College when its standards were still high. He came from a social stratum that supplied, and still supplies, the military with most of its leaders. He entered the U.S. Army at just the point when the color of his skin was no bar to advancement--if anything, as he tacitly admits, rather the reverse. He encountered formal, overt racial discrimination in its

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