Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State under George W. Bush. She received a Ph.D., became a concert-quality pianist, and dated (and was briefly engaged to) Rick Upchurch - a star wide receiver for the Denver Broncos.

You learn quite a bit about the first two experiences from her just-published memoir - and nothing about the last. And that omission describes a book whose details are amazing, but that is not very illuminating - or really very useful - either about the person, or American society.  And - truth be told, or asked - why should it be?

The book, "Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A memoir of my extraordinary, ordinary family and me," is a paean to her parents. And the First, the Most Amazing Thing about Rice is that she she grew up until age 12 in Birmingham, AL. It's not enough to say that she lived in a segregated society (she never went to school with a white child there). Her community was under constant assault during her childhood - bombings of Black churches were commonplace (she lost a schoolmate in a church bombing).

So we have these questions, and partial answers:

1. How did Rice become such a success story? Rice's parents (her mother was a teacher and her father a guidance counselor and minister) ignored segregation and insisted that Rice meet the highest standards. Rice began studying French, music, figure skating and ballet at age three. Rice felt she could accomplish anything, despite not being able to shop in white stores in downtown Birmingham.

Lesson learned: Parents can overcome immense obstacles by creating their own insulated, interior family environment and psychological space. (Sidebar - an even more amazing example is the case of Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson - who was raised by a single, illiterate mother in a dicey inner city world unlike the stable, bourgeois community Rice was a part of; his mother required him and his brother, who became an engineer, to read books and write reports, even though she couldn't read them.)

2. How can America create families like Rice's? The "extraordinary, ordinary" prhaseology in Rice's title translates to: "I know my family's experience is amazing - but I have no idea or insight into why that is or how to reproduce it."  Rice has no children, immediately undercutting the reproducibility of her experience for current and future generations.  Rice is a Republican - and she really doesn't think creatively about social solutions for the disintegration of the African-American family. She volunteers for The Boys and Girls Club of America - but that's not a solution. It's an attempt to replicate the situation her family provided for her - a strong, nurturing relationship that allows children to thrive and prosper.

Lesson learned: There is nothing in Rice's book that will reverse the continuing deterioration of the African-American family. The most stunning thing is how dumb Rice is about this question - she really can't even formulate the issue in a way that would permit imagining a potential route to a solution.

3. How did Rice get this way? Rice is a loyal Republican - her family were Republicans because the Birmingham Republican Party welcomed her father and the Democrats wouldn't have him.  She thinks like a Republican - e.g., the invasion of Iraq was a good idea, the large percentage of Republicans who think Barack Obama is Muslim isn't a problem, George Bush was a great guy.  And, like other Republicans, she is unable even to grasp the concept of social solutions for the disintegration of the African-American family.  Republicans think in terms of personal and family solutions.

Lesson learned: Republicans believe in strong families - and some (Rice's parents) achieve this ideal. But, other than providing occasional models of these, they have nothing to offer by way of policies to create them.

Really bad news: Although people who do have creative ideas about social problems - like some psychologists - are Democrats, the Democratic Party has done no better than the Republicans in redressing the disappearing African-American family structure. In fact, it may have done worse, to judge from the ultimate results of America's Great Society.

Picture: Condoleezza Rice and her mother

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