Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power by Marcus Mabry Rodale Books, HK$220 Six-and-a-half years into the life of the Bush administration and virtually all of his top officials have worn out their welcome with the public. The lone exception appears to be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who still is widely admired. On the face of it, she has achieved the American dream. Raised in the segregated south, she grew up to be incredibly driven and intelligent, and is probably the most powerful African-American woman in history. Yet, it is clear that while Americans know who Rice is, they don't know what she is. For all the adoration she receives, she remains an enigma to the public. She is notoriously private and greets most inquiries about her personal life with a steely silence. It is this challenge that Marcus Mabry attempts to overcome in his biography Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power. As Mabry chronicles, Rice grew up extraordinarily sheltered by an insular and ambitious family. Struggling under segregation and violence in Birmingham, Alabama - she felt the blast of the bomb that killed four little girls in a church - Rice was taught that education was the only way she could achieve her goals. Weakness of any kind was frowned upon, and the only reward for hard work was more hard work. From an early age, Rice was fed a steady diet of school and piano practice - and closely watched by her larger-than-life parents, the Reverend John Rice and wife, Angelina. From there, he investigates her early career, which includes being named a provost at Stanford University at 38, and her work in the administration of George H.W. Bush, as a specialist on the Soviet Union. A constant theme in her life is an unwavering belief in her own ability, a belief that allowed her to plough through any obstacle that appeared in her professional life. Much of that is probably due to Rice's upbringing in the racist south of the 1950s and 60s. Rice's conception of race, however, is complex and has led her to often be at odds with the African-American community. Mabry writes that Rice believes that individual action is more important in combating racism than collective action; that simply being the best - twice as good - will gut racist attitudes and allow her to prevail. Remarkably, Mabry seems puzzled that while Rice enjoys strong support from whites, she is unpopular with the black community. Mabry's research is thorough but throughout the book the reader may get the impression that he fails to understand his subject. Given the subject, he probably can't be faulted. Rice comes across as someone free of vulnerability, so strong and focused that she deals with even a major setback in a disconnected manner. Given current events, it is likely that Rice's recent history will be of most interest to readers and here Mabry does a better job of exploring the secretary of state. Mabry believes that Rice and George W. Bush are too close to allow her to play the role of Doubting Thomas, and that adopting the Bush administration like a second insular family allowed her to ignore the dissenting voices over the Iraq war. It's also clear that she was unable to bridge the divisions in the White House while serving as national security adviser. Has Rice fulfilled the promise she showed when Bush brought her to the White House in 2000? Mabry seems to believe that Rice's service to the US has been an uneven mix of success and mostly failure. Her tenure as national security adviser, he writes, will probably be judged as a failure for several reasons, including the fallout from the Iraq war, and her time as secretary of state has yet to produce any large achievements. The number of books exploring Rice is likely to rise greatly in the coming years, but few will cover the ground as well as Twice as Good has for some time. The portrait of Rice he has painted is incomplete - despite her tacit assistance with the project - but Mabry has nonetheless managed to shed light on some crucial aspects of her past and character, giving some clues as to what makes this formidable woman tick.