Madame President

The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Madame President


The harrowing, but triumphant story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, leader of the Liberian women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in African history.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the 2005 Liberian presidential election, she demolished a barrier few thought possible, obliterating centuries of patriarchal rule to become the first female elected head of state in Africa’s history. Madame President is the inspiring, often heartbreaking story of Sirleaf’s evolution from an ordinary Liberian mother of four boys to international banking executive, from a victim of domestic violence to a political icon, from a post-war president to a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author Helene Cooper deftly weaves Sirleaf’s personal story into the larger narrative of the coming of age of Liberian women. The highs and lows of Sirleaf’s life are filled with indelible images; from imprisonment in a jail cell for standing up to Liberia’s military government to addressing the United States Congress, from reeling under the onslaught of the Ebola pandemic to signing a deal with Hillary Clinton when she was still Secretary of State that enshrined American support for Liberia’s future.

Sirleaf’s personality shines throughout this riveting biography. Ultimately, Madame President is the story of Liberia’s greatest daughter, and the universal lessons we can all learn from this “Oracle” of African women.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451697360 | 
  • February 2018
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Madame President includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Helene Cooper. 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.


When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was born in 1930s Liberia, one elderly Monrovian man prophesied: “This child is going to lead.” Yet for all the felicity of this omen, no one could have predicted then that Sirleaf would one day become the leader of her country’s women’s movement, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first democratically elected female president in Africa. Sirleaf, the mother of four sons, decided she had suffered enough abuse at the hands of her husband. She seized an opportunity to study economics at Harvard, unleashing her potential as a businesswoman and a leader. She quickly found support from powerful influencers on Wall Street, at the IMF, and at the World Bank. But full recognition of her abilities and achievements in her native Liberia proved harrowingly difficult when a violent coup led by Samuel Doe left Sirleaf the sole female representative of the old guard. Then a second bloody transfer of power left Charles Taylor in control of Liberia; his militant rule ushered the count see more


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About the Author

Helene Cooper
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Helene Cooper

Helene Cooper is the Pulitzer Prize–winning Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, having previously served as White House Correspondent, diplomatic correspondent, and the assistant editorial page editor. Prior to moving to the Times, Helene spent twelve years as a reporter and foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of the bestselling memoir, The House at Sugar Beach, and Madame President, a biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and lives in the Washington, DC area.