WASHINGTON- In 1991, only two years into the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice suddenly left her powerful job as the top Russia expert on the National Security Council and went back to California — to get a life.p. “I like balance in my life,” Ms. Rice said in an interview in Palo Alto, Calif., during the presidential campaign earlier this year. “I wanted a life. These jobs are all-consuming. And I have strong reservations about going back to that all-consuming life and leaving what is a blessedly normal life here. I like going to the cleaners and the coffee shop on Saturday morning.”p. But in accepting the offer to become national security adviser in a George W. Bush administration, the 46-year-old former political science professor and provost at Stanford University has decided to return to that all-consuming life.p. Perhaps it is not at all surprising. As a child growing up in a segregated bourgeois neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala., Condi, as she is called, was pushed relentlessly to achieve. She started piano lessons at the age of 3, was tutored in French and Spanish as a young girl and entered eighth grade at the age of 11.p. As a high school student in Denver, she became both a competitive ice skater (getting up at 4:30 a.m. for lessons) and an accomplished pianist (sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. to practice). She did her senior year of high school and her freshman year in college at the same time. Her parents piled up so many books by her bedside table that she stopped reading for pleasure, and still does not.p. “I grew up in a family in which my parents put me into every book club,” she recalled. “So I never developed the fine art of recreational reading.”p. As Mr. Bush’s top national security adviser during the campaign, Ms. Rice played a variety of roles. She was his private foreign policy tutor, the person, Mr. Bush once said, who “can explain to me foreign policy matters in a way I can understand.” She was his intellectual quarterback, “both a good manager and an honest broker of ideas,” he said in an interview. And she was his trusted friend, “a close confidante and a good soul,” he added.p. At 46, she will not be the youngest national security adviser in American history. McGeorge Bundy was only 41 when he became national security adviser to President John F. Kennedy; Henry A. Kissinger in the Nixon administration and Richard V. Allen in the Reagan administration were only 45. Nor is she the first black national security adviser. Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Mr. Bush’s choice for secretary of state, served as national security adviser in the final year of the Reagan administration.p. But Ms. Rice will be the first woman to hold the job.p. With her girlish laugh and gushes of Southern charm, Ms. Rice can be utterly captivating — without ever appearing confessional or vulnerable — a quality that can mask her spine of steel.p. In 1989, in her previous National Security Council stint, for example, she physically blocked Boris N. Yeltsin, then the leader of Russia’s reform movement, in the basement of the White House when he balked at seeing the national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and demanded to see President George Bush. (After five minutes, Mr. Yeltsin backed down.)p. During the campaign, none of the other members of Mr. Bush’s foreign-policy team dared to speak to reporters without her permission. “You make me sound like a tyrant!” she exclaimed when asked to explain why, then added with a smile, “We are disciplined, we are disciplined.”p. She eats either a bagel or cereal every day for breakfast. She is always impeccably dressed, usually in a classic suit with a modest hemline, comfortable pumps and conservative jewelry. She keeps two mirrors on her desk at Stanford, apparently to check the back as well as the front of her hair. (“I do try to make sure everything is in place,” she explained.) She has an oil supertanker named after her, a result of being on the Chevron Corporation board.p. “Condi was raised first and foremost to be a lady,” said General Powell, in an interview during the campaign. “She was raised in a protected environment to be a person of great self-confidence in Birmingham, where there was no reason to have self-confidence because you were a 10th-class citizen and you were black.”p. Ms. Rice (whose first name is pronounced kahn-dah-LEE-za) was born on Nov. 14, 1954, in Birmingham, a world of colored-only water fountains and segregated swimming pools. She is the only child of the Rev. John W. Rice Jr., who ran the Westminster Presbyterian Church, which her grandfather had founded. Her father once formed a shotgun brigade after a gas bomb was hurled through a neighbor’s window.p. Ms. Rice’s mother, the former Angelena Ray, and father taught at a black Birmingham high school, where her father was also the football coach. Her mother died of breast cancer in 1985; her father, who still calls his daughter “little star,” lives close by her in Palo Alto with his second wife.p. Ms. Rice’s first name is derived from the Italian musical term “con dolcezza,” to perform “with sweetness.” The family “lore,” she said, is that a great-great-grandfather on her mother’s side was an Italian who emigrated to the United States and bought slaves. Her great-great-grandparents on her father’s side were slaves.p. She once planned for a career as a concert pianist until she realized she was not good enough. “Mozart didn’t have to practice,” she said in an interview during the campaign. “I was going to have to practice and practice and practice and was never going to be extraordinary.”p. Asked whether that was upsetting for her, she replied: “I don’t do life crises. I really don’t. Life’s too short. Get over it. Move on to the next thing.”p. Her mentor at the University of Denver, where she earned a bachelor’s degree (Phi Beta Kappa) in political science in 1974, was Josef Korbel, the father of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who helped Ms. Rice “fall in love” with Russian history, she said. From there she earned a master’s degree from theUniversity of Notre Damein 1975 and a doctorate from Denver in 1981, joining the Stanford political science faculty immediately afterward.p. Ms. Rice started her political life as a Democrat, switched sides in 1982, and has called herself “an all-over-the-map Republican.”p. In her two years in the Bush White House, no task was ever beneath her. On the day Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, she typed the president’s talking points for his first public message rather than watch her colleague Richard N. Haass hunt and peck on the computer.p. In 1993, she became the youngest, the first female and the first nonwhite provost at Stanford. Faced with a $43 million deficit, she cut services and fired staff with only limited faculty consultations. “I don’t do committees,” she said.p. Unlike General Powell, Ms. Rice is not an across-the-board supporter of affirmative action. As provost, Ms. Rice was criticized for not doing enough to promote diversity in the Stanford faculty, prompting her to tell The San Jose Mercury News in May 1998, “I’m the chief academic officer now. I say in principle that I don’t believe in and in fact will not apply affirmative action” in promotions. Yet the year before, she was quoted as telling a Stanford faculty meeting, “I myself am the beneficiary of a Stanford strategy that took affirmative action seriously.”p. Like Mr. Bush, she is a sports and fitness enthusiast, and at Stanford, she trained hard with the football coach. (The reason her dress size is between a 6 and an 8, she said, is because of “muscle mass.”)p. “Exercise,” she said, “is a very high priority for me, especially if you don’t have children who are a break on working all the time, you can work all the time.”p. And, Ms. Rice, who is single, added, “I do some of my best thinking on the treadmill.”p. Ms. Rice and Mr. Bush seem to share a similar view of the world: a realist, Republican balance-of-power approach that focuses more on the big powers and less on the interests of “the international community.”p. During the campaign, Ms. Rice urged Mr. Bush to avoid making foreign policy statements that he might regret later. She coordinated Mr. Bush’s nuclear policy initiative, which called for building a national missile defense system combined with reductions and possibly unilateral cuts in America’s nuclear arsenal. Cautious about using American military force, she alarmed America’s NATO allies in October when she suggested that if elected president, Mr. Bush planned to tell NATO that the United States should no longer participate in peacekeeping in the Balkans.p. That caution runs deep, and in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in 1993, she was reluctant to recommend the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. “Saddam is an outlaw but I would be careful about trying to do anything to act to overthrow him,” she said.p. The co-author of two books, one on the reunification of Germany, the other on the Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, she would be the first to admit that the task of national security adviser will be challenging. At the height of the presidential campaign last spring, she confessed that there were vast areas of the world that were new to her. “I’ve been pressed to understand parts of the world that have not been part of my scope,” she said in an interview. “I’m really a Europeanist.”p. Now, as President-elect Bush’s appointee as national security adviser, Ms. Rice suddenly will have to prove that she can be master of the universe.