Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Grandfather's Son by Justice Clarence Thomas

The following review is from my personal archive. This book, like the three previous Gaskell books I reviewed, was one I read earlier in the year. Look for reviews on new books I've read later this week.

My Grandfather's Son by Justice Clarence Thomas was a very good read and one I’d recommend to anyone I know. The book is well written. Even those without a legal education who may worry the book will be dry or difficult to understand because of legal jargon should put their fears aside. The book is interesting, clear, and an effortless read. The copy I read was borrowed from my local library and was a total of 289 pages.

My first memory of Thomas was in 1991 when the Senate’s confirmation hearing was broadcast on TV. I remember being at my grandparents house and asking my parents what was going on. I was told that a man (Clarence Thomas) had been nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bush and the Senate was holding a hearing to determine if he should be a Justice. They also mentioned that the Democrats were being difficult and causing problems and that some woman named Anita Hill had come forth with a story that the man had done bad things to her, but it wasn’t true.

Eight years later I was able to see Justice Thomas in person when I attended a hearing at the Supreme Court. Thomas doesn't talk very much during the hearings, in fact he's quite notorious for sitting and listening and only speaking on rare occasions, leaving the questions and arguments to his fellow justices. On that particular day I was at the Supreme Court I did not hear Justice Thomas speak, however he did call a clerk over and whispered something to him. A few minutes later the clerk returned with a large atlas. I’ve always wondered why Thomas wanted the atlas as it didn’t seem to fit with the current conversation between the lawyer and the other Justices, but then… who knows.

Over the years I have always been curious about who Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia are. For years both men were the only true "strict constructionists" on the bench, but I knew so little about them.

Reading Thomas' memoir changed that – at least as far as Justice Thomas. He begins the book by recounting his birth and childhood in the deep south of Georgia in the late 1940s and ends after he is sworn in at the Supreme Court in the early 1990s. In between I learned who Clarence Thomas was and how he went from being a very poor uneducated child to one of the most esteemed men on the bench of the highest court in our country. Thomas discusses his faith, family, life choices, education and careers in a very candid manor. Of course, and yet unfortunately, the memoirs could not be complete without the retelling of the three-ring-circus that was his confirmation hearing with the US Senate and the "Anita Hill scandal". (Be warned, there are some explicit details of the harassment she claimed to have experienced.)

At times it felt very surreal to read this book. Persons in and around the political circles of DC were mentioned as they came in contact with Thomas. Many of these people are people I or my husband have heard of, seen, or even met in our work. And some are just familiar names from the news.

At the end of Thomas' memoirs, I came away with even more respect for him -- as a judge and as a person. Thomas is a man of faith who has worked hard to get where he is and truly desires to what is right and just. We all could learn a lot from him. If only more people – and I don't just mean conservatives – would read his memoirs and take what he says to heart.


Carrie said...

Awesome review. I would like to read this book. I'll just add that to my list, eh?

Nica said...

I wholly echo your review. I really enjoyed the book, and felt it was so excellent how Thomas put into words his views on race and the topics associated with it. Very thought provoking. A must read, imo, for everyone who wants to know why our culture is the way it is today.

Rebecca Reid said...

Is it a memoir or an autobiography? Sounds very interesting. I like political types of things and I don't know much about the justice side of things.

Sarah M. said...

Although memoirs are traditionally a subclass of biographical works the term is used interchangeably today. Typically a memoir is written by a public figure and so I think you could class this autobiography as a memoir... although it does include personal details which fall under the autobiographical column. Does that help? :)

Rebecca Reid said...

I class autobiography as very different in feel from memoir--memoir being more event-driven and autobiography more entire life. I don't think memoir is public versus autobiography. I've read memoirs of non public figures and autobiographies of public figures.

I tend to like autobiography more (a complete life look), that's why I asked.

Sarah M. said...

My Grandfather's Son begins with Thomas' childhood and ends with life shortly after he reached the Supreme Court. Obviously since he's still alive and writing an autobiography it doesn't encase his entire life, but it is very close to the majority of his life.