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Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385510802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385510806
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The conservatism of the nation's second African-American Supreme Court justice has made him a pariah in the black community, an irony that centers this probing biography, expanded from the authors'Washington Post Magazine profile. Thomas's rise from disadvantaged circumstances to Yale Law School, a meteoric government career and appointment to Thurgood Marshall's Court seat, Merida and Fletcher note, seems an affirmative action success story. Yet Thomas has opposed affirmative action, prisoners' rights, abortion and other planks of the liberal agenda, leading to ubiquitous complaints—the authors cite black leaders, prison inmates, even Thomas's relatives—that he's forgotten his roots. Merida and Fletcher present a lucid, well-researched account of Thomas's controversial life and jurisprudence, including evidence supporting Anita Hill's sexual harassment allegations, and a nuanced discussion of the politics of black authenticity. They portray Thomas as a conflicted man: a committed conservative with an ethos of self-reliance, who took advantage of affirmative action only to have his achievements tarnished by his own insecurities and others' suspicions of incompetence or hypocrisy. The authors' attempts to link his convictions to his psyche—they make much of his alleged resentment of light-skinned black professional elites—don't always click, but Thomas still emerges as a fascinating and emblematic figure. (Mar. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Washington Post reporters Merida and Fletcher interviewed Supreme Court justice Thomas' family members, friends, colleagues, former clerks, fellow conservative justice Scalia, and even former President Bush, who named Thomas to the court--but not Thomas himself. This unauthorized biography looks at the complexities behind the second black Supreme Court justice, the conservative who replaced the iconic civil rights defender Thurgood Marshall. The authors dissect the contradictions in Thomas' background: the careful campaign that harkened back to boyhood poverty, when Thomas mostly grew up middle class; the transformation of a campus radical into a conservative and avowed opponent of affirmative action. Beyond recalling Thomas' background, the authors delve into how Thomas was formed by the tumultuous period of desegregation and emerging radical black consciousness. Thomas' wounds are deep, evidenced in a box of rejection letters from law firms he continues to keep. Reviled by the black community and virtually an outsider in his own family, Thomas maintains an animated persona among black conservatives but is known for his silence and disengagement on the bench. The authors explore the dynamics behind the nomination of Thomas and the dramatic hearing that drew national attention as senators squirmed while parsing charges of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Thomas' "high-tech lynching" remark, which turned the hearing, was scripted for a man who'd chosen to distance himself from racial identification. This is a thoroughly absorbing look at a conflicted man whose views will impact American law and race relations for generations. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Ninjaba TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Except for a scant recollection of the Hill-Thomas Trial that aired on TV when I was a kid, I did not know anything about Clarence Thomas. My husband recommended this book after listening to a radio interview with the authors.

Firstly, I don't think this is the right book to pick up coming in with little to no knowledge of Thomas. The book is based on an accumulation of interviews, speeches and Thomas' writing and court decisions. It's interesting to note that Thomas declined to be interviewed for this book.

In a nutshell here is what I learned: Thomas is a Conservative. He benefited from affirmative action but he denies that he did, except to bring it up when it suits him, and he refuses to support it. He idolized his Grandfather. He is in the group of justices who believes his job is to interpret the Constitution as the founders would have intended, rather than adjust to the attitudes of the time. He rarely participates in oral arguments. Anita Hill really hurt him emotionally. He's sensitive. If you get on his bad side he'll hold a grudge and you'll be off his list ~ FOREVER. Most black people think he's a sellout. He's really a personable guy who would love to know you - yes YOU, who are of little significance, and once you get to know him, you actually like him! (And what's not to like? He's not off spewing hatred). He's simply a man in power armed with an opinion that goes against the majority minority, which people see is in sharp contrast from his deprived upbringing, which really wasn't that bad actually, only people tend to ignore that fact. All of this is discussed in the book and become points of contentions, and to me reading about it felt like sitting on a fence where the arguments could go either way.
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32 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on May 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What you take from this book depends largely upon why you would read a book on Justice Thomas in the first place. If you are looking for the classic judicial biography, that integrates biography with Supreme Court case analysis, this is not the book for you. Far better choices in this regard are Ken Foskett's "Judging Thomas" (also reviewed on Amazon), and Gerber"s "First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas." Rather this book authored by two respected Washington Post reporters (one of whom is a lawyer) rather tries to get at Thomas as a person. While it follows generally a biographical course, it is much more focused upon what the many folks interviewed by the author -- and they had done just an enormous amount of research to support this book -- think (or thought) of "Thomas the man." The Justice did not make himself available for interviews with the authors, however.

About the first 1/3 of the book, the focus seemed to be on what African-Americans who knew Thomas at various stages of his life think or thought of him. This is quite a unique perspective, both authors being black, because it has not been so much the focus in other books on Thomas I have looked at. Then later the focus seemed to be what anybody and everybody thought of Thomas, from his fellow Justices to people he meets as he drives his motorcoach around the country on vacation. The problem with this approach are the views of all the folks whom the authors didn't interview. I found some chapters unimpressive ("Silent Justice" re his lack of questionning at oral argument) and others quite good ("Scalia's Clone?").

I think you do learn a good deal about Justice Thomas; I certainly feel a better grasp on his character and attitudes especially after having read the book.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By R. Tiedemann on October 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a difficult book to rate. It's easy reading -- obviously written more to entertain than to inform -- and it's highly biased against the subject yet presented in such a way as to pretend to be balanced. It is character assassination in print.

The subtitle, "The divided soul of Clarence Thomas" is not proven by the discourse. It is obvious that Thomas has a very clear idea of who he is and what the law should be. He is staunch in his beliefs and true to his conscience. There is nothing divided about him.

Justice Thomas seems to have figured out what most of his peers (and definitely the authors)haven't: That affirmative action has proved to be a double-edged sword, as harmful to blacks as it has been useful. It is obvious that Thomas simply considers himself a man, neither black nor white, as he gazes at life and law through clear glasses. To many blacks (and obviously to the authors) this is the Unforgivable Sin.

Thus they portray Justice Thomas as almost manically introspective, weak and flawed. They emphasize the pain he endured over the years from racial slurs and imply that he is almost useless on the court because he can't forget Anita Hill's attacks during his confirmation trial before Congress. I use the word trial intentionally here.

I had wondered why Justice Thomas was publishing a memoir at this time since it would necessarily bring Hill to the forefront again. This book must be the reason. He knew this would be what it is when he refused the authors access to himself and his memorabilia. He was right. The prejudice against him here is almost hysterical.
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