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Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas Hardcover – April 24, 2007

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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385510802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385510806
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.4 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: #1,569,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Ninjaba TOP 500 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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40 of 53 people found the following review helpful By queensreader on June 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Last week I finished Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas, Michael Fletcher and Kevin Merida's new book about you know who. But I found myself picking it up again this week, just to re-read certain sections. Some of the stories about Thomas' life (I'm especially interested in his time as Chair of the EEOC and his life post-Supreme Court confirmation) are just fascinating. The book is compelling in large part because Fletcher and Merida are meticulously fair to Thomas, chronicling his generosity to friends, willingness to mentor young people, and his loyalty, as well as his crushing insecurity, his childish resentment of light-skinned blacks, and his pathologically thin-skin (this guy never forgets a slight). This is no hatchet job. But it's also no tribute. It's a thoroughly researched book that bears the mark of damned good journalism. And yet you feel the authors' (both black) genuine effort to understand how Thomas came to be . . . Thomas. What emerges is a picture of a highly intelligent black man who has in almost every phase of his public life either been compelled or who has chosen to confront some of the thorniest, most complex questions about race. As the authors reveal, Thomas to his credit, is unafraid to address the conundrum of race. But what we see is a man so deeply damaged --both emotional and psychologically - that his answers to these difficult questions are almost always warped by his often very painful, personal racial experiences. And this damage was in place long before the infamous confirmation hearings.

What emerges also is a picture of a man who has almost always lived a dual life, and so the book is aptly named. Thomas is, according to Fletcher and Merida, "a welter of conflicting personas.
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