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Vernon Can Read! A Memoir Hardcover – October 16, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While Jordan's autobiography garnered interest from the moment its publication was announced, its ultimate form surprises. Disappointment awaits those expecting Clinton/ Lewinsky dirt, since the book "effectively ends in the 1980s. All that has happened to me since then is too close to be considered true memories," Jordan writes. But his narrative mission here is not recent political scandal. Jordan means to "bridge the gap" between the years African-Americans were forced to move to the back of the bus and the time when "a young black girl [Vernon's daughter Vickee] could be so confident in her humanity that she found it unfathomable that anyone could try and take it away from her." The bridge, of course, is Jordan himself, and he tells his success story with a concentration and devotion that gives it all the fervor and logic of a good long speech. While readers are treated to some particulars of Jordan's youth (waiting tables for his mother's catering business, attending segregated Atlanta schools in the 1940s and early '50s and then the predominantly white DePauw University) and the trajectory of his early career as a field director for the NAACP, executive director of the United Negro College Fund and president of the National Urban League), there are few more personal revelations. With its lack of extraneous detail and its studious avoidance of private thoughts, this is less a traditional memoir than an extended exposition of an impressive CV. Even so, it should remind people of this chapter in American history and Jordan's crucial role in it. (Oct. 22)Forecast: With Jordan's high profile, this is an automatic big seller. If it's marketed correctly, it should have a wide appeal, too anyone interested in the history of the civil rights movement will appreciate this detailed account of the people and organizations that helped transform a segregated nation.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

While on summer break in 1955 from DePauw University, Jordan worked as a chauffeur for Robert Maddox, the racist president of the First National Bank of Atlanta. Maddox was dumbfounded to discover that Jordan could do more than drive that "Vernon can read." Jordan, most recently an informal adviser to President Clinton, presents an engaging memoir of his arduous yet successful struggle to claim the African American dream. The most entertaining chapters discuss a childhood molded by church, school, and family, especially his mother and "greatest friend," Mary Jordan. The chapters on his rising civil rights career, which include being a young attorney for the NAACP during the University of Georgia desegregation, serving as head of the United Negro College Fund, and following the legendary Whitney Young as chief executive of the National Urban League, are sprinkled with insights. These include the low priority given to African American concerns by Presidents Carter and Reagan and the observation that Northern whites are often more secretive and less trustworthy about their racial views than Southern whites. The power of this biography derives from Jordan's honesty and the simple elegance of his writing. Reminiscent of John Lewis's Walking with the Wind (LJ 5/15/98), this book is highly recommended for all public libraries. Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1st edition (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 189162069X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1891620690
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #611,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Until reading this uncommonly personal and revealing memoir, I knew very little about Jordan the human being although I was already well-aware of his public career which includes leadership positions in the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, and the Urban League as well as subsequent prominence in the private sector as (for lack of a better term) a "powerbroker" in Washington, D.C. while continuing to serve on the governing boards of several major corporations. Unfairly, I think, he is most widely recognized as the friend to whom then President Clinton turned for assistance when attempting to help Monica Lewinsky obtain a job after that scandal began to unfold. In this memoir, however, Jordan limits his attention to the years ending in 1981 when he resigned from the Urban League. Whatever differences there may be between him and Jack Welch (obviously there are several), both men credit their mothers with giving them the values, determination, and encouragement needed as they took on progressively greater challenges while encountering progressively more formidable obstacles. I was especially interested in Jordan's straightforward explanation of his differences with other black leaders, notably his determination to work within the economic system (capitalism) to achieve social and political objectives. He also disagreed with those black leaders who supported the Palestinian cause and thereby exacerbated black-Jewish relations. Jordan seems to be a consummate pragmatist, determined to produce desired results (e.g. a higher standard of living and a better quality of life for all have-nots, whatever their race) rather than merely indulge in self-serving rhetoric and public posturing (e.g. conducting press conferences in conjunction with crises to generate personal publicity).Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Patricia B. Ross on December 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In finishing Vernon Jordan's book, I'm impressed by the fact of how important memoir's are to our culture. He is a black man who has not only done very well, but one who also has lived well by virtue of the fact that he began life within the warmth and care of two very nurturing parents who had the wisdom to cultivate his best talents, and those of his siblings, no doubt. As a Christian family, the values imparted were purposeful, deep and rooted in the dignity of equality even while social inequities were a part of our American life. That strength has seen him though the vagaries which always accompany the offensiveness of that inequity that alone can produce the injustice which undermines entire lives. There is little doubt that his has been a life of reserve and limited self expression within the context of the larger world upon that rise to esteem he has worked so hard and so humbly to achieve, and he acknowledges the fortunate guidance and commitment of his wonderful mother whose pride is unmatched as only a mother's can be. Under her tutelage and that of his dad, he has had the good fortune to meet and marry two wonderful women who've provided him with the care, intimacy and support his mother taught him to expect because he deserved that. Through that love, the beginnings of strength flower into a tolerance for life that can supercede hardships to enable the radiance of such warmth and excellence to be noticed by others and embraced by them for the benefit of others, confident in one's own purpose and direction. Part of his charm is that he lived during a time, obviously, when women were respected for their value and their ways, and men were willing to work for that privilege of romance and companionship that makes for healthy and committed relationships.Read more ›
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Michelle White on November 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is an unfortunate piece of near puffery: much form, much superficiality, little substance. But what does one expect from a Power Broker? Truth or Dare?
In keeping with the unwritten Power Broker Creed, Mr.Jordan reveals very little about the inside mechanations that made him who he is (as opposed to who he was). That is to say, the book speaks volumes about those life experiences that made Vernon Jordan the moderate civil rights leader he was years ago, but says exactly nothing about the transition from that leadership role, to the man who had the president's ear (not to mention the man who kept his secrets)and the ear of the REAL powerful people in this global econonmy: the corporate mavens for whom Vernon was (is?) paid handsomely to dish out advice and counsel to.
We never hear in any detail about how Jordan quietly but persistently accumulated the power he achieved and, indeed, what motivated him in this pursuit. And no, I was not interested in any Monica dirt: Monica and the whole presidential thing, was (and is) beside the point when it comes to a rigorous Jordan analysis. That whole episode merely served as a template (and not a particularly good one) for the kind of back scratchery at high level that Jordan has been doing for years.
But then again, what does one expect? People like Jordan (and mind you, I am a big fan of his)live by the aforementioned unspoken creed: power is best accumulated and exercised quietly. Thus, one does not reveal the secrets of the kingdom to just any average reader (by the way Vernon, what really does go on at those Bildeberg confrences?).
We will not get the whole unexpurgated version of Jordan's life until some biographer decides to swim against currents and put one together.
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