Thomas Memoir: Don't Steal This Book
I have no plans to read Justice Clarence Thomas's book. The first reason is that life is too short to waste precious hours discovering why he is what he is. I have read enough of his opinions over the years, and am otherwise familiar with his life story, to get the gist of it.
Justice Thomas (in his public life, anyway) is an angry man who acts (and votes) as though he is carrying a heavy chip on his shoulder for slights real and perceived. He has accomplished much but is extraordinarily insecure. He is an historical oddity -- I wish someone would ask him bluntly why he so consistently rules against the very types of people he and his family once were -- but he is certainly not a hero. He will be remembered as a controversial justice but nowhere near a great one.
The second reason I'm avoiding the book like a subpoena is because there have already been more than enough reviews and commentaries about it. I can take a glance at the crib notes and still pass the test. Some pundits have read the memoir and see Thomas as a legend. Many more see him as a whiny hypocrite. Such is the life and work of a man of contradiction.
Here are a couple of good excerpts from some of the reviews and commentaries I've seen over the past few weeks.
From Newseeek's Weston Kosova: "Over the years, Thomas has brushed off questions about the central contradiction of his life: how can a man who has benefited so greatly from racial preferences oppose them so staunchly for others? Thomas doesn't address the question directly in his new autobiography, 'My Grandfather's Son.' But he does, perhaps unwittingly, answer it. In chapter after chapter, a recurring theme seems to be that it's only affirmative action if you go looking for a job, not if it comes looking for you. Thomas writes that he rarely sought the plum positions that were offered him; he didn't even want them. Again and again in the book, he expresses his irritation that the men who ran the country simply would not let him be."
Before urging Thomas to run for president in 2012, Bill Kristol had this to say in the Weekly Standard: "Thomas cites Scripture at key points in My Grandfather's Son. He writes that during the crucible of his Supreme Court confirmation fight, 'It was in the consoling words of the prophet Isaiah that I found my own watchword: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles: they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." And he closes the book with his prayer as he joins the Court: 'Lord, grant me the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it. Amen.'"
From Derrick Jackson in the Boston Globe: "The bitterness in Clarence Thomas makes you wonder if he ever can realize that he won. It is 16 years since he was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite charges of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. For a decade and a half, in one of the most unassailable seats in the world, he has exercised power that affects millions of Americans. That appears not to be enough for him. In his new memoir, Thomas fights the Hill accusations like a punch-drunk boxer."
From Frank Rich in the New York Times: What's the difference between a low-tech lynching and a high-tech lynching? A high-tech lynching brings a tenured job on the Supreme Court and a $1.5 million book deal. A low-tech lynching, not so much. Pity Clarence Thomas. Done in by what he calls 'left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony' -- as he describes anyone who challenged his elevation to the court -- he still claims to have suffered as much as African-Americans once victimized by 'bigots in white robes.' Since kicking off his book tour on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, he has been whining all the way to the bank, often abetted by a press claque as fawning as his No. 1 fan, Rush Limbaugh."
From Dahlia Lithwick in Slate: "Clarence Thomas' new autobiography, My Grandfather's Son, paints a stark picture of an America in which nothing but race matters. In his telling, virtually everyone who has ever wronged him has done so because of his race. Not surprisingly, in the eyes of many of Thomas' defenders, anyone who objects to this book must also do so because of his race. But the prism of Black vs. White in America is the wrong one through which to view this book. The real black/white problem Justice Thomas reveals is his own binary worldview. Everything is good or bad; everyone is either angel or devil. You might say the justice has produced the world's longest Santa Claus list: everything in America classified as either naughty or nice."
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