Howard Olsen's Reviews > My Grandfather's Son

My Grandfather's Son by Clarence Thomas
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Jul 25, 09

Read in December, 2008

Justice Thomas has written one of the great memoirs of this decade. Thomas grew up dirt poor in the segregated South. He was raised by his grandfather, a tough old cuss who liked to say things like "Old Man Can't Is Dead. I Know Because I Helped Bury Him!" The narrative takes you from Thomas' birth up to the moment when he walked into his first session at the Supreme Court. Along the way, he tells the story of how that dirt poor boy grew into the man whose strength of will and character allowed him to face down a Senate Judiciary Committee filled with hostile liberals, and earn a spot on the Supreme Court.

Much of the hype around this book centered around his relationship with his grandfather. However, the sections dealing with his childhood are only a small portion of this book. Thomas is brutally frank, and self castigating about the failure of his first marriage, and his law school days as an "angry black man." He unhesitatingly describes his drinking (mostly beer) and his struggles with debt (his refused to ever allow his son to go to public school). he also details his pre-Supreme Court career, first as an assistant to Missouri's attorney general, then as a corporate lawyer at Monsanto, and finally as the head of the EEOC during the Reagan administration. He is especially proud of his work at the EEOC. Along the way, he meets up-and-comers like John Bolton, John Ashcroft, Walter Williams, and Juan Williams. Most interesting is Thomas' relationship with the great Thomas Sowell, who was Thomas' intellectual mentor.

All of this leads up, of course to the infamous Anita Hill hearings. As you might expect, Thomas stoutly denies anything improper happened. More interesting is Thomas' description of the emotional toll the hearings took. He was essentially attacked by the entire liberal establishment - Senators, unions, feminist groups, the NAACP - which used its allies in the media to spread stories that would have embarrassed the Democrats' segregationist forebears. I remember when the hearings were going on, and Thomas called the spectacle a "high tech lynching." I thought he was engaging in wild hyperbole at the time, but I was young and foolish back then.

Thomas quotes extensively from the statements he read to the TV audience watching the Judiciary hearings. I remember watching them at the time, and his quoted passages still burn with righteous rage. Thomas was his grandfather's son because all of his grandfather's pride, strength, and fire had been passed to him, and saved him during the hearings. Many conservatives have been through attacks similar to that which was visited on Thomas, but few have been able fight back so well (Bolton, Ashcroft, and Sarah Palin are others).

As a prose stylist, Thomas is very good. He is economical in his word choices. his chapters move along efficiently and always lead up to a good conclusory sentence that sets up the next chapter. This should come as no surprise if you have read any of Justice Thomas' judicial opinions, which are always marked by an admirable clarity and unflinching forecasts of the practical results of wrong headed decisions. His opinions are the only ones that could be read and understood by a person of average intellect, which is Thomas' intent. Those who prefer the tortured stylings of the Court's more intellectual members find this unintelligent and worse. They should really be asking why their preferred judicial decisions require obfuscation and obscurity, rather than Thomas' sunlight and clarity.

If you are a conservative, this book is, of course, required reading. If you are liberal, or are otherwise a one of Thomas' detractors, I think fairness demands that you read this book as well. Then, you should ask yourself why the defense of your philosophy required that this man be denigrated and destroyed.


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