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Ken Foskett

The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas

A-JudgingThomasHow did one of the most controversial African-American men alive today rise from poor Southern roots to Supreme Court Justice? Foskett delves into all aspects of Clarence Thomas’s life: his strict upbringing with a disciplinarian grandfather, his dabblings with Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, and his rapid turn toward conservatism as he rose through the ranks of law and government. Foskett focuses on his psychological and intellectual development rather than his Supreme Court decisions (or the Anita Hill affair). In the end, he suggests that Thomas’s conservative philosophy stems, in part, from his difficult, painful past.
William Morrow. 352 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060527218

New York Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a pity that the words ‘fair and balanced’ have come into disrepute lately, because I intend no irony in concluding that Mr. Foskett has produced just such an account." Carl Rollyson

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Foskett doesn’t miss an opportunity to reveal the roots of Thomas’ ideology. … [I]n exploring the many events that shaped Thomas’ life, Foskett is able to give readers insight into how his subject’s views on affirmative action represents a painful evolution rather than hypocrisy." Mary Mitchell

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s an uplifting story, but it may not be the whole story, or even the right story. … [N]o one is likely to feel compromised by the outcome, least of all Clarence Thomas." Dennis J. Hutchinson

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2 of 5 Stars
"... reveals little new information." Sharon Broussard

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Without a searching psychological assessment of how Thomas’s story ends in Thomas’s jurisprudence, we are left only with a hint of a bitter man whose legal views were forged mostly in shame and spite." Dahlia Lithwick

Washington Post 0.5 of 5 Stars
"The absence of rigor that characterizes Foskett’s approach to Thomas’s jurisprudence also characterizes his approach to Thomas’s racial politics. … A lamentable carelessness suffuses Foskett’s narrative." Randall Kennedy

Critical Summary

span class="InlineBookTitle">Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Foskett cracked Justice Thomas’s media-wary shell by approaching him after a Good Friday service. He deserves points for bravery, but most critics agree that this partially authorized biography leaves much to be desired (Thomas did not grant him access to his private papers). It makes sense that the conservative New York Sun would be the lone rave review, since Foskett is highly sympathetic towards Thomas throughout, even defending him against Hill’s charges (she declined to be interviewed for the book). Others excoriate Foskett for not thoroughly examining the strange pattern of anger and ideological shifts that define Thomas’s life; more than one critic called Foskett’s research shoddy. A highlight? Two sitting members of the Supreme Court went on the record (with complimentary remarks) about Thomas.