• The Enigma of Clarence Thomas

  • By: Corey Robin
  • Narrated by: Larry Herron
  • Length: 9 hrs and 51 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (85 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Enigma of Clarence Thomas is a groundbreaking revisionist take on the Supreme Court justice everyone knows about but no one knows.

Most people can tell you two things about Clarence Thomas: Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment, and he almost never speaks from the bench. Here are some things they don’t know: Thomas is a Black nationalist. In college he memorized the speeches of Malcolm X. He believes white people are incurably racist.

In the first examination of its kind, Corey Robin - one of the foremost analysts of the right - delves deeply into both Thomas’s biography and his jurisprudence, masterfully reading his Supreme Court opinions against the backdrop of his autobiographical and political writings and speeches. The hidden source of Thomas’s conservative views, Robin shows, is a profound skepticism that racism can be overcome. Thomas is convinced that any government action on behalf of African-Americans will be tainted by racism; the most African-Americans can hope for is that white people will get out of their way.

There’s a reason, Robin concludes, why liberals often complain that Thomas doesn’t speak but seldom pay attention when he does. Were they to listen, they’d hear a racial pessimism that often sounds similar to their own. Cutting across the ideological spectrum, this unacknowledged consensus about the impossibility of progress is key to understanding today’s political stalemate.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2019 Corey Robin (P)2019 Macmillan Audio

What listeners say about The Enigma of Clarence Thomas

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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating book but too many mispronunciations

Dear Audible: Please use your influence with audiobooks producers to ensure that narrators get basic pronunciations right. I enjoyed Larry Herron's warm and clear voice, but he mispronounced way too many words. For example, "peremptory" was repeatedly pronounced "pre-emptory," "mores" was pronounced phonetically, and a number of fairly common names were mispronounced. While this might not be a big deal to some, it's fingernails across a chalkboard to me and suggests a lack of care. It also sometimes sends me running to the dictionary to make sure I haven't been mispronouncing those words all these years. IMO, mispronounced words/names in an audiobook are about as bad as misspellings in print books. Come on, man!

That said, I appreciate Audible's providing a PDF of footnotes and I hope it will be better about including notes and visual materials that have not been included with many other audiobooks.

As to the content of the book, I've always been interested in what fuels Thomas' unconventional and sometimes ugly jurisprudence. Mainly using Thomas' speeches, articles, and opinions, Robin sets out some provocative but well-supported theories. In Robin's view, Thomas is intent on destroying liberal remedies to racial injustice because they only exacerbate the problem. As one remedy, Thomas generalizes his grandfather's response to racism by being a good capitalist and patriarch as the prescription for how all other black people (or black males) should conduct themselves, apparently without much regard for their own widely varying circumstances. As Robin puts it, "At the heart of Justice Thomas’s jurisprudence, then, is a belief that the market is effective and politics is pointless." That's actually a relatively tame notion of Robin's and there's much more; please read reviews such as those in the NYT and NR for far better analyses.

Thomas' life story is in some ways compelling and his views are important in the debate on race, but AFAIC, it's a shame that someone with such a bleak and severe outlook on race, law, and society is sitting on our Supreme Court. Though I'm not entirely sold on Robin's views, this book is engaging, informative and very readable (or listenable) given the sometimes complex subject matter.

9 people found this helpful

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Wow! Unbelievably thorough and "squarely" written

The narration was excellent. "Race, Capitolsm, and Constitution" each showcases man and the United States tension and battle to contain nature and man/societies existence within that nature.

2 people found this helpful

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Enlightening, Disheartening

The author's assessment of Thomas is grim and fearsome. Through Thomas's opinions and public pronouncements, the author describes Thomas's dystopian vision of an America that will never overcome its racism, through political institutions.

Thomas's view is that if we let the Constitution do what it was meant to do that Black men will eventually understand that political answers to the effects of racism are futile, and that Black men (yes, men. Women should follow) must be forced to accept their patriarchal role as leaders and struggle for economic independence to fight for their families.

If this is his vision--dark, hopeless, cynical, then the worst thing about it is his unique position of power to impose it on everyone else as he sits on the Court until he dies or retires.

The reader was good, but there were some odd emphases "privileges, or immunites" instead of "privileges or immunities" or a misquote of Oliver Wendell Holmes. I wonder if the author had a chance to listen

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A Conservative Black Nationalist

Clarence Thomas has a different view of a black persons struggle to succeed in this country. He is critical of the civil rights laws for black Americans but used those laws to achieve success in this country. He was definitely influenced by his grandfather who raised him, but has no respect for the poor black females who end up on welfare with children born out of wedlock. I was left with the impression that he believes separate but equal is fine. He seems to be a hypocrite. He was only able to achieve success by using the civil rights laws that he rejects.

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Learned some things

It revealed some things I didn't know about Thomas and confirmed things I did. I had no clue that he started as a young radical Black Nationalist and a Black Panther. The book never really explained what really changed his world view.

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Defining the judge through his action

I think the enigma is better understood although some of the central conflicts in his character are not addressed it's more of a declarative piece about how he thinks by indirectly arguing through facts of his life. I don't know if he really proves his thesis but it does lend a lot of new information and insight about this guy who appears to be in the main stream of the direction of the supreme Court

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interesting biography pp

Enjoyed the presentation, just thought there should be a little more context given to Thomas's ideas.

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interesting and vital

really fascinating biography and analysis of a person and politics I (and I assume many others) had little understanding of before. Corey's suggestion that we interrogate the premises and assumptions he lays out in Thomas's politics which the left often shares is especially urgent and compelling

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Finished it in a single day!

A fascinating if unnerving intellectual biography. I will read Thomas' court decisions in a different light from this point onward.

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The single worst book ever written.

This book is nothing more than propaganda, full of lies and ignominious statements about Clarence Thomas. The performance is amateur at best, and the book was written poorly. The author should be ashamed of this body of work.

10 people found this helpful