The Enigma of Clarence Thomas on sale today!


The Enigma of Clarence Thomas goes on sale today, with the help of a rave review in this morning’s New York Times. In the Times, Jennifer Szalai writes:

It’s a provocative thesis, but one of the marvels of Robin’s razor-sharp book is how carefully he marshals his evidence. He doesn’t have to resort to elaborate speculation or armchair psychologizing, relying instead on Thomas’s speeches, interviews and Supreme Court opinions. Just as jurists make ample use of the written record, Robin does the same.

The result is rigorous yet readable, frequently startling yet eminently persuasive.

It isn’t every day that reading about ideas can be both so gratifying and unsettling, and Robin’s incisive and superbly argued book has made me think again.

The book was excerpted two weeks ago in The New Yorker. It also has been widely reviewed—in BookforumThe AtlanticHarper’s, and National Review, which, despite the criticisms, called the book “thoroughly researched and engagingly written…a valuable and overdue engagement,” and elsewhere.

You can buy the book at Amazon, or if you prefer other vendors, there’s a list here.

Enjoy—and look forward to hearing your thoughts!


  1. Glenn September 29, 2019 at 1:07 pm | #

    Interesting take on affirmative action.

    Due to the fact that the wealthy elite have positive goods in excess thus leaving others to fight for scraps, and speaking from the perspective of Scalia’s “Polish factory worker’s kid” ( page 63), the negative of discrimination MUST be imposed upon someone in the presence of limited availability, independent of its cause.

    I felt no lasting animosity toward the more well off “non-whites” who benefited by the negative reallocation of discrimination I personally suffered, but I have personally felt discriminated against.

    I will not needlessly plead my poverty, which was greater than some other “non-whites” at the time.

    The calculus requires that I experience discrimination for remediation of a social ill, instead of those who have engineered their own positive goods in excess.

    That’s one of my reasons for my (futile) donations to the Sanders campaign.

  2. LFC September 30, 2019 at 6:50 pm | #

    Today I happened to run across Justin Driver’s The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind (2018), which contains a more positive assessment of Brown‘s overall legacy than was on display in the Crooked Timber comment thread on this post. I’m mentioning it here because the CT thread has closed (and in case some readers are looking at both blogs).

  3. KLG October 2, 2019 at 7:42 pm | #

    I’m eight years younger than Justice Thomas and from the same part of the world..Halfway through the book; as good as the reviewer says (which makes it as good as the first edition of The Reactionary Mind). Yes, Clarence Thomas is an enigma. But more than that, I think, his streak of misanthropy is wide and deep? And indiscriminate.

  4. Glenn October 6, 2019 at 11:34 am | #

    On page 152 “the so-called Reconstruction Amendments that abolished slavery” appropriates the language “abolish” to represent the conditional slavery left in place by Thirteenth Amendment.

    Conflating the absolute abolition of slavery with conditional slavery is a common error not commonly recognized by the vast majority. But what is not recognized as a problem cannot be eliminated.

    Thumbs up for your book.

  5. Glenn October 6, 2019 at 12:30 pm | #

    “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

    Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by American writer Douglas A. Blackmon makes plain that the exception in the Thirteenth Amendment enabled, and still enables state slave ownership and leasing of slaves while abolishing private sector ownership of slaves.

    California used convicts to fight fires and yet the private sector would not hire former prisoners because of their previous convictions and, I will assume, the availability of low or zero wage prisoners to replace liberated state slaves after release form state custody.

  6. Glenn October 8, 2019 at 4:00 pm | #

    Page 189 “Liberalism makes life more tractable…no one ever confronts the negative consequences of his actions; everyone is protected from loss and harm.”

    Clarence might well have made this statement about Obama’s bailout of Wall Street.

    The “Everyone” does not include Blacks who lost near everything in the Wall Street collapse.

  7. Glenn October 8, 2019 at 4:03 pm | #

    failed to say: “the liberalism of Obama’s bailout of Wall Street.”

  8. jonnybutter April 20, 2020 at 6:08 am | #

    Finally read ‘The Enigma..” Congratulations – It is excellent, as I knew it would be. So much to think about there, but an obvious thing: Do we know what Thomas made of post-Haj Malcolm?

    It’s the same Malcolm, but as far as I can tell, Thomas and the whole race-despair cohort, left and right, seem to forget that phenomenon. Spike Lee of course has some scenes about it, since his movie is a biography, but it’s just a blip, both temporally and (perhaps, therefore?) ideologically. It’s as if Thomas and the rest are, but Malcolm isn’t, allowed to have ‘mature thought’. Everyone wants to use Malcolm for their purposes, when he was alive and now. Elijah M. preferred the one he did, and Thomas et. al. prefer the one they do. But Malcolm grew and changed too!

    Despair is an indulgence, as any stern moralist will tell you. That’s easier to say than embody, but still true. An association of Thomas to Malcolm is extremely flattering to Thomas – they aren’t remotely in the same league.

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