Books by Lani Guinier

THE TYRANNY OF THE MERITOCRACY by Lani Guinier
NON-FICTION
Released: Jan. 13, 2015

"Drawing on academic research and anecdotal evidence, the book makes a strong pedagogical case but is short on specifics as to how we get from here to there."
From admission standards to teaching philosophy, a renowned academic calls for a paradigm shift in higher education. Read full book review >
WHO’S QUALIFIED? by Lani Guinier
NON-FICTION
Released: Aug. 15, 2001

"A well-intentioned proposal that is not quite ready for prime time."
A brief exchange about how best to ensure that all Americans have access to the most coveted schools and jobs. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

"A useful, provocative, wounded critique of the status quo."
A factually dense rebuke to (mostly white) liberals who "choose a colorblind vision" of politics, arguing that American society's ingrained racism requires effective race-centered policymaking. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: April 7, 1998

Legal scholar Guinier describes the experience that made her famous and the lessons she learned from it: President Clinton's withdrawal in 1993 of her nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights, under withering attack from conservatives. Guinier, recently appointed Harvard Law School's first tenured black female professor, insists in this half-autobiography, half-treatise that Clinton actually did her a favor, despite her anger over the way she was treated by hostile critics, a press too lazy to verify attacks levied against her, and a president who had once been her friend. "From a momentary crisis," she writes, "I retrieved the opportunity to become who I am": someone who now strives to emulate Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela by "pushing forward from behind." Guinier describes how she has relearned lessons from early in her career as a crusading lawyer for the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP, that lasting social change comes from the bottom up, from an energized citizenry, rather than from top-down fiats from legislators or administration bureaucrats. Guinier repeatedly hits readers over the head with lectures on participatory democracy and building from the grassroots. Also, her narrative would make more sense if she had placed her most important chapter at the beginning rather than near the end. In it, she defends her belief in proportional representation, which so outraged right-wing pundits in 1993. Her arguments for systems in which, basically, representation is based on the percentage of votes received, rather than winner-take-all, seem perfectly sensible. Certainly, just as her outnumbered defenders argued in 1993, there is nothing in her theories, which are modeled after numerous current and historical examples, to justify the vilification she received. Despite her tendency to pedantry, Guinier is an original and stimulating thinker whose ideas, in contrast to her last wide exposure to the public eye, may now get the broader and fairer airing they deserve. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: April 7, 1997

A look at how women are seduced and betrayed by our top law schools, by Clinton's controversial ex-nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights Guinier (Law/Univ. of Penn.; The Tyranny of the Majority, 1994) and two colleagues. Although women are matriculating at America's law schools in record numbers, they consistently underperform compared to their male classmates. According to this study of 981 male and female students at the elite University of Pennsylvania Law School between 1987 and 1992, female law students receive lower grades, achieve lower class ranks, earn fewer awards and honors, and take less prestigious jobs than males. Even more troubling, the women law students interviewed by Guinier, et al., report that the culture of law school, which ``emphasizes aggressiveness, legitimizes emotional detachment and demands speed,'' robs them of their ``voices,'' alienates and demoralizes them, and even endangers their mental health (as one woman put it: ``Guys think law school is hard, and we just think we're stupid''). The authors come down particularly hard on the so-called ``Socratic method'' used in most law school teaching; the ``ritualized combat'' of the technique silences many women whose learning styles are better suited to the cooperative environment of smaller-scale seminars, and teaches little more than ``how to ask rude questions.'' This brief study is hugely persuasive but sometimes a bit vague: Exactly what are the career options available to J.D.s who refuse to ask ``rude questions''? Exactly what are the long-term effects of three miserable postgraduate years? Occasionally, the focus is too narrow; for example, is it possible that women law graduates fail to take public-interest jobs not because they've been coopted by macho, corporate-friendly law-school culture, but because they need lucrative jobs to pay off staggering law-school debts? Despite the sometimes conclusory nature of the analysis, an important and startling work by a provocative national figure. (Author tour) Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: March 16, 1994

The nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights who was dumped by President Clinton in the face of right-wing pressure offers the academic writings that were distorted into soundbites and led to her being labeled a ``quota queen'' by the Wall Street Journal and others. Guinier (Law/Univ. of Pennsylvania) proclaims herself a ``democratic idealist,'' and in her introductory chapter she claims credibly that her ideas are not out of the mainstream. Unfortunately, as Yale law professor Stephen Carter (The Culture of Disbelief, 1993) states in a savvy preface, the withdrawal of Guinier's nomination deprived us of a chance at a ``national seminar'' on race and politics. Guinier's footnote-laden essays, aimed at academics, are heavy going, but her points are challenging. The Voting Rights Act, she argues, has been more successful in achieving the election of black officials than in altering the conditions of their constituents. She cogently suggests that winner-take-all voting systems that consistently exclude minorities are undemocratic. But she argues against remedy by gerrymandering, calling attention, in an example, to the status of blacks and Asians in New York City's new, geographically distorted ``Latino'' congressional district. Instead, she advocates cumulative voting, which is used in corporate elections. Thus, in at-large races for several seats, a minority voter can wield influence by clustering his or her several ballots for a preferred candidate. Yes, Guinier's view of the ideological homogeneity of African-Americans calls for debate, but her much-lambasted critique of who is an ``authentic'' black leader is actually fairly subtle, if murkily expressed. More an artifact than a full exposition of the issues involved, but a primary source response to a craven episode in nomination history. Read full book review >