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.
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