JANET RENO by Paul Anderson


Doing the Right Thing
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 A lively, balanced portrait of the nation's first woman attorney general, by a Miami Herald reporter. As Anderson sees her, Reno is a ``righteous, buck-stops-here law-woman'' whose plain-spoken candor and high principles make her an unlikely player in Washington. Born to a beer-guzzling, alligator-wrestling mother in South Florida, Reno and her three siblings grew up ``wild, constantly adventurous,'' enthralled with nature, books, and Democratic politics. Her ambitious spirit brought her to Harvard Law School in 1960, where she endured the sexism of her professors to graduate well respected but, as she herself admits, ``certainly not near the top'' of her class. After a brief stint in private practice, Reno was tapped as Florida's first female state attorney, a post she held for 15 years, despite sometimes tempestuous relations with the black community. Anderson chronicles Reno's achievements as prosecutor as well as her failures. He provides a behind-the-scenes account of her torturous nomination and confirmation as attorney general, considers her surprising apotheosis as the nation's favorite ``awkward old maid,'' and dissects her uneasy relationship with President Clinton. Lest the reader think that Reno's bio is premature, he reminds us of the extraordinary events of her short tenure as attorney general, including Waco, the Lani Guinier nomination, and the World Trade Center bombing. Anderson praises Reno for her policy of disclosure and her role in the debate on crime while taking her to task for allowing her department to remain in a state of bureaucratic confusion. Anderson's style is crisp and accessible, and his view of Reno is admiring but fair. More might have been written on the nuances of her jurisprudence (such as her ``personal opposition'' to the death penalty, which she secured 103 times as Florida's top prosecutor), but this is far from a puff piece. A solid introduction to an American original, written with journalistic verve.

Pub Date: June 24th, 1994
ISBN: 0-471-01858-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1994