Kirkus Reviews –
Graceful, authoritative memoir from the country's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. As a child in South Bronx public housing, Sotomayor was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Her Puerto Rican parents' struggles included a father's battle with alcoholism that would claim his life when Sotomayor was 9, leaving her mother, a former Women's Army Corps soldier turned nurse, to raise her. Time spent with her cousin, Catholic school friends and her beloved grandmother helped to calm the chaos of life in the projects. As Sotomayor entered adolescence, her mother's strong belief in education spurred the author to thrive in school and develop an appreciation for justice and the law. The author vividly narrates her scholarly adventures at Princeton, where she advocated for Latino faculty, and Yale Law School, where she dealt with smaller cases in preparation for the complexities of work in the district attorney's office. In 1992, she received an appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The author's text forms a cultural patchwork of memories and reflections as she mines the nuances of her parents' tumultuous relationship, fondly recalls family visits in Puerto Rico and offers insight on a judicial career that's just beginning when the memoir ends. Sotomayor writes that her decision (a shrewd one) to close her story early is based on both a political career she feels is "still taking shape" and a dignified reluctance to expand upon any recent high court "political drama," regardless of the general public's insatiable curiosity. Mature, life-affirmative musings from a venerable life shaped by tenacity and pride.
Today Show fourth-hour co-host Kotb (Hoda, 2010) tells the story of six people who faced extraordinary challenges in life and turned their lives around. The stories are heartbreaking. One woman's partner physically abused her for many years before she found the courage to stand up to him. After she broke away from him to regain custody of her children, she lost 325 pounds through exercise and diet. She now travels around the country talking to victims of domestic abuse. The second story is that of a young woman who fought two cancers and managed to preserve her fertility through freezing her eggs. Horrified that no doctor or nurse had discussed that option with her, she founded a nonprofit that raises awareness about fertility options for cancer patients. Another devastating story is that of a man who lost his sister on 9/11 at the exact same moment he was helping a burning woman stay alive. One story that does not fit with the others is that of Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt's Bees. In the afterword, Kotb writes that Quimby went from "organic rags to riches." While that is true, Quimby says that her poverty was a product of her own doings, as she chose to live in the forest to grow her own food. While Quimby is accomplished, it seems disrespectful and odd to put her story alongside those who faced challenges the world threw at them without giving them a choice. Despite the subjects' inspiring stories, the author fails to create a sense of purpose.
A supple and engaged journey into traditional societies and an exploration of their ways of life, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997). As Diamond writes (Geography/UCLA; Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2004, etc.), traditional societies--those that retain features of how our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years, with low population densities in small groups, subsisting on hunting-gathering, farming or herding, with little transformative contact with industrial societies--hold a fascination to many of us. They provide a window into how society used to be fashioned and how we have found, or not, solutions to human problems. Diamond's investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues--dispute resolution, child rearing, treatment of the elderly, alertness to dangers, etc.--is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience. As he notes, the range and complexity of traditional societies does not permit easy generalizations. The author compares these societies with our "state" societies to see where their attributes shine more favorably. He is unafraid of making some sweeping suggestions--"Increases in political centralization and social stratification were driven by increases in human population densities, driven in turn by the rise and intensification of food production (agriculture and herding)"--while also examining the dozens of other factors involved. Diamond's experience with traditional societies has opened him to certain aspects that we might adopt to our benefit, including multilingualism, the importance of lifelong social bonds, nursing and physical contact with children, constructive paranoia and the significance of the aged. A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.