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First: Sandra Day O'Connor

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Based on exclusive interviews and access to the Supreme Court archives, this is the intimate, inspiring, and authoritative biography of America's first female Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor--by New York Times bestselling author Evan Thomas. She was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set he Based on exclusive interviews and access to the Supreme Court archives, this is the intimate, inspiring, and authoritative biography of America's first female Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor--by New York Times bestselling author Evan Thomas. She was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set her sights on Stanford University. When she graduated near the top of her class at law school in 1952, no firm would even interview her. But Sandra Day O'Connor's story is that of a woman who repeatedly shattered glass ceilings--doing so with a blend of grace, wisdom, humor, understatement, and cowgirl toughness. She became the first-ever female majority leader of a state senate. As a judge on the Arizona State Court of Appeals, she stood up to corrupt lawyers and humanized the law. When she arrived at the Supreme Court, appointed by Reagan in 1981, she began a quarter-century tenure on the court, hearing cases that ultimately shaped American law. Diagnosed with cancer at fifty-eight, and caring for a husband with Alzheimer's, O'Connor endured every difficulty with grit and poise. Women and men today will be inspired by how to be first in your own life, how to know when to fight and when to walk away, through O'Connor's example. This is a remarkably vivid and personal portrait of a woman who loved her family and believed in serving her country, who, when she became the most powerful woman in America, built a bridge forward for the women who followed her.


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Based on exclusive interviews and access to the Supreme Court archives, this is the intimate, inspiring, and authoritative biography of America's first female Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor--by New York Times bestselling author Evan Thomas. She was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set he Based on exclusive interviews and access to the Supreme Court archives, this is the intimate, inspiring, and authoritative biography of America's first female Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor--by New York Times bestselling author Evan Thomas. She was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set her sights on Stanford University. When she graduated near the top of her class at law school in 1952, no firm would even interview her. But Sandra Day O'Connor's story is that of a woman who repeatedly shattered glass ceilings--doing so with a blend of grace, wisdom, humor, understatement, and cowgirl toughness. She became the first-ever female majority leader of a state senate. As a judge on the Arizona State Court of Appeals, she stood up to corrupt lawyers and humanized the law. When she arrived at the Supreme Court, appointed by Reagan in 1981, she began a quarter-century tenure on the court, hearing cases that ultimately shaped American law. Diagnosed with cancer at fifty-eight, and caring for a husband with Alzheimer's, O'Connor endured every difficulty with grit and poise. Women and men today will be inspired by how to be first in your own life, how to know when to fight and when to walk away, through O'Connor's example. This is a remarkably vivid and personal portrait of a woman who loved her family and believed in serving her country, who, when she became the most powerful woman in America, built a bridge forward for the women who followed her.

30 review for First: Sandra Day O'Connor

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Continuing my exploration of influential members of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), I turned to Evan Thomas and his biography of Sandra Day O’Connor. The life and times of the first woman who served on the Court proves not only to be interesting to the curious reader, but also quite informative in its exploration of key legal and policy themes the United States faced over that quarter century of her time as one of the nine Justices. Never the wallflower, Sandra Day grew up as a Continuing my exploration of influential members of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), I turned to Evan Thomas and his biography of Sandra Day O’Connor. The life and times of the first woman who served on the Court proves not only to be interesting to the curious reader, but also quite informative in its exploration of key legal and policy themes the United States faced over that quarter century of her time as one of the nine Justices. Never the wallflower, Sandra Day grew up as a rancher’s daughter in Texas and learned the ‘ropes’ from an early age. Thomas explains that Day learned the importance of hard work as a child, though her parents also felt there was a need for strong educational roots, sending her away to finishing school to smooth some of her rough edges. Always interested in learning, Day was accepted to Stanford at a time when women in post-secondary institutions was rare. Her interest in history and politics left her wanting more, paving the way for Stanford Law School, a domain where few women went and even fewer succeeded. There, she devoured all things related to the law and made some key friendships, none more than with William ‘Bill’ Rehnquist, a man who developed strong feelings for her and who would one day serve as Chief Justice on the Court. Thomas explores this platonic/romantic relationship between Day and Rehnquist, though the former did not feel the passion and sought love elsewhere. When Sandra Day met John O’Connor, it was a connection that few would ever doubt had great chance at longevity. This connection proves to be a theme for the rest of the biography, showing how dedicated the O’Connors were to one another. Armed with a law degree, Sandra O’Connor sought to find work, though she was dismissed from many law firms, offered only legal secretary positions. However, she refused to demean herself or the education she had, choosing to hang out her own shingle in Phoenix. O’Connor was able to work and make ends meet, while John secured work in one of the city’s larger firms. Thomas shows these parallel employment tracks of the two O’Connor lawyers, depicting how closed-minded many were in the 1950s. Taking time to start a family, Sandra showed a passion for all things familial, working as hard in the house as she had when sitting behind a desk. As her children grew, O’Connor turned back to her Republican roots and sought higher office to effect change. In a turn of fate, she was offered the chance to run for state senate in Arizona and served there, shaping laws and soon becoming the country’s first female state senate leader, even though the press made no notice of it. Her notoriety was not lost on the state and national scene, as she befriended the often outspoken and staunchly Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, who began circulating her name to key players in the political arena. Sandra O’Connor was a woman with a mission and her passion for the law could not be overlooked. Her ascension to the bench came in due time, where Sandra O’Connor was able to shape laws and interpret the US Constitution in key instances, paving the way for others to look to her, hoping to see how she would use her clout to shape women’s issues at a time when rights were coming to the forefront. During the 1980 US Presidential Election, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan vowed to make his first SCOTUS appointment be that of a woman. Paving the way for O’Connor, the opportunity arose in the summer of 1981, as Reagan chose Sandra O’Connor to fill a seat on the Court, even though many close to the president wanted him to renege on his promise. Reagan had little doubt that O’Connor would serve as a key conservative vote on the Court, while others were sure that women’s issues and affirmative action would be strengthen themes in rulings. O’Connor was breaking glass ceilings all over, though she was extremely modest in her advancements. As Thomas explores throughout, O’Connor did not want to be token woman who would buck the trend of her eight brethren, though she could not deny the new and fresh approach on the Court. Thomas spends much time exploring issues of affirmative action, abortion, race relations, constitutional interpretation, and social advancement throughout the biography, with all sides hoping to use O’Connor as a key player to various causes. She did not disappoint, but could not always be relied upon to vote a certain way, surprising pundits (and the president) on certain occasions. Thomas also spends time exploring the interactions that O’Connor had with her fellow Justices and clerks, positing an ever-evolving set of views and clashes that kept O’Connor’s life on the Court highly exciting. There was more to O’Connor than her writing Court decisions and deciphering some of the nuances of constitutional law. Thomas explores how she used her time on the Court to educate many to the importance of the law, be it within the United States or on the world scene. She would travel around the country—and the world—to speak to groups that valued her opinions, while leaving a lasting impact on world judicial pillars. As hard as it would be for the world to see Sandra Day O’Connor as a human like others, she had her own foibles. A fight with cancer brought O’Connor to her knees and forced her to accept that she could not always deflect life’s hard choices. Thomas shows her vulnerable side throughout, when she was handed news and would breakdown in her chambers or at home. The strength of her family foundation was able to keep her from falling apart, but the reader will discover a woman who had her own issues and yet found ways to overcome them in her own way. Slowly, John O’Connor began to fade as well, though it was Alzheimer’s that took him down a path towards confusion and a degree of isolation. Justice O’Connor did her best to juggle her role as one of the nine, as well as be the dutiful wife to keep John comfortable. When there was little chance of her being able to do both, Sandra O’Connor chose family above country and decided that it was time to retire. Thomas engages in an interesting banter around O’Connor’s retirement and the illness of Chief Justice Rehnquist, which serves as an interesting parallel to their early relationship five decades before. While she was out of Court proceedings, Sandra O’Connor was never far from the pulse of legal progress locally and around the world. Her impact would not soon be forgotten, and remains vibrant to this day! Evan Thomas captivates readers with his paced biography, giving Sandra Day O’Connor both a heroic nature and down to earth mentality as she navigated through life in the spotlight. While many created O’Connor into an icon for the women’s movement, shaping decisions from the bench, she was quite independent in her views and would not always vote to expand rights for the sake of doing so. Thomas uses extensive research to shape his narrative, including interviews, Court documents, and judicial opinions to offer a thorough view of the first woman to sit on SCOTUS, paving the way for other women who now sit and shape American policy. Thomas explores key themes in American politics and constitutional interpretation, including some issues that remain buzzwords today. Thomas effectively argues that O’Connor moved the discussion forward, though could not always be seen to give a final flavour to the discussion. The biography is highly educational, though Thomas is able to entertain in this easy to digest tome. The curious reader will take much away from this book and can use Thomas’ work as a wonderful launching pad to further exploration of O’Connor’s life or the intricacies of American jurisprudence. There is so much to learn and Evan Thomas takes readers on an adventure they will not soon forget, glorifying Sandra Day O’Connor without turning her into a sainted being. Kudos, Mr. Thomas, for a sensational biography of a wonderful American icon. While this was my first piece of your work, it will definitely not be the last. This Book fulfils Topic #5: Humbly Herculean in the Equinox #7 Book Challenge. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/ A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    As 2019 nears its third completed mark, my reading focus has become primarily nonfiction as I participate in the first annual group reading challenge in the Nonfiction Book Club here on goodreads. I have honed in on reading biographies and memoirs of remarkable women as a theme for the year. Recently, I noted that it would take be an indefinite amount of time to read about all the remarkable and trailblazing women of interest to me, much more than the time allotted by women's history month. In t As 2019 nears its third completed mark, my reading focus has become primarily nonfiction as I participate in the first annual group reading challenge in the Nonfiction Book Club here on goodreads. I have honed in on reading biographies and memoirs of remarkable women as a theme for the year. Recently, I noted that it would take be an indefinite amount of time to read about all the remarkable and trailblazing women of interest to me, much more than the time allotted by women's history month. In time for women's history month, United States biographer extraordinaire Evan Thomas has published a new biography on the woman once known as the most powerful woman in America, Sandra Day O'Connor. Along with his wife Oscie, Thomas interviewed countless friends and family of O'Connor as he performed a labor of love to pay homage to the first woman of the Supreme Court. Sandra Day was born on March 26, 1930 to Harry and Ada Mae Day of the Lazy B Ranch in Arizona. An only child for the first nine years of her life, young Sandra played on the grounds of the vast ranch that her family called home and turned to ranch hands and the family's numerous animals as playmates. Harry instilled in his children a life of discipline whereas Ada Mae strove to remain a cultured woman even in the dusty environs as a rancher's wife. She taught her children to love reading and stayed dressed in the classy modes of the era in which she lived. When it came time for Sandra to start school, she boarded with her maternal grandmother Mamie Wilkey of El Paso, Texas. Having skipped a grade, Sandra was shy around her classmates; while she learned to appreciate the Tex Mex culture of El Paso, she longed for summer vacations at the Lazy B and never fit in amongst her school mates. Striving for independence, Sandra lobbied her parents to allow her to live at home and undergo a seventy mile bus ride in each direction to attend public high school in Lourdsburg, New Mexico. While she was able to be home, the level of education in Lourdsburg was not up to the Days' standards. Always the overachiever, Sandra skipped another grade in school and returned to El Paso for her senior year. It was in El Paso that classmates first noted that Sandra somehow knew that she was destined for more than a life as a wife and mother. To achieve these dreams, her next stop would be Stanford University. Harry Day had wanted to attend Stanford as a young man but the onset of the depression and maintaining his family's landholdings prevented him from doing so. Harry was thus overjoyed when his daughter Sandra entered the school in 1946 at age sixteen. The years after World War II showed an influx of male students returning from service who attended colleges on the GI Bill; male students would outnumber their female counterparts by more than three to one. Sandra, although young for her age, had no shortage of suitors for this reason, one of whom was William Rehnquist of Wisconsin. Smitten by Sandra, the two would enjoy a professional and friendly relationship for the rest of their lives. While in a program that allowed her to complete undergraduate and law school in six years, Sandra fell for John O'Connor. Bill Rehnquist had his heart broken temporarily and longed for Sandra while clerking for the Supreme Court following graduation at the top of his Stanford class. Sandra finished second yet upon applying for jobs at top firms, the only answer she received was "how fast can you type." John O'Connor joined the armed forces, and the new couple moved to Germany for the duration of the Korean War years. Sandra found work as a paralegal, setting the groundwork for a long career on American soil. Upon returning to the United States, the O'Connors chose the up and coming city of Phoenix to be their home city. John quickly found work at a top firm in the city whereas Sandra had to "hang her own shingle" at a public defender's office. This work influenced Sandra to have an eye on civics and community service for the rest of her long career. The O'Connors first demonstrated their attention to service by successfully lobbying their Paradise Valley community to keep the City of Phoenix from annexing it. They rose to hobnob with the movers and shakers of Phoenix, entertaining top politicians at their modest adobe home. Both Sandra and John started to rise professionally as well, John at his firm and Sandra as the leader of the Arizona State House and then on the State Court of Appeals. After successfully lobbying politicians to vet their old friend William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court in 1971, top brass in the Republican party took notice of the female judge in Arizona. By the late 1970s during the Carter presidency, the conservative Ronald Reagan wooed women's votes and noted that if a vacancy came up in the Supreme Court during his term, he thought it was time to appoint the first woman. Although not as qualified as the other candidates, Sandra Day O'Connor made President Reagan's short list. September 25, 1981 saw Sandra Day O'Connor introduced as the first woman of the Supreme Court and would remain the Court's only woman for the next twelve years. It had taken a career balancing family first and work to get to the pinnacle of her career. Evan Thomas balances Sandra's private and public life seeming effortlessly in order to paint a picture of a pragmatist who took the middle ground during her two and a half decades on the court. Upon entering the United States' highest court, O'Connor quickly added women's touches to personalize her workplace. Women's aerobics at 8 am became a mandatory part of all women employees day, and weekly justice lunches allowed the justices to have contact with one another in a personalized setting. Before O'Connor's arrival on the bench, the justices rarely saw each other than at oral arguments, dubbing the court as nine separate law offices. Besides providing a voice of reason between liberals and conservatives O'Connor hired clerks under the auspices that they would be hard workers and receive an education on life, not just jurisprudence. Taking her clerks on field trips throughout the Washington area culminating with an annual hike to the Cherry Blossom Festival, O'Connor gave her clerks lessons in culture and civics, and, despite the heavy workload, reminded them to always put family first. Evan Thomas demonstrates how Sandra O'Connor put family before work in his moving sections about John O'Connor. A hard worker in his own right, John sacrificed a top career in Phoenix to allow his wife to rise to prominence. While in Washington he joined a middle firm and the O'Connors established themselves as the talk of the town, both professionally and publicly. In order to establish a social life apart from his famous wife, John O'Connor joined gentleman's clubs around the city and reveled in the company of high achieving men. An accomplished story teller and joke deliverer, in some regards John O'Connor was better company than his better well known wife. Although he had to give up a career, he took the backseat to his wife at a time when women were first breaking through the glass ceiling politically. John enjoyed a sometime comical, all time cordial relationship with Denis Thatcher, the husband of Margaret and brought husbands of female senators into their exclusive club. Both O'Connors enjoyed traveling apart from their careers and maintained lifelong relationships with circles of friends in both Phoenix and Washington. From their sons' interviews with Thomas, it is apparent that they enjoyed a loving relationship for the duration of their long marriage. Sandra O'Connor remained a voice of reason for her two and a half decades on the Supreme Court bench. Often she was a deciding vote on 5-4 decisions on key issues including abortion, affirmative action, and fourteenth amendment cases. While conservatives hoped that O'Connor would remain so for her entire career, voting with the Rehnquist block, O'Connor voted on a case by case basis, taking women and children's rights to heart, and encouraging her clerks to do so as well. Writing concurrent decisions so often and taking the middle ground as the nation became more polarized, pundits dubbed the court the "O'Connor Court" even though Sandra's old friend William Rehnquist had at the time long been elevated to Chief Justice. O'Connor's childhood at the Lazy B Ranch shaped her professional thought process and she never slowed down, even after a bout with cancer, adding the moniker of cancer survivor to her long list of achievements. Yet, as Thomas repeatedly pointed out, if a family obligation interfered with a vote, Sandra O'Connor expertly balanced the two. This was ever clear in the poignant later chapters of O'Connor's career when she had to decide between advancing her career and caring for John who had developed Alzheimer's, a disease that had already claimed her mother. Wanting to retire while there was still a Republican president in office to ensure a conservative successor, Sandra O'Connor stepped down from the Supreme Court in 2005 after a trailblazing twenty five year career on the bench. Although in the throes of a disease that would claim him five years later, John O'Connor noted at the time that "she could have been President." I have noted many times that one of my heroes is Jackie Robinson because of his role in advancing civil rights in this country. Evan Thomas notes that Sandra Day O'Connor deserves equal recognition to Robinson for her being the first and inspiring a generation of women and beyond to seek out careers in politics. Today there are three women Supreme Court justices, one of whom, Elena Kagan, resides in the office once used by Sandra Day O'Connor. A generation ago this would have been unfathomable. The Arizona State University School of Law has been renamed in her honor, and in 2009 Sandra Day O'Connor received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her trailblazing life. At eighty nine years old, O'Connor is battling Alzheimer's and lives in an assisted living facility, yet, thankfully, Evan and Oscie Thomas interviewed her for this project while she was still lucid enough to annunciate on most memories. While I will continue to read about remarkable women throughout 2019, the life of Sandra Day O'Connor will be one of my crown jewels. To use a pun that John O'Connor would have been proud of, Evan Thomas has done justice to this trailblazing first woman of the Supreme Court. *5 stars*

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    I have read Joan Biskupic’s biography of Sandra Day O’Connor (1930-) and have read O’Connor’s memoirs and other books. Thomas’s book was written after she retired from the Court so contains more information about her later life. Thomas also had access to John O’Connor’s papers, diary and unpublished memoir. The book is well written and meticulously researched. Thomas interviewed almost all of O’Connor’s law clerks and staff as well as friends and colleagues. I found the information about how eac I have read Joan Biskupic’s biography of Sandra Day O’Connor (1930-) and have read O’Connor’s memoirs and other books. Thomas’s book was written after she retired from the Court so contains more information about her later life. Thomas also had access to John O’Connor’s papers, diary and unpublished memoir. The book is well written and meticulously researched. Thomas interviewed almost all of O’Connor’s law clerks and staff as well as friends and colleagues. I found the information about how each of the male Justices had to adapt (or not) to a female Justice interesting. I found the lunch meeting between O’Connor and Ginsburg most interesting. This meeting took place just after O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court and long before Ginsburg was appointed to the Court. Thomas provided a number of insights as well as material not covered in prior books. This book is well worth the read. I noted how far women attorneys have come since the day O’Connor graduated from Stanford Law School and found out that firms would not hire women. I read this as an e-book on my Kindle app for my iPad. There were lots of photographs. I wished I had the photograph with all the women Justices together. The book was 455 pages and published by Random House.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    An inspiring and enlightening autobiography of a most amazing woman. SUMMARY Sandra Day was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set her sights on Stanford University. She graduated near the top of her law school class in 1952, but no firm would even interview her. Sandra Day O’Connor’s story is that of a woman who repeatedly shattered glass ceilings—with a blend of grace, wisdom, humor, understatement, and tough An inspiring and enlightening autobiography of a most amazing woman. SUMMARY Sandra Day was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. At a time when women were expected to be homemakers, she set her sights on Stanford University. She graduated near the top of her law school class in 1952, but no firm would even interview her. Sandra Day O’Connor’s story is that of a woman who repeatedly shattered glass ceilings—with a blend of grace, wisdom, humor, understatement, and toughness. She became the first ever female majority leader of a state senate. As a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, she stood up to corrupt lawyers and humanized the law. When she arrived at the United States Supreme Court, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she began a quarter-century tenure on the Court, hearing cases that ultimately shaped American law. Diagnosed with cancer at fifty-eight, and caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s, O’Connor endured every difficulty with grit and poise. REVIEW Absolutely loved this authoritative and well-sourced autobiography of Sandra Day O’Connor, who became the most powerful woman in America. Sources include Supreme Court internal records, and interviews with O’Connor, and many of her clerks, friends and family. FIRST draws a fabulous portrait of her childhood, her personal life, and her twenty-five years on the bench. The writing is superb. I cried when I read the explanation of her appointment to the Supreme Court, just as I had when she was actually appointed in 1981. I loved hearing about her thoughtful deliberations on the tough issues of discrimination and abortion. I laughed at the many funny stories of dancing, making jokes and having a good time. I enjoyed reading about her jovial husband John, and how he dealt with being married to the “most powerful woman” in America. I was captivated at many details of her relationships and interactions with the other justices. Being from Florida, one of my favorite parts of the book was the chapter on Bush v. Gore. Not because I necessarily liked the outcome, but because I now finally understand the rationale behind it. FIRST is an inspiring and enlightening autobiography of an amazing woman. The book is smartly structured and is bounding with magnificent personal and professional details. Highly recommended. Author Evan Thomas is the author of nine books including two NYT best sellers: John Paul Jones and Sea of Thunder. Thomas was a writer, correspondent, and editor for thirty-three years at Time and Newsweek, including ten years (1986–96) as Washington bureau chief at Newsweek, where, at the time of his retirement in 2010, he was editor at large. Thanks to Netgalley, Evan Thomas and Random House for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Publisher Random House Published March 19, 2019 Review www.bluestockingreviews.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lorna

    First: Sandra Day O'Connor was a meticulously researched biography by Evan Thomas. In addition to complete access to all of the documents and personal papers in Justice O'Connor's chambers at the Supreme Court and in the Library of Congress, there were countless interviews with Justice O'Connor and her family in Phoenix, as well as speaking with Justice O'Connor's law clerks and friends throughout the country. Seven justices spoke with Evan Thomas in their chambers, including John Paul Stevens, First: Sandra Day O'Connor was a meticulously researched biography by Evan Thomas. In addition to complete access to all of the documents and personal papers in Justice O'Connor's chambers at the Supreme Court and in the Library of Congress, there were countless interviews with Justice O'Connor and her family in Phoenix, as well as speaking with Justice O'Connor's law clerks and friends throughout the country. Seven justices spoke with Evan Thomas in their chambers, including John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kegan. Sandra Day was born in El Paso, Texas in 1930 to parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day. Taken home to the Lazy B Ranch located in the southwest in Arizona bordering on New Mexico, the ranch had no electricity, telephone or hot water, but Sandra loved the Lazy B Ranch and the big sky and vistas. O'Connor always felt that in the unforgiving vastness of the high desert, she had learned to be selfless and self-reliant. Being alone for the first nine years of her childhood, she had wild creatures for pets, including a bobcat and a baby coyote. Chico was her favorite horse, patiently waiting for her to climb back on whenever she would tumble off. She was driving as soon as she could see over the steering wheel. Because of the remote location of the Lazy B Ranch, she spent time with her maternal grandmother in El Paso, attending school. She graduated from high school at age 16 and was admitted to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, falling in love with the architecture and academia. She went on to Stanford Law School, and was on the Stanford Law Review, graduating near the top of her class. She was classmates with Chief Justice William Rehnquist; they remained friends until his death. After graduation, she married John O'Connor and after a stint in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany, the O'Connor's decided to make their home in Phoenix, Arizona. John was able to find a job right away with a prestigious law firm while Justice O'Connor was asked if she could type; law firms weren't hiring women as lawyers. Not to be stopped, she began practice with a partner in a storefront law firm. Eventually, she went on to serve in the Arizona legislature elected to be the first female majority leader, which she always felt was invaluable to her tenure on the United States Supreme Court. From there she went on to serve as a judge in Arizona. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to become the first female justice on the Supreme Court. The president said, "she was a person for all seasons." Justice O'Connor saw herself as a bridge between an era where women were protected and submissive toward an era of true equality between the sexes. O'Connor was the most powerful Supreme Court Justice of her time. From October 1981 to January 2006, O'Connor was the controlling vote on many of the great societal issues, including abortion, affirmative action, voting rights and religious freedom. After retirement, she continued to be an ambassador and traveled throughout the United States and the world. On August 12, 2009, Justice O'Connor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, praising her for building "a bridge behind her for all young women to follow." "Women's rights would become a quiet cause for Justice O'Connor--never frontally embraced as an activist on the model of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. . . .but slowly and surely furthered and fostered in her judicial opinions." "While O'Connor's jurisprudence is not easily pigeonholed, her method of deciding cases falls into the philosophic tradition of pragmatism." "The Court is an essential part of a long process of melding attitudes and mores with the law of the land. Rarely is there a last word. Sometimes the Court gets ahead of public opinion, or at least some well-entrenched sectors of opinion--notably in the 1954 school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, and the 1973 abortion case, Roe v. Wade. (The country eventually caught up on desegregation; it remains divided on abortion)." "For more than two decades, during tumultuous times, she had kept the Court centered." "As you walk up the wide steps of the Supreme Court, you pass between two grand marble statues, on the right a man (Authority of Law) and on the left a woman (Contemplation of Justice). Until Sandra O'Connor arrived, every justice had been a man. She knew the burden she carried. . . More than an activist for women's rights, she had to play the role of Lady Justice, holding the scales. She brought to her job the wisdom that can come from personal suffering, from having a great love and losing it, from being a daughter and a mother as well as a role model for millions of women."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    “First” is a in-depth biography of one of the most remarkable women in American history. In many ways, Justice O’Connor has not received the recognition she deserves for being such a groundbreaking figure. Based on over a hundred interviews with friends, family members, fellow justices, and almost all of her law clerks, First offers a wide sweeping portrait of O’Connor from her beginnings on a dusty Arizona ranch hours from the nearest city to her final years when she left the Court to care for “First” is a in-depth biography of one of the most remarkable women in American history. In many ways, Justice O’Connor has not received the recognition she deserves for being such a groundbreaking figure. Based on over a hundred interviews with friends, family members, fellow justices, and almost all of her law clerks, First offers a wide sweeping portrait of O’Connor from her beginnings on a dusty Arizona ranch hours from the nearest city to her final years when she left the Court to care for her husband as he suffered from late-stage Alzheimer’s. The first part of the book traces her early years in the Day Ranch as O’Connor grew up and formed her values. The story follows her to Stanford where she met and dated future Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist. But, even graduating from a top university with stellar grades only garnered her job offers as a legal secretary, not as a lawyer. Their loss! O’Connor worked her way from the bottom to become the Majority Leader of the Arizona Senate and then a judicial appointment to state court. Her struggles and success in the Arizona Legislature are detailed here but are not as compelling as the rest of her story. The story then turns to what made her famous: her appointment to the Supreme Court by President Reagan. Like the Brethren, Evans details for us the inner workings of the High Court, but with O’Connor as the center hub of the story, not Brennan. Evans both humanizes O’Connor and her fellow justices. Major court decisions are discussed as are the inner court debates on how to decide the cases. The discussion is at a level which is complex enough to appeal to a legal audience and to lay readers as well (I think). This biography is well-researched, well-detailed, and leaves one with an appreciation for what a remarkable person Justice O’Connor was and what a remarkable life she led. Many thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    This was one of those surprises - an available book at the library! Not one waved at me on FB or Audible or GR or Kindle sellers. . . .sometimes I worry that all I'm reading is what is being marketed at me. . . .so this was fun. A library book waiting for check-in, that I got to scoop up! This was fantastic - it was SOC's (Sandra O'Connor) story from the very beginning to now - all she has been through, and although it is a biography and not autobiographical, I think it is as close as she would c This was one of those surprises - an available book at the library! Not one waved at me on FB or Audible or GR or Kindle sellers. . . .sometimes I worry that all I'm reading is what is being marketed at me. . . .so this was fun. A library book waiting for check-in, that I got to scoop up! This was fantastic - it was SOC's (Sandra O'Connor) story from the very beginning to now - all she has been through, and although it is a biography and not autobiographical, I think it is as close as she would comfortably come in letting the public in, and that felt good to me. No big reveals or curtains to pull back leaving a trembling Oz. The writing was good, not earthshaking - I didn't find myself stopping to savor words or sentences like you do with some books - and that's ok. I wanted her story and I got it, steady and square and reporter-like. It was a fair deal all the way around. In these pages you get the view of what it took to be the first woman on the supreme court (and how many men it took to get her there, besides her own skills and smarts). Politics during the 60s - 90s are featured, the reader gets an inside view of Supreme Court justice interworkings, how to raise a family and be a judge and a caregiver - all at once - and well, If any of these are of interest to you, I recommend it highly!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Sciuto

    Evan Thomas' "First: Sandra Day O'Connor" is an intimate, unbiased, resourceful, and beautifully written portrait of the first woman Supreme Court Justice. Appointed to the court by President Reagan in 1981 one could easily make the case that she was the most important justice over the next twenty-five years. As Mr. Evan points out, it was her minimalist approach to the law and court opinions and her ability to relate present day society to the law that allowed the court from going too far to th Evan Thomas' "First: Sandra Day O'Connor" is an intimate, unbiased, resourceful, and beautifully written portrait of the first woman Supreme Court Justice. Appointed to the court by President Reagan in 1981 one could easily make the case that she was the most important justice over the next twenty-five years. As Mr. Evan points out, it was her minimalist approach to the law and court opinions and her ability to relate present day society to the law that allowed the court from going too far to the left or the right... Protecting the rights of women and minorities, families and children from the radical ideas some of her fellow justices were trying to hammer into law or, in many cases totally remove the progress the country had made on issues of race and human rights. I highly recommend this book. It is not only a look at the life of an amazing lady, but it also gives the reader an inside look into the Supreme Court that is easy to understand and process.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Missy

    First: Sandra Day O'Connor, by Evan Thomas, is the first biography I have read about Sandra Day O'Connor. Clearly, a lot of research went into the book, but unfortunately the writing is disorganized and lacks focus. The introduction of her early life, her wonderful marriage to John, and her early career is well done. Her upbringing and marital support gave her the fortitude to face the sexist challenges of her time. But beginning with the Supreme Court appointment, the book breaks down. The narr First: Sandra Day O'Connor, by Evan Thomas, is the first biography I have read about Sandra Day O'Connor. Clearly, a lot of research went into the book, but unfortunately the writing is disorganized and lacks focus. The introduction of her early life, her wonderful marriage to John, and her early career is well done. Her upbringing and marital support gave her the fortitude to face the sexist challenges of her time. But beginning with the Supreme Court appointment, the book breaks down. The narrative bounces around chronologically, and it is full of details of court cases that did not serve to tell Sandra Day O'Connor's story. I felt the author needed to choose between a book about case law, or a book about SDC. There are interesting nuggets in each chapter, but I was often skimming after chapter 7. The description of her post-retirement years is quite unflattering. While it's important to be truthful, I think some interview comments could have been left out for the sake of graciousness. iCivics is a wonderful program, and perhaps more could have been said about that and less about her bossiness and rudeness. An advance copy of this book was provided to me by Netgalley.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    One of the reasons I read several books at the same time is to lessen the sense of loss I can experience when I finish an exceptionally good book, that feeling of, "Oh, no. It's all over. Now what do I do?" It doesn't always work. In the case of" First: Sandra Day O'Connor" it didn't. I am bereft. Author Even Thomas brought this wonderful woman into my life and made me respect her in ways I never had taken the time to before. While she was working hard for women to have the right to live the li One of the reasons I read several books at the same time is to lessen the sense of loss I can experience when I finish an exceptionally good book, that feeling of, "Oh, no. It's all over. Now what do I do?" It doesn't always work. In the case of" First: Sandra Day O'Connor" it didn't. I am bereft. Author Even Thomas brought this wonderful woman into my life and made me respect her in ways I never had taken the time to before. While she was working hard for women to have the right to live the lives they wanted, I was bravely living that life. I was a stay at home mom while most of my peers continued to work outside the home while raising their children. In fact, there was a one year period when I was the only person home on my block during business hours. Justice O'Connor was a hard woman to peg. She was a conservative who often sided with the liberal justices, and not for the same reasons they did. She believed in the rule of law, but judged individual cases in its own merits. To this day, it is not sure where she personally stood on abortion. Her family life was happy and fulfilling. Nothing better can be said on that. I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. I have no hesitation in recommending "First: Sandra Day O'Connor" to my family, friends and fellow book lovers. I want to thank Random House and Goodreads for giving me a copy of this book to read and review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Scott Hitchcock

    Well told. While not lingering on any faults of SOC they are pointed out. An amazing woman who was able to look at each case on merit and not get caught up in political dogma.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    **Netgalley provided me with a DRC of this work In exchange for an honest review** Superb. Top five of the biographies I’ve read in the past five years. The cyclical storytelling of this phenomenal account of SOC’s life, does not feel like the momentous (nearly) 500 page monster that it is, because it flows so wonderfully. Each segment is hinted at in the chapter’s title page, and the photographs included drew me into each section, anticipating the details. This book had so many pieces of incredibl **Netgalley provided me with a DRC of this work In exchange for an honest review** Superb. Top five of the biographies I’ve read in the past five years. The cyclical storytelling of this phenomenal account of SOC’s life, does not feel like the momentous (nearly) 500 page monster that it is, because it flows so wonderfully. Each segment is hinted at in the chapter’s title page, and the photographs included drew me into each section, anticipating the details. This book had so many pieces of incredible history, lovely, thought-provoking insights and a rich blend of sentiment and shocking, political revelations to keep historians, political junkies and curious readers all transfixed. I loved reading about Day O’Connor’s tough side: forgetting to buckle in her son and her grabbing him from the side of the road, dusting him off, and continuing to drive; loving outdoor adventure; telling certain justices what to do; doing aerobics days after cancer surgery.... But her heart also was evident in anecdotes about helping her staffers who were working moms, weeping over the death of her father and retirements of friends, her fear of being forced to slow down after breast cancer...and sentencing people to prison sentences in her younger days. This is very well-written and profound. A biographical gem.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    One of the better biographies I have read in a while. I knew very little about Sandra Day O'Connor other than the fact that she was the first female Supreme Court Justice. I really enjoyed learning about her life in the Southwest and appreciated her approach to work and success. She never made excuses, was direct in her approach, was disciplined in her habits, and she expected others to be the same in these areas. She was tough on her clerks, but also tried to mentor and look out for them. In he One of the better biographies I have read in a while. I knew very little about Sandra Day O'Connor other than the fact that she was the first female Supreme Court Justice. I really enjoyed learning about her life in the Southwest and appreciated her approach to work and success. She never made excuses, was direct in her approach, was disciplined in her habits, and she expected others to be the same in these areas. She was tough on her clerks, but also tried to mentor and look out for them. In her decisions as a Justice, she would often look at the real life impact of the cases, and also stayed away from making definitive rulings in an effort to allow the states, legislatures, and society work out difficult moral issues. Her love with her husband was special to read about, and his eventual death to Alzheimers was sad and tragic. A fascinating life and I highly recommend this book to all readers.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    An inspiring, and well-researched, biography of the nation's first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. The author may be among the last to interview the former Justice (now in assisted living), and had numerous interviews with her former law clerks, colleagues (including other Justices), and family friends. He had rare access to her private papers and seems to have done formidible reasearch at the Library of Congress and at the Court. He follows her life from her early days on a ranch on the Arizona An inspiring, and well-researched, biography of the nation's first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. The author may be among the last to interview the former Justice (now in assisted living), and had numerous interviews with her former law clerks, colleagues (including other Justices), and family friends. He had rare access to her private papers and seems to have done formidible reasearch at the Library of Congress and at the Court. He follows her life from her early days on a ranch on the Arizona-New Mexico border to her school days. She goes on to six years in combined undergraduate and law studies at Stanford, where she was classmates with, and briefly dated, the future Chief Justice William Rehnquist. We learn of her graduation with honors and, as a woman, being offered nothing at law firms but secretarial work. Even a dozen years after graduation, after she had married John O'Connor and moved to Phoenix, she was unable to join a law firm. Her husband was a partner in a top law firm while she had to hang out her shingle in a Phoenix strip mall. Nonetheless, she and her husband would raise a family and rise in Phoenix society and Republican politics, and she would get an appointment to the state senate -- a rough legislature and rude male colleagues, we're told -- and eventually to a position as a state court judge. We find how the times had changed so that, when Ronald Reagan became president, he would want a female Supreme Court appointment, and how O'Connor, then a state appellate judge, would be chosen. Most of the book, therefore, is of her time on the Court from 1981-2006. The book tells us much about the Court's work in those years, its internal dynamics and O'Connor's role, more and more, as a swing vote. As a legal history of the Court in those times, the book is valuable. It was a period of major, sometimes harshly controversial, rulings on everything from abortion to affirmative action to the Bush v. Gore election of 2000. As someone who has studied, and followed, constitutional law, I can say that it's a well-told and detailed look at the Court in those times, and of the bigger-than-life personalities that served alongside her: Brennan, Rehnquist, Scalia, Thurgood Marshall, and the rest. We get a sensitive discussion of her tragedies as well: her husband's creeping dementia, the creeping infirmities of her own aging, the decision of when, and how well-timed, was to be her retirement. That she was balancing all this, during her final years, with contentious and momentous caseloads says much. Highly recommend, not just to legal scholars but to anyone interested in this country's social history in the last quarter of the 20th Century. Highest recommendation.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jeimy

    I read this two weeks after reading Jane Sherron De Hart's Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life. While I enjoyed learning more about O'Connor's life, I could not help to compare the two works and this one felt lacking. It seem to focus more on O'Connor's private life than how she moved up the legal ladder to her position as Arizona's assistant Attorney General. I wanted to learn more about landmark cases she argued. O'Connor is a figure I knew little about, except for her pioneering role as first female I read this two weeks after reading Jane Sherron De Hart's Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life. While I enjoyed learning more about O'Connor's life, I could not help to compare the two works and this one felt lacking. It seem to focus more on O'Connor's private life than how she moved up the legal ladder to her position as Arizona's assistant Attorney General. I wanted to learn more about landmark cases she argued. O'Connor is a figure I knew little about, except for her pioneering role as first female Supreme Court Judge. I hoped this book would make me appreciate her the way I appreciate RBG, but alas, it was not meant to be.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    For a big dose of inspiration, I highly recommend reading this book, though I must admit I felt like an underachiever! I suspected Sandra Day O’Connor had impeccable credentials and connections in order to be appointed the first woman on the Supreme Court, but never would have imagined the hurdles she climbed to get there. She beat great odds as only 300 of more than 8,700 judges in the United States were women (and only 8 of 520 federal judges). The first chapters introduce Sandra growing up on For a big dose of inspiration, I highly recommend reading this book, though I must admit I felt like an underachiever! I suspected Sandra Day O’Connor had impeccable credentials and connections in order to be appointed the first woman on the Supreme Court, but never would have imagined the hurdles she climbed to get there. She beat great odds as only 300 of more than 8,700 judges in the United States were women (and only 8 of 520 federal judges). The first chapters introduce Sandra growing up on her family’s huge Lazy B ranch, working as hard as any of its male ranch hands. Her father was a tough nut but also Sandra’s biggest supporter. How she was raised seems to have played a significant role in building her strong and disciplined character. Fresh out of Stanford, Sandra was unable to find work in a law practice despite her already significant achievements, the partners’ beliefs that only men could be capable lawyers. She was offered a job as a secretary instead! She eventually found work as a deputy district attorney and worked her way up the corporate ladder. Her resume is impressive, the unwavering support and love of her family incredible. Sandra was a true pioneer, forging uncharted territory through smarts, hard work and lots of relationship building. Her ideas could be called radical for the times yet spot on perfect, eventually earning well-deserved respect at the highest levels of government. She made significant contributions pre-and post- Supreme court, and her Supreme Court record was impeccable. Sandra seemed to not only care about the rule of the law, but she cared about people and was meticulous in her research to arrive at opinions. Her story is so compelling. Sadly, she was diagnosed with dementia in 2018.Thanks to Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  17. 4 out of 5

    SusanS

    Book Court - Where I'm the Judge and Jury CHARGE (What is the author trying to say?): To write a biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman justice of the US Supreme Court that strikes a balance between her personal relationships and her judicial philosophy. FACTS: This is an excellent biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, based upon exclusive interviews and first-time access to her archives. She grew up on a ranch in Arizona, as her father’s pet, and graduated from Stanford and Stanford Law Sc Book Court - Where I'm the Judge and Jury CHARGE (What is the author trying to say?): To write a biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman justice of the US Supreme Court that strikes a balance between her personal relationships and her judicial philosophy. FACTS: This is an excellent biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, based upon exclusive interviews and first-time access to her archives. She grew up on a ranch in Arizona, as her father’s pet, and graduated from Stanford and Stanford Law School as an excellent student. She was surprised to learn that no law firm would hire her, only being offered a position as a secretary. During law school I was surprised to learn she dated William Rehnquist, and he even proposed to her, but she ultimately married another law student, John O’Connor. Through stints in private practice, the Arizona State Legislature, and the Superior Court bench, O’Connor raised three sons, was a member of the Junior League, and managed a household. Through snippets of actual conversations, news articles, and correspondence, the author tells a highly readable and credible story of the coming of age of female attorneys in the US. When Ken Starr and Jon Rose came to interview O’Connor as a candidate for the US Supreme Court, she wowed them with her judicial knowledge, personality, and also her salmon mousse. Her nomination by President Reagan on July 6, 1981, gave women a glimpse into a future that had once been inaccessible to them. The book chronicles many of the cases which came before O’Connor on the court, including abortion rights and probably her most difficult – Bush v. Gore. The author achingly describes her husband John’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which ultimately led to her retirement from the court. Her brief time with John before his illness overtook him and her own Alzheimer’s diagnosis, work to end the book on a low note. Perhaps a more detailed recollection of her achievements would have brought the book to a less abrupt and more satisfying conclusion. VERDICT (Was the author successful?): Guilty, as charged. This is a definitive biography of O’Connor and a must-read for anyone interested in the evolution of the US Supreme Court. #NetGalley #First http://bookcourt.blog/2019/03/09/dock...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    First is a beautiful biography of America's first woman Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor. It tells about how she grew up and became the first woman justice. I loved this biography and highly recommend it to fans of history, biographies, and influential women. I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Casey Wheeler

    This book is well researched and written. The author's writing style makes this an interesting read. It covers the life of the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. The book does an excellent job of describing how O'Connor arrived at the opinions that she wrote and how she dealt with differing opinions within the court itself including some attacks that were more personal versus objective. Justice O'Connor was a trail blazer in many ways and it is unfortunate that the current make-up This book is well researched and written. The author's writing style makes this an interesting read. It covers the life of the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. The book does an excellent job of describing how O'Connor arrived at the opinions that she wrote and how she dealt with differing opinions within the court itself including some attacks that were more personal versus objective. Justice O'Connor was a trail blazer in many ways and it is unfortunate that the current make-up of the court has become increasingly political and positioned to undo much of the work that she did. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court or the more recent history of the court. I received a free Kindle copy of First: Sandra Day O'Connor by Evan Thomas courtesy of Net Galley  and Random House, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook and Twitter pages. I requested this book as I am interested in the Supreme Court and its history. I have read a number of books by the author.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sherrie Pilkington

    ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** Biographies are cool. I really appreciated how the author didn't try to get in every single detail of Sandra Day O'Connor's life, but kept to the things that mattered to the subject and how they tied into her legacy as the first female Supreme Court Justice. This biography could have easily been twice as long, but I don't think that would have made it any better. Liberals will probably hate reading about how Sandra was part of "the system" and used h ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** Biographies are cool. I really appreciated how the author didn't try to get in every single detail of Sandra Day O'Connor's life, but kept to the things that mattered to the subject and how they tied into her legacy as the first female Supreme Court Justice. This biography could have easily been twice as long, but I don't think that would have made it any better. Liberals will probably hate reading about how Sandra was part of "the system" and used her connections to get places in her career. Feminists will be discouraged by how she never took a strong stance for women's rights and/or abortion. Conservatives will hate how moderate she could be and often voted with the liberals on social issues (particularly abortion). All in all, I think her life and career are an important example of how complicated we can all be. IF we really want to make this country and world a better place, we need to remember how to find the middle ground and look at our problems both in broad context and in individual cases. Dare I say it, we need more folks like Sandra Day O'Connor...on both sides of the aisle!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    *audio Good read. I didn't pick this up for the politics of the book. Although they do play a semi-large part of it. I picked it up for the point of the book. SOC as they called her was a first of her kind, even down on the farm where she began her life with her parents. I like hearing about how people get started. I really enjoyed hearing about how she met her husband, the care they took with one another, and their love that lasted a lifetime. This is a long story, but if you like biographies, t *audio Good read. I didn't pick this up for the politics of the book. Although they do play a semi-large part of it. I picked it up for the point of the book. SOC as they called her was a first of her kind, even down on the farm where she began her life with her parents. I like hearing about how people get started. I really enjoyed hearing about how she met her husband, the care they took with one another, and their love that lasted a lifetime. This is a long story, but if you like biographies, this is a well written one.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Love this book and unabashedly love Justice O’Connor. Raised between her family’s middle of no where ranch and her grandmother’s home in El Paso, O’Connor was raised to be tough. It served her well. In the history of the court no one represented Lady Justice (one of the statues that flank the Supreme Court) as well as O’Connor. She used her practical life experience to carry the court thru some of it’s toughest decisions. Often hazed and criticised by fellow justices, she never let it interfere wi Love this book and unabashedly love Justice O’Connor. Raised between her family’s middle of no where ranch and her grandmother’s home in El Paso, O’Connor was raised to be tough. It served her well. In the history of the court no one represented Lady Justice (one of the statues that flank the Supreme Court) as well as O’Connor. She used her practical life experience to carry the court thru some of it’s toughest decisions. Often hazed and criticised by fellow justices, she never let it interfere with her relationships with each one of them. She started and forced justices to have lunch while the court was in session. Not to discuss cases, but to form relationships. It paid dividends. She wasn’t their to inflate her ego or anyone elses’. She hoped and strived to leave her country better then when she found it. Her farewell from Washington made me a little teary eyed knowing there would be no one like her again. There would be no RBG, Sotomoyer or Kagen without O’Connor.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    Nearly 5 stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    A very readable biography of a truly remarkable woman and Supreme Court Justice. The court lost its way and restraint after her retirement.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    This could possibly be the best biography I’ve read. Besides the detail of her life there’s a pervasive sense of her personality and her strength. For such a forthright woman’s story the book is nuanced and challenging to my preconceptions of this woman. She is indeed an icon and a unique woman who unabashedly had it all through hard work and a sense of her worth.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Can't say enough about this in depth portrait of our first female Supreme Court Justice! As a female attorney myself, I was initially drawn to the title because of the many great acts Justice O'Connor was involved with while on the bench. But I gleamed so much more from this book. From her up bringing in Arizona, her time in law school as a female in a predominately man's world, to her care of her husband during their later years, I finished this book (in one sitting I might add) feeling inspire Can't say enough about this in depth portrait of our first female Supreme Court Justice! As a female attorney myself, I was initially drawn to the title because of the many great acts Justice O'Connor was involved with while on the bench. But I gleamed so much more from this book. From her up bringing in Arizona, her time in law school as a female in a predominately man's world, to her care of her husband during their later years, I finished this book (in one sitting I might add) feeling inspired to accomplish more not only in my career but as a person as well. The author's vivid description of paints such a clear picture of one of America's most inspiring women. Clear your schedule because you won't be able to put this biography down!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Val

    Although Evan Thomas is not a scholarly biographer on par with Ron Chernow, he used all of the new information and documents about O'Connor to write an interesting and illuminating look into her fascinating and ground-breaking life. Thomas had the journal/diary of O'Connor's husband John, and the result of this is a uniquely rich behind-the-scenes portrayal of their touching and loving relationship, her career, and what it was like to be the husband of the most public and powerful woman in Ameri Although Evan Thomas is not a scholarly biographer on par with Ron Chernow, he used all of the new information and documents about O'Connor to write an interesting and illuminating look into her fascinating and ground-breaking life. Thomas had the journal/diary of O'Connor's husband John, and the result of this is a uniquely rich behind-the-scenes portrayal of their touching and loving relationship, her career, and what it was like to be the husband of the most public and powerful woman in America for decades. His eventual decline from Alzheimer's and how it affects O'Connor personally and professionally was touching. Few knew at the time what she and John were experiencing behind the scenes, and she always carried herself with no sign of the fear and sorrow she was feeling. This dimension was missing or covered only shallowly in previous biographies of O'Connor, making this the most complete one, if you're trying to decide which of the biographies to read. O'Connor was prepared, from her southwestern ranch upbringing to her unprecedented successes in Arizona politics, to break the Supreme Court's glass ceiling. As this book demonstrates repeatedly, she had a gift for helping bring conflicts to resolution, or at least to compromise agreement, making her the perfect justice to bridge the ideological chasm between the Supreme Court's conservatives and liberals. This book does an excellent job of tying the way she conducted herself on the bench to life lessons she learned earlier in life from her father, her mother, life on a ranch, and at various stages of her legal career. She faced harassment, opposition, prejudice against her as an intellectual woman in a historically male-dominated profession, yet she stood up for herself strongly without becoming angry or bitter or letting this conduct toward her define who she was or what she could become. She was always keenly aware that she was blazing a trail for women to follow behind her, and she was determined not to burn bridges by proving prejudiced men right in their belief that women were not emotionally balanced and strong enough to succeed in law. She set a brilliant example for other women to follow, and she was determined to diversify the legal profession by choosing not just women, but racial minorities, and even physically handicapped law clerks that her male colleagues typically ignored. She was an inspiration to all people underrepresented in male-dominated professions, and the book contains many observations from women who became what they later became because of O'Connor. This biography provides historical context for many of O'Connor's most influential and precedent-setting votes and how she came to her decision for each. Some of her votes surprised and angered those who assumed she would always vote on the conservative side, but the book explains why she voted the way she did on cases involving abortion, affirmative action, Bush v. Gore after the 2000 election, holding terrorists as enemy combatants, and many more. The book also offers very interesting behind-the-scenes looks at how the justices interact in and out of court, the way the socialize, and O'Connor's key role in uniting them together in relationships that enhanced their functioning together as a deliberative body because they understood each other's motivations and personalities better. By making the justices do something as simple as eating lunch together and talking about anything but work, she came to know how to find middle ground with each as they went back into session and debated monumental issues with ramifications for all Americans. I rated this book 5 stars because it is the best and most complete biography available of this critically-important trailblazer in American history. I would rate Thomas's writing as 4.5 stars because he lets his personal dislike for every conservative politician or Supreme Court justice mentioned in the book seep into his explanations of historical events that led to Supreme Court cases O'Connor played a key role in deciding. Thomas cannot say a kind word about any conservative, and he dismisses the legal opinions and reasoning of the conservative justices with short-shrift explanations that make it sound as if O'Connor in dissent of her conservative colleagues, and the liberals on the court, were the only justices who really gave serious scholarly thought to their opinions. Every author has personal political bias, but Thomas could have done a better job of being more impartial when describing the positions on each side, conservative and liberal, of controversial social issues that made it to the Supreme Court. Thomas should understand that readers want to know O'Connor's opinions and her colleagues' opinions, not the author's biases. However, the book is well-written and engaging enough when Thomas focuses on O'Connor and what SHE thought about these issues and why, to not detract too much from the reading experience. I would still recommend this as the best biography of O'Connor available today, and I'm glad I read it. My appreciation for her, which was already great, grew from reading this account of her life and her positive impact on America.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Through NetGalley, I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Random House. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book shares insight into O’Connor’s childhood, education, family, and career. It also addressed the challenges Sandra faced after graduating from law school. Sandra had to leave Lazy B when she was six to live with her maternal grandparents and go to school. The Lazy B roots will influence much of O’Connor’s life. Her children and family w Through NetGalley, I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Random House. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book shares insight into O’Connor’s childhood, education, family, and career. It also addressed the challenges Sandra faced after graduating from law school. Sandra had to leave Lazy B when she was six to live with her maternal grandparents and go to school. The Lazy B roots will influence much of O’Connor’s life. Her children and family were always top priority to Sandra. The O’Connors had three sons and Sandra was able to successfully blend motherhood and a career. She was a strong-willed, intelligent, and humble woman.“ John O’Connor was not threatened by her “intellectual power” and very supportive of Sandra. John and Sandra had a good time together dancing, joking. “O’Connor loved amateur theatricals, both watching them and putting on her own skits with John.” In this book, I felt a clear understanding of John and Sandra’s relationship. The book touches on the impact to John when Sandra was appointed to the Supreme Court. He gave up his influential position in Phoenix and found a position in Washington. “The O’Connors’ closest friends saw the effort that John put into his role as husband of the Most Powerful Woman in America.” She was the “first” at many things including “…the first female majority leader of a state senate in Arizona and U.S. Supreme Court.” Sandra mentored her clerks and was involved in their personal lives. She would walk away from fights she deemed unnecessary, while never shying away from the important ones. She knew when to tease, when to flatter, and when to punch…” “O’Connor was the most powerful Supreme Court justice of her time.” For most of her 24+ years on the Court, she was the controlling vote on many of the great societal issues. Sandra had a close relationship with her law clerks. The clerks understood that they were undergoing more than legal training in her chambers.” The book frequently touched on an exercise class Sandra started for the interns (and anyone else who wanted) and herself to participate before the workday. Once confirmed, “The justices, she was surprised to discover, rarely spoke to one another; they preferred to communicate by memo.” “,,,justices rarely spoke to each other outside of conference. Their chambers were “nine separate one-man law firms,” as one justice put it. With few exceptions, they did not visit each other or pick up the phone. Sandra was instrumental in changing this. Justice O’Connor “was more in sync with the public mood than her fellow justices.” A great deal of the book addresses major cases before the Supreme Court and Sandra’s stand on the cases, including abortion, elections (Bush v. Gore), women’s rights. Often she was the “fifth vote.” Her childhood and background greatly influenced her decisions Book rolled right along but bogged down in the details of legal cases which may lose some readers. Ruth Bader Ginsburg joining the court is touched upon. “The two women were not natural pals… but … When Ginsburg was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, O’Connor was able to guide her through…” O’Connor’s influence on Ginsburg is discussed. The relationships and approaches with the other justices was shared. Sandra. “made it her business to get along with every justice…” “The reason this place was civil was Sandra Day O’Connor.” “The plight of women and children reached a deep place in O’Connor. So, too, the plight of minorities. But she continued to see no easy answer for the legacy of racism in society. Race, or rather racial preference, continued…” Health issues were raised up: Sandra battled breast cancer. She fought this battle while on the Court and “returned to the Supreme Court … ten days after surgery.” During this time, the book shared her emotional turmoil but “hardly a pause in the O’Connors’ social calendar.” Sandra “…did not speak publicly about her cancer for six years.” John was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and in true Sandra form she took care of her husband much longer than most. She was very reluctant to have him in a facility. She stepped down from the Supreme Court because “John needs me.” True to form, she chose her family over her career. She was actually modeling a balanced life… Make time for your family. Take care of yourself.” “Never complain, never explain,“ might be her motto. The book ends indicating Sandra is now battling Alzheimer’s disease. I found this to be a well written book and very insightful of Sandra Day O’Connor. A lady I can admire.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    This was good but not great, and also "too soon" in one way, or else incomplete. First, kudos. The biggie being that Thomas got Clarence Thomas to say more than 15 words to him, unless every comment of his was already in the public domain. Second, it does a good portrayal of O'Connor's personality, especially vis-a-vis her marriage to John, with Thomas openly saying that a number of people thought she dominated him. Similar attitudes come through in relation to her clerks. It's not just that her pr This was good but not great, and also "too soon" in one way, or else incomplete. First, kudos. The biggie being that Thomas got Clarence Thomas to say more than 15 words to him, unless every comment of his was already in the public domain. Second, it does a good portrayal of O'Connor's personality, especially vis-a-vis her marriage to John, with Thomas openly saying that a number of people thought she dominated him. Similar attitudes come through in relation to her clerks. It's not just that her praise was scant, but that I see a micromanager at work. Hold on to that thought, because now comes the critical part of my critique. And, that's that Thomas doesn't offer a good critique of O'Connor as Supreme Court Justice. In places, Thomas bends over backward to put the mildest interpretation possible on O’Connor. Bush v Gore is the biggest example, when he claims she wasn’t motivated by partisan politics. While concerns for the court or something may have also been a factor, no, Evan, she was, by her own history of wanting a Republican president so she could consider retirement, motivated in part at least by partisan politics indeed. The case also shows her at her worst in jurisprudence, where even justices less ideological than Scalia, but still having some sort of judicial philosophy, could understandably be frustrated with her at times. A one-off fix in a case like this — and it was O’Connor who insisted on the language that it was a one-off fix and should not be seen as setting precedent, even though she surely knew such language was not binding — arguably did MORE damage to the court than either the naked partisanship of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, or Kennedy’s usual posturing and bloviating. Beyond that, if she had voted the other way, it would have preserved at least part of the legend of the Court as being apolitical, especially if she had used her Equal Protection argument to drag Kennedy with her for a 6-3 ruling. So what if that ultimately went to the House/Senate for disputed election returns, and absent further compromise, had the House elect the first president since 1824? Or even, some sort of smoke-filled room compromise was reached, like in 1876? We survived both of those elections. This case, IMO, looking through the book, is Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court justice, in a nutshell. (Thomas doesn’t explain how the case ruling came to be released as a per curiam, either. That, too, the appearance of skullduggery and not wanting to attach names, also damaged the Court’s image, and I suspect it came from O’Connor. Per curiam rulings are generally reserved for decisions that are less controversial, less complex, and shorter.) And Thomas doesn’t see it that way or frame it that way. He does, in the next chapter, note that she expressed some regret publicly a decade later, and more on background to one of her clerks. In addition, per my "hold on to that," Thomas doesn't tie her seeming micromanaging of clerks to a micro-judging style of jurisprudence. It's not that she had regard for precedent, or for executive authority, or even for pragmatism. In a polar opposite to Tony Kennedy, she was looking for microdecisions, it seems. And, how much of that was influenced by being an only child for the first nine years of her life? Thomas never even delves into those psychological waters. Finally, Wikipedia says she claimed to have graduated third in her class in Stanford Law but that Stanford said it didn't rank students in the law school at that time. On the "too soon" point? I would have liked to see yet more on her relationship with Rehnquist, from Stanford to the end. Related? Thomas has nothing about what she thought of Rehnquist's alleged participation in minority voter suppression attempts in Arizona in the early 1960s. Maybe we'll get some of that in a future bio, after O'Connor dies, if she releases official papers or whatever. But, for now ... if she said anything on these issues and it's publicly available, Thomas isn't telling.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kelly ...

    Evan Thomas wrote an interesting, thoroughly researched, and informative biography of Sandra Day O'Connor. As a "retired" lawyer she has always been a bit of a hero to me -- a groundbreaking figure in our American justice system. She is a remarkable woman, and this is a biography that stands up to her and does her justice. Mr Thomas conducted over one hundred interviews with friends, family members, colleagues, and her law clerks. First (the perfect title) tells the reader about her beginnings o Evan Thomas wrote an interesting, thoroughly researched, and informative biography of Sandra Day O'Connor. As a "retired" lawyer she has always been a bit of a hero to me -- a groundbreaking figure in our American justice system. She is a remarkable woman, and this is a biography that stands up to her and does her justice. Mr Thomas conducted over one hundred interviews with friends, family members, colleagues, and her law clerks. First (the perfect title) tells the reader about her beginnings on the Arizona ranch owned by her parents, her studies at Stanford, her struggles to find a job in the legal field, her years on the court and her choice to retire to be with her husband who was suffering from Alzheimers. Sandra Day was born in 1930 in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. After high school she set off for Stanford where she received a B.A. in Economics and then continued her schooling at Stanford Law School, graduating in 1952. Although she graduated near the top of her class, no firm would even interview her. And her first job was that of a legal secretary rather than a lawyer! She became the first ever female majority leader of a state senate. She was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1981, by Ronald Reagan, and served fro 25 years. She was diagnosed with cancer at fifty-eight, and became a caretaker for her husband all while serving on the court. O’Connor endured with grit, grace and poise. Thomas' book allowed me to see her humor and wisdom. He allowed me to find commonalities with a woman who was often on the other side of the issue from me. When the book turned to O'Connor's time on the high court it allowed me, as a reader, to understand all of these men better and to see how the presence of a woman changed the way they interacted. These men did all of their talking through email before she arrived, and her presence changed that. I found that compelling and very interesting. Major court decisions are discussed. But even more intriguing are the discussions of the behind-the-scenes debates about those cases. These discussions added so much depth and complexity to the discussion of law -- law that I love and study even today, even though I no longer practice in the field. I am of the age that I remember the fight for the ERA. It was all negative. Nobody supported it except a small percentage of women. And those women were viewed as "femiNazis" and treated as crazy. Luckily less than a decade later we started to see change, and O'Connor was a big part of that. I was in the military at the time, and was lucky enough to be assigned to a flight job which broke one of those barriers for women. We still have a long way to go for equality, 38 years after her appointment to the court but she started the ball rolling. We just have to keep pushing it forward. ******* Please consider following my brand new book blog on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/Kelly-Hunsak...

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