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The Truths We Hold: An American Journey

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey

Senator Kamala Harris's commitment to speaking truth is informed by her upbringing. The daughter of immigrants, she was raised in an Oakland, California community that cared deeply about social justice; her parents — an esteemed economist from Jamaica and an admired cancer researcher from India — met as activists in the civil rights movement when they were graduate students at Berkeley.

Growing up, Harris herself never hid her passion for justice, and when she became a prosecutor out of law school, a deputy district attorney, she quickly established herself as one of the most innovative change agents in American law enforcement. She progressed rapidly to become the elected District Attorney for San Francisco, and then the chief law enforcement officer of the state of California as a whole. Known for bringing a voice to the voiceless, she took on the big banks during the foreclosure crisis, winning a historic settlement for California's working families. Her hallmarks were applying a holistic, data-driven approach to many of California's thorniest issues, always eschewing stale "tough on crime" rhetoric as presenting a series of false choices. Neither "tough" nor "soft" but smart on crime became her mantra. Being smart means learning the truths that can make us better as a community, and supporting those truths with all our might. That has been the pole star that guided Harris to a transformational career as the top law enforcement official in California, and it is guiding her now as a transformational United States Senator, grappling with an array of complex issues that affect her state, our country, and the world, from health care and the new economy to immigration, national security, the opioid crisis, and accelerating inequality.

By reckoning with the big challenges we face together, drawing on the hard-won wisdom and insight from her own career and the work of those who have most inspired her, Kamala Harris offers in The Truths We Hold a master class in problem solving, in crisis management, and leadership in challenging times. Through the arc of her own life, on into the great work of our day, she communicates a vision of shared struggle, shared purpose, and shared values. In a book rich in many home truths, not least is that a relatively small number of people work very hard to convince a great many of us that we have less in common than we actually do, but it falls to us to look past them and get on with the good work of living our common truth. When we do, our shared effort will continue to sustain us and this great nation, now and in the years to come.

Author: Kamala Harris | Publisher: Penguin Press

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Rating: 4/5

“A patriot is not someone who condones the conduct of our country whatever it does. It is someone who fights every day for the ideals of the country, whatever it takes.” 

The Truths We Hold was a well-written, engaging memoir. Kamala Harris tells her story with confidence, polish, and the right amount of detail. With her current Presidential bid, this book could come across as defensive, opportunistic — but it doesn't. It feels authentic and helps to provide context for a lot of Harris' career so far.

Going into this book (which I listened to on audio), I didn't know much about Harris beyond the fact that she's a Democratic politician from California. Living in New York, I've always been content to just let California do its thing over there on the other side of the country.

“As I sat alone in my new office, I recalled a time, as a young prosecutor, when I overheard some of my colleagues in the hallway. “Should we add the gang enhancement?” one of them asked. “Can we show he was in a gang?” the other said. “Come on, you saw what he was wearing, you saw which corner they picked him up on. Guy’s got the tape of that rapper, what’s his name?” I stepped out into the hallway. “Hey, guys, just so you know: I have family that live in that neighborhood. I’ve got friends who dress in that style. And I’ve got a tape of that rapper in my car right now.” 

Harris talks about her childhood a bit, but most of the book centers on her career up to this point — from her time as a new attorney, to District Attorney, to Attorney General, to Senator. This was really interesting because it provided relevant context for where we are today (and for her Presidential campaign, of course) rather than just a story of her upbringing.

That's not to say that her upbringing isn't important here. I was particularly impressed with how Harris was able to bring her strong, smart, hardworking mother into the narrative in a way that felt both reverent and relevant. She did a great job of showing how her family values interact with her professional and political values, and how they are actually one and the same.

This was good timing (and no accident, of course) with the upcoming Presidential election. Of course, this book alone won't be enough to decide whether she's a candidate of choice, but it does provide a helpful backdrop of information and explanation of her values. I'm glad I read it.

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