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Fire in My Soul.

by Joan Steinau Lester as authorized by Eleanor Holmes Norton Atria Books, January 2003 $25.00, ISBN 0-743-40787-3

The subject of this biography continues to be a trailblazer in American history, both in politics and the academy. Fire in My Soul covers the remarkable career of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, but the book reveals that her professional life is only part of the story. Joan Steinau Lester, who met her in 1958 when both were students at Antioch College and was authorized to write Norton's biography, gives readers an extraordinary narrative that in and of itself traces history through an intense period in America's past.

In detailing how Norton's philosophies and politics were shaped, Lester describes a loving childhood growing up as part of the black middle class in segregated Washington D.C. There are fascinating paradoxes; as a young girl, Ms. Norton recognized her family's middle-class status, yet her sense of activism was considered out-of-step with the times. She didn't think she was attractive as a teen, yet her intelligence and involvement in student activities made her very popular. Though her father and grandmother were darker-skinned than Norton, she recognized that some of her relatives were colorstruck.

Fire in My Soul reveals a common thread in Norton's life, a tireless work ethic and a relentless pursuit of goals, from working her way through college to graduating from Yale Law School. The book documents her career as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, as Commissioner of Human Rights in New York, as the first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as a law professor and finally as a congresswoman in Washington D.C.

The lesser-known aspects of her life are also covered in detail, including her marriage to Edward Norton and the challenges of motherhood--her daughter, Katherine, has Down's syndrome. Ms. Norton survived the Reagan presidency by lecturing and eventually serving on the boards of three Fortune 500 companies. Her fiercest political battles, including the strongest attacks against her during her career, are detailed here. Fire in My Soul is rich with anecdotes from Ms. Norton herself, as well as many friends and colleagues. The collective contributions, along with very solid narrative, make Fire in My Soul well worth reading.

--Tracy Grant is a frequent contributor to BIBR.
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Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Grant, Tracy
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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