Ron Brown: An Uncommon Life

Steven A. Holmes, Author
Steven A. Holmes, Author John Wiley & Sons $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-471-18388-4
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 328 pages - 978-0-471-40172-8
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Ron Brown may not have been well known outside Beltway circles, but as New York Times reporter Holmes describes in this detailed and sympathetic biography, by the end of his life Brown had become one of the most influential players in Washington. As chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1989 to 1993, he was instrumental in reviving the fortunes of his party and engineering Clinton's victory for the White House. (""I wouldn't have gotten it without you,"" Clinton is reported to have told Brown after the election.) Brown went on to ably fill the Commerce slot in Clinton's cabinet--thereby becoming one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in the country--until he died in a 1996 plane crash over Bosnia. It was an impressive career by any standard, and Holmes meticulously tracks the connections, good luck and shrewd decision making that allowed Brown to rise from the streets of Harlem to the halls of power. Unfortunately, Holmes never quite seems to penetrate to the heart of the man. We never learn, for example, why Brown so recklessly pursued marital infidelities or how he reconciled his insider status with his African-American heritage (Jesse Jackson reportedly once called Brown a ""traitor"" to his race). What we do learn a great deal about is how the Democratic political machine functioned (or failed to) during the '80s and '90s and how the public Brown--gregarious, levelheaded, compromising--was able to win membership in a club to which African-Americans traditionally did not belong. Holmes's book is more successful as a recap of a career than as an intimate portrait of a human being, but Brown's career is sufficiently interesting to warrant a reading on those terms alone. (May)
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