Book notes: The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris book summary review and key ideas.

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The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris


From Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, one of America’s most inspiring political leaders, a book about the core truths that unite us, and the long struggle to discern what those truths are and how best to act upon them, in her own life and across the life of our country.

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ 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. 

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.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

It has been a while since I read a biography or memoir about a political figure. Typically, I really enjoy reading them. I’m excited to read about Kamala’s backstory especially since her career has been so groundbreaking, as she’s been labeled as “the first” in many respects.

Key notes:

Chapter 1: For the People

  • Both her parents met each other while studying at UC Berkeley and participating in the civil rights movement
    • Her mother was from India and moved to California at 19 and got her PhD at 25, the same year she was born
    • Her sister Myia would follow two years later
  • Faith is a verb. We must all live our faith and show faith in action
  • She learned from her mother that being a good person is standing up for something larger than yourself
  • Success is measured in part by what you help others achieve and accomplish
  • Fight systems in a way that forces them to become fairer

Chapter 2: A Voice for Justice

  • When it comes to the things that matter most, we have so much more in common than what separates us
  • As of this writing, it’s been 15 years since her victory being elected DA, and has been working since then toward criminal justice reform
  • To be a progressive prosecutor is to understand and act on the dichotomy of being there for the victims of both crimes committed and the victims of a broken criminal justice system
  • A progressive prosecutor’s job is to see that sometimes people don’t need punishment but rather help
  • The issue of bail is a pervasive problem in the criminal justice system and facilitates further injustice
  • We can be both for police and police accountability

Chapter 3: Underwater

  • It was discovered that the biggest banks were illegally foreclosing on homes since 2007 to 2010 in a practice called robosigning
  • At first, it seems like all the AGs from each state were going to accept a $2 billion settlement from the banks
    • However, Kamala knew that the damage was far greater and they launched their own investigation and research into the bank foreclosure issues so that they can walk away from the negotiation settlement if needed
  • Ultimately, she decided to pull out of the negotiations and continue the investigation
    • She knew it was a tough decision and there was a lot of pressure for her to do otherwise, but she prayed that she was making the best decision for her constituents that needed her courage and leadership
  • She ended up calling the head of the bank directly and got into a heated phone call discussion with him
    • Eventually the $2-4 billion settlement grew to $18 billion, and ultimately grew to $20 billion in relief to homeowners

Chapter 4: Wedding Bells

  • One of her main focuses was reducing childhood truancy in school as she believed it was a more proactive approach to reducing crime
  • Doug planned to propose to her in Italy, but had the ring and couldn’t hold it in, so he proposed right there on her kitchen floor
  • She started a Sunday dinner routine with her new family

Chapter 5: I Say We Fight

Reader’s note: I love how eloquently Kamala illustrates the differences between her upbringing and reality compared to a white man like Doug, who doesn’t have to worry about the discrimination she and her family faced growing up 

  • A study showed that more than half of Silicon Valley’s billion-dollar startups were founded by one or more immigrants
  • The Women’s March after trumps inauguration exceeded expectations

Chapter 6: We Are Better Than This

  • Dreamers not only make our country stronger and better, but they also believe in the promise of this country

Reader’s note: In this section, Kamala is recounting how Trump’s administration and the department of homeland security took up the initiative and platform to separate children from their parents at the border inhumanely and without any proper protocol

  • The state-sponsored practice of separating families at the border was atrocious and a grave human rights violation

Chapter 7: Every Body

  • The healthcare system is broken
    • Big pharmaceutical companies spend outrageous amounts of money to lobby against progressive reforms that would help a majority of Americans 
  • In America, mental illness goes unaddressed, untreated, and ignored
  • Her mom’s battle with colon cancer was brutal on her family 

Chapter 8: The Cost of Living

  • Her mother saw and believed in the dignity of all work, not just her own 
  • We need a rebirth of organized labor in America
    • Big corporations and the richest people in the wealthiest county in the world can afford to pay their fair share of taxes so that we can fix the economy
      • It’s necessary, it’s moral, and it’s wise

Chapter 9: Smart on Security

  • Cybersecurity must become a priority for our national defense
  • Climate change is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, national security concerns
  • Although we are powerful, there’s a limit to what we can do alone
    • We must work in partnership with our allies: economically, diplomatically, and militarily
  • We must remember that we are a nation of laws and that we stand for the rule of law
    • We must remember that we worked and bled for an international order that promotes peace and cooperation
      • A commitment to democracy, here and around the world

Chapter 10: What I Learned

  • Test the hypothesis
  • Chose the words you use carefully because words matter
  • Show the math
    • Show how your logic unfolds step by step
    • It helps test the logic of your proposals and solutions
    • This forces you to expose assumptions and challenge the logic, which leads you to reworking it until it’s more sound
    • Leaders who are asking for the public’s trust have a responsibility to show the math too
    • We can’t make other people’s decisions for them, but we have to be able to show how we reached ours
  • We must stand together on all fronts as a victory for one group can lead to a victory for others
    • None of us should have to fight alone
  • Our duty is to improve the human condition in every way we can for everyone who needs it
  • If it’s worth fighting for, it’s a fight worth having
    • Dr. Christine Ford’s testimony during Judge Kavegnaugh’s confirmation hearings showed extreme courage
    • The Senate Republicans chose not to believe Dr. ford, nor take any investigation seriously
      • She had nothing to gain herself but everything to lose
      • Her testimony showed that bravery is contagious
  • We grow stronger through every effort even when we face setbacks
    • We will draw wisdom from every chapter, even when those lessons are hard
    • We will face what is to come with the conviction that change is possible
    • Knowing that truth is like the sun, it always rises
  • You may be the first, don’t be the last
    • As a member of the role models club, when you see others in need, you need to go out of your way to lift them up
      • Sometimes members can feel alone. Breaking barriers can be scary
        • When you break glass ceilings, you can get cut and it can hurt. It is not without pain. But they are never in those rooms alone
  • She has the belief that people are fundamentally good, and that given the chance, they will usually reach out a hand to help their neighbor
  • Not all progress is gradual or linear
    • Sometimes it simply goes from one plateau to another. Sometimes we fall back tragically, sometimes we leap forward and achieve beyond the realm of what we thought possible

Closing thoughts:

This biography was very enjoyable to read! It met all of the expectations I had, which were to learn more about Kamala’s backstory, her career, and the value system that informs her politics.

I really enjoyed the eloquence with which she communicates her story. It really reminds me of Obama’s biographies and books. I also appreciate how she attributes her values to her mother and how she was raised.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone interested in memoirs of political figures, and especially if you’re a fan of Kamala herself.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

The main takeaway I have from this book, and one that really encapsulates what I think she wanted us to learn from her story is:

  • We have a duty and responsibility to improve the human condition and lift others up. We may be the first, but we won’t be the last

I think these words are not only encouraging but also inspiring. We should strive to make the world a better place however we can for our fellow human beings. And when we strive to be our best selves, we can be in a better position to help others as well.


Kamala Harris tells her story while also drawing out the fundamental truths that unite us and drive us toward a better future.

Similar books:


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


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