Sonia Sotomayor’s 5 Favorite Books Reveal Her Inner Mystery Nerd

Read more

One day, a future Supreme Court justice may say that Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World inspired them to work in the legal profession. But for the first and only Latina justice on the highest court of the land, we’ve got Nancy Drew to thank. In a 60 Minutes interview in 2013, Scott Pelley asked if Nancy Drew and Perry Mason are the reason she’s on the Supreme Court. She replied, “That’s exactly right.”

For Sonia, books provided solace. The pages overflowed with great adventures and mysteries, which allowed Sonia to escape the tension of her childhood Bronx apartment. “I traveled the world through books. And even to this day, if I’m feeling down about anything, I pick up a book and I just read.” Sonia told NPR. Even to this day, she cracks open a book whenever she feels down.

Books broadened her perspective about real-world societies and issues past just what she saw in her own neighborhood. Though she read the encyclopedia an hour every day, it’s the mysteries that she devoured that made her realize she wanted to work within the legal system. “I am still a livelong lover of mysteries,” she said. “I mean, it fed into my lawyer-policeman desires as a child.”

And even though she loved Nancy Drew, here are a few more books that shaped her worldview:


The book that made her go out and buy a Toyota Celica:

The Nancy Drew series – written under the pen name Carolyn Keene between 1930 and 2003 – helped young Sonia discover female empowerment. “She had character, and she had courage,” Sonia said. Nancy Drew showed Sonia such a foreign way of life that she even desired to have a sports car like Nance. “[It was] a world of real wealth. Her blue roadster – my having a sports car became a life dream.” When she got a job at the D.A’s office, she bought a red Toyota Celica. 


The book that taught her more than a history class:

Although she found her role model in Nancy Drew, Sonia uncovered unknown worlds and historical facts through all those other mystery books she read – like Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express.

She’d particularly look at books set outside the United States. “Because I would learn about those cultures,” she said. “So I read mysteries about South Africa, and I really understood apartheid not from the history books I was reading in college but learning about the impact of it on people from the descriptors in these series of books.” 


The book that made her a fan of reading:

It’s kind of amazing to know that a Supreme Court Justice geeked out when she opened up a Spider-Man comic book. She started off reading comics. “At first I read Archie. I then graduated to the Marvel series,” she said. “When Spiderman and Batman came out, I was in love, OK? And I gave up comic books shortly after I started reading serious – more serious – literature like Nancy Drew.”

Bet she knows all about Green Goblin.


The book that taught her most about human nature:

Sonia credits William Golding’s Lord of The Flies as the book that exposed her to the essence of human nature. “[It was] the first book I read that didn’t talk about human nature but portrayed it, and portrayed it in a way that captivated my understanding that although you could aspire to believing in the good of people, it is something you have to nurture,” she said. “That book showed that left to their own devices, kids who had been taught how to order themselves, how to treat each other well, fell apart.”


The book that has influenced her thinking on democracy:

Beyond mystery solving, upside-down worlds – like the ones she read in The Hobbit and Dune – fascinated Sonia. But George Orwell’s iconic dystopian novel, 1984, stood out amongst the rest.

“My God, what an impact it had on me,” Sonia said. “The idea of Big Brother was, and I may still, influence my thinking about democracy; the idea that we would have a government that was all-knowing and all-doing for human beings was frightening.”