An Unplanned Life

A Memoir

A major autobiography of a remarkable life that broke down racial barriers, transformed institutions, and energized the struggle for justice, by the former president of the Ford Foundation

“Frank has that quality of honesty and authenticity and people trusted him . . . and because very disparate people trusted him, he could bring them together across their differences.” —Gloria Steinem

Franklin Thomas was one of the most influential people of our time. As former president of the Ford Foundation (the first African American to hold this position), former president of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (the first community development organization of its kind), member of countless corporate boards, and a key player in facilitating the end of the apartheid era in South Africa, Thomas shaped public policy, philanthropy, and the movement for human rights for over half a century.

An Unplanned Life offers an insider’s account of some of the most crucial transformations of the contemporary era: efforts to rebuild America’s cities, struggles to reform philanthropy, and the quest to establish a global order based on human rights and racial equity. As a story of firsts, Franklin’s memoir also chronicles a formative era, when a generation of African Americans first broke through into the halls of power, navigating complicated and sometimes treacherous cultural and political currents.

Much of Franklin Thomas’s life was marked by his desire to stay out of the spotlight, and to let his accomplishments speak for themselves. Now, in An Unplanned Life, we have Thomas’s full story, in all of its nuance, drama, and richly narrated detail.


“Thomas achieved an historic sociopolitical impact within the Black community, the United States, and on an international level. . . . Thomas’s extraordinary life, lived in service to community, equality, and basic human rights, will inspire readers to accept the mantle of bettering society.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“Thomas’s narrative is written in exacting detail. . . . This portrait of selfless civic duty will encourage readers to think beyond the limits of their ambitions.”
Publishers Weekly
“In a memoir that privileges the public over the private, Thomas imparts the political, cultural, and economic milieu from which he emerged and the world he indelibly shaped. . . . A vividly detailed record of significant accomplishments.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

News and Reviews

Library Journal

Read a starred review of An Unplanned Life in Library Journal.

Goodreads Reviews