The young woman from the Bronx projects graduated with honors from Princeton and later Yale Law School.
Sotomayor is unmarried, has no children, and her laser focus on her work as a prosecutor, private lawyer, and later justice -- she admits somewhat sadly -- has often been at the sacrifice of greater personal growth.
She concedes that her intensity and drive has initially turned off some people. Her longtime paralegal developed hives when dealing with the often-brusque new boss for the first time. Sotomayor also overheard a law firm colleague describe her as "one tough bitch" who would not be pushed around by adversaries.
"I was shaken to hear myself so harshly categorized," she recalls. "When I'm focused intensely on work, I become oblivious to social cues, or any cues for that matter."
Seeing Justice Sotomayor on the high court, zeroing in on a lawyer's presentation at oral argument, is to witness that blend of street-smart manner, combined with a steely intellect. She does not mess around.
But in private, her demeanor is another story. When talking with her in small, intimate settings, Sotomayor quickly, easily, makes you the sole center of her attention, bringing a warm smile and understanding manner.
Being single has also allowed her time to embrace the many dozens of relatives and colleagues -- many of them mentors-- she holds close to her, her "familia."
"I've always turned the families of friends into family of my own," she writes proudly.
In her newest role, Sotomayor has become an international role model, something she admits can be affecting and overwhelming at the same time.
"My education continues on the Supreme Court as I reckon with the particular demands of the finality of review," in the decisions the justice and her eight colleagues issue. She ends her book, "My highest aspiration for my work on the Court is to grow in understanding beyond what I can foresee, beyond any borders visible from this vantage."