CLOSED CHAMBERS

THE FIRST EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE EPIC STRUGGLES INSIDE THE SUPREME COURT

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s tart description of Supreme Court deliberations—“nine scorpions in a bottle”—has seldom seemed more apt than in this scathing tell-all screed about the Rehnquist Court from Lazarus (Black Hills/White Justice, 1991), now an L.A. federal prosecutor. As a clerk of former Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1988—89 term, Lazarus came to feel that infighting between its conservative and liberal divisions had “corroded [its] institutional culture and driven the Justices to disregard the principles of decision-making—deliberation, integrity of argument, self-restraint—that separate the judicial function from the exercise of purely political power.” He focuses on the Court’s decisions on capital punishment, race relations, and abortion to demonstrate how its comity has become strained. During this time, the politicization of the confirmation process, as evidenced in the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas nominations, was mirrored in the Court’s chambers’sometimes in subtle ways (Sandra Day O’Connor was believed to have stopped joining William Brennan in majority opinions for having tricked her in an unnamed case), sometimes in argument (a shoving match between a conservative and liberal clerk). Only other participants can confirm Lazarus’s sensational charges (e.g., that clerks were ceded unwarrantably large roles in crafting Court opinions, and that conservative “cabalists” manipulated Anthony Kennedy into early votes in death penalty appeals because of his reluctance to cast the deciding vote to ensure an execution). His admitted liberalism can be glimpsed, as in his invariable depiction of liberals as “scrupulous,” “compassionate,” and the like. But his analysis of Court opinions is even-handedly critical. Conservatives, prodded by the brilliant but nasty Antonin Scalia, pushed states— rights at every turn. Octogenarian liberals (Blackmun, Brennan, and Thurgood Marshall) fell to name-calling and hypocrisy in abandoning principle to gain victory. Today’s badly splintered justices, he claims, no longer speak as one institutional voice. This memoir’s revelations—based on reporting as well as personal experience—may obscure its less controversial but more thoughtful analysis of the Rehnquist Court’s poisonous “politics of certainty.” (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8129-2402-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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