JUSTICE OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES by G. Edward White

JUSTICE OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

Law and the Inner Self
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A fascinating look at the life and thought of the great jurist and scholar that vividly connects his sometimes dry legal pedantry and his remarkable life and personality. White (Law and History/University of Virginia; Earl Warren, 1982, etc.--not reviewed) presents a more rounded portrait than Livia Baker's The Justice from Beacon Hill (1991), which emphasized Holmes's life and character. Instead, White underscores the evolution of the jurist's unique career and jurisprudence from the unusual circumstances of his life. White represents Holmes's commitment to ``professionalism'' as a reaction against the dilettantish literary culture of his father: The jurist, he tells us, gave up his early love of letters and philosophy in order to devote himself totally to legal scholarship (he became editor of the prestigious American Law Review while still a practicing attorney). White also doesn't neglect the effect of Holmes's Civil War career on his philosophy: Holmes spent most of the war recovering from wounds incurred at Ball's Bluff, Antietam, and Chancellorsville, and White speculates that the experience led to an early emphasis on ``duties'' rather than rights in Holmes's legal thought. The author points out, however, that this emphasis faded after Holmes became a judge, first on Massachusetts's Supreme Court, then on the US Supreme Court; he evolved, in fact, into one of the early champions of First Amendment rights. White devotes a chapter to Holmes's classic The Common Law (1881), which he shows as reflecting the pragmatic and empirical cast of Holmes's thought, and he also discusses at length the quirks of Holmes's personal life--his childless marriage, his many flirtations, and his emotionally significant romance with Clare Castletown--making the jurist come alive despite the many contradictions of his personality. Here, Holmes is depicted not as the civil libertarian of legal myth but as a judge and scholar whose jurisprudence reflected his life and the intellectual milieu in which he lived. A fine, balanced portrait. (Fourteen halftones)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-508182-X
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993




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