Coburn chronicles a profession, society and life in evolution.
More encompassing and inviting than the title suggests, public contract law may have limited audience appeal until its impact on individuals and events that shaped the 20th century is understood. Coburn’s career and life have placed him at the center of power as well as on the outskirts. The shoulder-rubbing came from birth (he played as a child with Poppy Bush); the in-but-not-entirely-of aspect started later, after his family lost its wealth, yet arranged a boarding school and Ivy League education for him. His first position, as a staff attorney in the Navy’s Office of General Counsel, linked his career to the growing postwar defense-contracting industry. There, and later in private practice, Coburn participated in establishing procedures, model contracts, codified laws and ultimately a section of the American Bar Association. (True to the title, he details negotiations, disputes, lawsuits and rulings, footnoted with legal citations fit for an appellate brief.) In his private life, which he recollects with less depth, Coburn was in a committed gay relationship that lasted 49 years, till his partner’s death, and cost him government employment when the fact surfaced during a job screening. While describing their life and homes together and in Key West, Coburn keeps the curtain drawn on the challenges of being gay in his position and family, with the exception of acknowledging the contrary dictates of his childhood. The reader accustomed to modern-day tell-all tendencies may want more on his personal experience, out of keeping as it is with the author’s adherence to propriety and protocol.
An insider’s view of the growth of the defense industry, with a fascinating roundup at book’s end of how the world has changed, for good and bad, throughout the author’s life, interspersed with appointment-book style memoirs and annotated with names, family lineages, residential addresses and decor, vacation spots and eulogies.