LOUIS D. BRANDEIS by Jeffrey Rosen


American Prophet
Age Range: 1856 - 1941
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In the latest installment of the publisher’s Jewish Lives series, a legal scholar examines the career of Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941), “the most important American critic of what he called ‘the curse of bigness’ in government and business since Thomas Jefferson.”

National Constitution Center president and CEO Rosen (The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America, 2007, etc.) states unambiguously that he is not attempting to offer a comprehensive biography, citing three high-quality, full-life biographies published after Brandeis left the Supreme Court in 1939. Rather, he presents “a condensed study of his thought and character." Throughout the book, Rosen considers Brandeis as a philosopher and prophet; many of his teachings transcended the opinions related to specific cases decided by the Supreme Court. As the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, Brandeis surely based some of his ideas on his religious upbringing. To the extent that the author focuses on Brandeis' Jewishness, the conversation veers toward Zionism, as Brandeis tirelessly advocated for a newly created Jewish homeland in Palestine that might protect followers of the faith from anti-Semitism. More than Jewish influences, though, Rosen considers Brandeis as a student of Thomas Jefferson's writings and speeches, even suggesting Brandeis be remembered as the Jewish Jefferson. The commonalities between Jefferson and Brandeis coalesce around skepticism about the value of economic monopolies and bankers as well as the oft-ignored value of small farmers and other entrepreneurs. Like Jefferson, Brandeis vigorously supported the system of a federal government, each of the states sharing authority wisely, with each state as an autonomous laboratory of democracy. Within each of those states, Brandeis, like Jefferson, hoped optimistically that every citizen would become well-informed through lifelong self-education. In an epilogue titled "What Would Brandeis Do?" Rosen traces the justice's influence today, specifically on three contemporary Supreme Court justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer.

A tightly written, tightly reasoned biography aimed at readers who are not legal scholars.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-300-15867-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2016


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