The author’s consistently absorbing commentary on a wide variety of legal cases will require close attention by readers, but...



The retired Supreme Court justice chronicles his impressive life story, including his 34-year tenure with the court.

Born in 1920, Stevens (Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, 2014, etc.) recounts his privileged upbringing, early law career, and lower-court experience before providing nearly 400 pages of year-by-year decision-making as a Supreme Court justice. A Republican appointed by President Gerald Ford, Stevens transcended the party ideology of many court colleagues in order to work together with those appointed by Democratic presidents. Despite the conventional wisdom of court chroniclers who identify justices as “conservative” or “liberal,” the author’s majority opinions and dissents cannot be easily pigeonholed. He candidly shares his thought processes on hundreds of cases, often openly criticizing his fellow justices for their lack of legal acumen and/or lack of compassion. Stevens is frequently critical of justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for the refuge they have sought in the theory of originalism. Refreshingly, though, the author never attacks his fellow justices in a personal, gossipy manner, and he discusses his varying degrees of friendship with each of them. Stevens theorizes that the dynamics of the court—and the nature of the rulings—undergo transformation every time a new justice joins. As a result, the author presents brief sections about the immediate impact of each new justice during his 34 years, ending with his successor in 2010, Elena Kagan. Although Stevens reveres the court’s reputation as a nonpartisan arbiter, he realizes that reputation has never fully recovered from the politically tinged 5-4 ruling in 2000 that handed the presidency to George W. Bush rather than Al Gore. The author also offers searing commentary on cases involving abortion rights, gun control, wrongful convictions in criminal courts, campaign finance, and many other ongoing societal issues.

The author’s consistently absorbing commentary on a wide variety of legal cases will require close attention by readers, but the payoff is worth it.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-48964-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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A thorough, albeit somewhat premature, biographical portrait.



Digging into the life career of the elusive chief justice.

CNN legal analyst Biskupic, who was the Supreme Court correspondent at the Washington Post and has written biographies on Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, and Sandra Day O’Connor, is perfectly positioned to dissect the first decade-plus tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts (b. 1955). Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005 after the sudden death of William Rehnquist, Roberts, at only age 50, was chosen for his conservative bona fides, his Ivy League education, the many cases he had argued before the Supreme Court, and his resistant views on affirmative action and voting rights, among other expressed opinions. Indeed, in his general approach to law, Roberts has proven that he is, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared, “born conservative.” Yet he has also made some intriguing decisions—e.g., finding the core of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare—the provision upholding the individual insurance mandate—constitutional in the watershed case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012). While his 2013 Selby County v. Holder decision “eviscerating a key section of the Voting Rights Act” addressed what he perceived as the “failure of racial remedies in America”—as Biskupic writes, it “marked the first time since the 19th century that the Supreme Court struck down a civil rights law protecting people based on race”—he seems, on the basis of other rulings, concerned that his court is delineated solely along political lines. After Scalia’s death in February 2016, the court was left without a successor for more than 400 days thanks to political maneuvering and the Republican blocking of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland—a difficult period for the court. As the author demonstrates in her incisive analysis, the 5-4 “conservative-liberal fault line” has prevailed—e.g., in the upholding of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

A thorough, albeit somewhat premature, biographical portrait.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-465-09327-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Not a book to read in one sitting, but one to love: a sumptuous buffet for fans who wish the Queen of Crime had lived...



Following Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks (2009), which scrutinized the early stages of some two-dozen novels by the legendary mystery novelist, Christie expert Curran returns to exhume and analyze selected entries from her 73 notebooks dealing with dozens of other novels and stories.

“Selected” is the key word, since the material presented is by no means exhaustive, and often thematically rearranged into categories like “Unused Ideas, 1-4” and “Agatha Christie and Poison.” Curran’s shaping editorial hand is inevitable because the notebooks are so chaotic. Christie, whose meticulously plotted detective stories present her as a master of logic and detail, could scatter undated entries on a given novel across several different notebooks, and her handwriting presented distinct challenges to her editor. Her preference for tight plotting, a deceptive but generous use of clues, a limited array of stock characters and a neutral, highly serviceable dialogue and descriptive prose are too well-known to be further illuminated here, but Curran produces some welcome surprises. His selection reprints a hitherto unpublished courtroom climax to The Mysterious Affair at Styles, an earlier version of “The Red Signal” and an alternate version of “The Case of the Caretaker’s Wife.” He describes a never-staged dramatization of The Secret of Chimneys, reveals the two quite different motives for murder in the British and American editions of Three Act Tragedy and notes that Christie intended to publish Sleeping Murder under the title Cover Her Face until P.D. James anticipated her in the long interval between Sleeping Murder’s composition and its publication. Curran’s single most important general revelation is Christie’s fondness for playing with unpromisingly skeletal ideas until they turned into the high concepts for which she is best remembered.

Not a book to read in one sitting, but one to love: a sumptuous buffet for fans who wish the Queen of Crime had lived forever.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-206542-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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