Goulden, who dissected Washington wheeler-dealers in The Superlawyers (1972), turns his clear reportorial eye on the federal judiciary and provides a vivid montage of some of the most powerful people in the United States. The preliminary focus here is on the selection process -- an elaborate political gavotte that involves the President, the Senate and the American Bar Association. Goulden then describes the system in action. It's a system that encompasses such extremes as David Edelstein -- the pragmatic, intelligent chief judge of the Southern District of New York, and Charles Carr of the Los Angeles District Court -- characterized as ""the ultimate bad ass judge"" for his malign treatment of the legions of lawyers and defendants who win his displeasure. The good guys are men like Edelstein and John Sirica of Watergate fame; the bad guys include the majority of Chicago's federal bench, who practice everything from drunkenness to machine politics. Goulden offers close-ups of a number of judges -- in the process presenting an overview of how the federal courts operate, from the district level where cases are tried to the circuit courts to which appeals are taken, to the Supreme Court itself. Goulden's conclusion is that the independence of the federal judiciary makes the system a workable one, although he faults the benchwarmers for their Olympian self-images. This lively book strips away judicial pomp. Instructive and entertaining.