A lifetime of scholarship and an elegant pen combine for an outstanding read.



A distinguished legal historian looks at how dissents have influenced our understanding of the Constitution.

Mindful of the institution’s authority and prestige, chief justices have always preferred that the Supreme Court speak with one voice. But disagreements—hardly surprising among powerful personalities asked to navigate the most difficult legal issues—have always been a part of the jurisprudence. While it’s true that most dissents are eminently forgettable, some have contributed mightily to our ongoing Constitutional dialogue. The dissenters address first, of course, the majority, pointing out weak arguments or misunderstood facts; second, the bench, bar, and legal academy; third, the other branches of government; and finally, the public and posterity, all in an attempt to move the law in a direction the majority declines to follow. In this scholarly yet wholly accessible treatment, Urofsky (Emeritus, Law, Public Policy, History/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, 2009, etc.) chronologically examines notable dissents and dissenters in the court’s history and considers the phenomenon from all angles, including how even the threat of a dissent can help shape the majority opinion. He supplies illuminating discussions of John Marshall Harlan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Louis Brandeis, great dissenters whose opinions “carried the seeds for growth and the future transformation of judicial doctrine.” Readers will appreciate Urofsky’s resurrection of some lesser-known justices—Stephen Field, Wiley Rutledge—and their contributions to our Constitutional discourse. Also noteworthy is the author’s dissection of the rhetorical combat among Franklin Roosevelt appointees, his tracking of the evolving understanding of privacy, affirmative action, and sexual orientation from the Warren through the Roberts court, and his treatment of the “permanent dissents” on capital punishment cases. Whether it’s Jackson on wartime internment or Black on the right to counsel, the very best dissents constitute, in one scholar’s words, “buried ammunition for future generations to unearth when the time comes.”

A lifetime of scholarship and an elegant pen combine for an outstanding read.   

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-37940-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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