An immensely readable history that goes behind the façade of our most august institution to reveal the flesh-and-blood...




New York Times Magazine contributor Feldman (Law/Harvard Univ.; (The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, 2008, etc.) compares the careers and the constitutional visions of four of the most important Supreme Court justices ever.

Of Franklin Roosevelt’s nine Supreme Court appointments, four have had lasting influence. By the time he was appointed to the Court, Felix Frankfurter, the activist law professor, had already seeded the government with acolytes, making him the best connected man in Washington; Alabama Sen. Hugo Black, whose brief affiliation with the KKK emerged after his confirmation, busied himself reading history and suffering criticism of his early, amateurish opinions; Robert Jackson, whose nomination culminated in a remarkably swift rise within the administration, had already developed a reputation as a felicitous stylist; and William O. Douglas, the youngest justice ever confirmed, was Wall Street’s scourge as chair of the SEC. All sprung from childhood poverty. All revered Louis Brandeis, the liberal lion, and all firmly opposed the property-protecting doctrine of the Lochner-era Court. Committed New Dealers, all embraced liberal goals, and all were ferociously ambitious. Frankfurter aspired to the court’s intellectual leadership. Jackson burned to be Chief Justice. Only after many years did Black and Douglas abandon notions about the presidency. Broadly in agreement during FDR’s life, their intellectual paths diverged after his death, even as personal relations among them horribly deteriorated. Feldman neatly demonstrates how their careers and personal histories accounted for their mutual resentments and shaped their distinctive approaches to constitutional interpretation. Frankfurter’s judicial restraint, Black’s originalism, Jackson’s pragmatism and Douglas’s realism—four interpretive doctrines that continue to reverberate—are fleshed out in accessible discussions of important cases dealing with presidential power and civil rights. The process of how they put aside personal differences and individual philosophies to reach agreement in the historic Brown v. Board of Education is only part of the author’s revealing exploration.

An immensely readable history that goes behind the façade of our most august institution to reveal the flesh-and-blood characters who make our laws.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-58057-1

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: July 9, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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