HONORABLE JUSTICE: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes by Sheldon M. Novick

HONORABLE JUSTICE: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Attorney Novick (The Careless Atom, The Electric War) offers the first full biography of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. But Holmes, one of the towering figures of the Supreme Court, is unintentionally reduced by the author's ill-advised preoccupation with minutia. Novick succeeds in painting the portrait of a brilliant man who is able to bridge the gap between science and philosophy. Relying upon anecdotes and quotes from Holmes' papers, Novick traces Holmes' life from his childhood in Boston to his position as the ""great dissenter"" of US Supreme Court. In between, we watch Holmes mature and nearly die during his service as a Union officer during the Civil War. Professionally, we follow Holmes' development from fledgling lawyer to great legal thinker and author of one of the most respected legal masterpieces of all time, The Common Law. Personally, we watch his many flirtations, both intellectual and emotional, with friends and admirers. It is a pity that this biography was not more carefully edited, as the author's commitment to understanding Holmes is evident. The work suffers, though, from one of the great liabilities of legal writing--a willingness to interrupt the flow of a paragraph in order to pile up support for a proposition. Repeatedly, the author makes a conclusion that is then supported by a quote from Holmes' correspondence that is nearly indistinguishable from the conclusion. While we glimpse Holmes' greatness, Novick's biography fails to give us a clear view of one of the most intriguing and important legal figures in US history, who here is obscured by the thicket of legalistic detail and debate.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 1989
Publisher: Little, Brown