An entirely fascinating biography of one of America’s most important legal minds.

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OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

A LIFE IN WAR, LAW, AND IDEAS

A top-notch new biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841-1935).

Turning the influential judge’s life into a page-turner seems a highly difficult task, but journalist and historian Budiansky (Code Warriors: NSA's Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union, 2016, etc.) succeeds admirably. The son of a well-known physician and an abolitionist, Holmes dropped out of Harvard to enlist in 1861. During three years of Civil War service, he suffered terribly and almost died. The war eliminated his youthful ideals but may have contributed to his judicial philosophy. Recovering from injuries, he completed law school and launched a legal career, impressing colleagues with his charm and legal scholarship. His writing is still quoted, and his briefs were more succinct than most. Appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1882 and U.S. Supreme Court in 1902, Holmes became a major figure in overturning the traditional view that law stems from authority—codes, the Bible, the Constitution—in favor of legal realism, which interprets law through its effect on society. Although still known as the “great dissenter” (not exactly a mark of success), his decisions made him popular among progressives and provided legal support for economic regulation and the expansion of personal freedom. Conservatives may cringe at his quip, “I really like paying taxes. With them, I buy civilization,” but Budiansky emphasizes that Holmes’ vaunted liberalism was evident only in his legal decisions and sometimes not even there. An abolitionist before the war, he showed little sympathy for African-Americans afterward. He opposed women’s suffrage and despised labor unions, socialists, and other movements that claimed to oppose injustice. Yet, a man of “skeptical temperament to the core…he never mistook his own views for eternal truth.” Absent a clear danger, he maintained that obnoxious opinions deserved the same rights as his own. This remains a minority view in America, and legal realism, in decline since the 1960s, shows no signs of reviving.

An entirely fascinating biography of one of America’s most important legal minds.

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63472-3

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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

NIGHT

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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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