The Justice from Beacon Hill: The Life and Times of Oliver Wendell Holmes

Liva Baker, Author HarperCollins Publishers $29.95 (783p) ISBN 978-0-06-016629-8
A popular legend in his lifetime, Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) was a hero to progressives and liberals. Yet according to Baker, biographer of Felix Frankfurter, Holmes's ``civil libertarian outbursts'' were rare and were less libertarian than many assume; his mixed civil rights record during his three decades on the Court (1902-1932) ``leaned toward support of Southern customs.'' In an engrossing, definitive biography Baker strips away the layers of mythology cloaking the ``Great Dissenter'' to depict an insular, aloof snob who only fitfully acted on his professed belief that the law should respond to ever-changing social and economic pressures. Rather than preserving a model of Olympian detachment, Baker limns an ambitious egotist who strived to outdo his famous poet-physician father, and a romantic rover whose transatlantic, extramarital involvement with Lady Clare Castletown of Ireland left him an ``emotional wreck.'' Photos. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/01/1991
Release date: 07/01/1991
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