Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas

Stephen Budiansky. Norton, $29.99 (592p) ISBN 978-0-393-63472-3
Historian and journalist Budiansky (Code Warriors) delivers a well-crafted and accessible biography of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841–1935). Drawing on previously unpublished letters and other sources, Budiansky illuminates Holmes’s life inside and outside the courtroom: Holmes fought (and nearly died) for the Union in the Civil War, and his letters from the front offer vivid, compelling descriptions of day-to-day horrors and insight into how the war influenced his philosophy, making him skeptical of certainty but nonetheless committed to action. Though happily married, Holmes had numerous long and close relationships with women, with whom he regularly corresponded; he comes across as an erudite correspondent whose respect for the equality of women was far ahead of his time. Budiansky’s discussions of Holmes’s work on the Supreme Court after his 1902 appointment cites both his influential majority decisions and dissents—such as his dissent in Abrams v. U.S., which introduced the now-deeply-embedded idea that America is best served not by limiting speech but by protecting “the free trade of ideas”—and notes contradictions between Holmes’s private beliefs and his judicial opinions. This wide-ranging examination of Holmes as an individual and of the law he helped make will appeal to those with an interest in constitutional law as well as to general readers. Photos. (May)
Reviewed on : 04/10/2019
Release date: 05/28/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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