The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed his Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America

Thomas Healy. Metropolitan, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9456-5
Seton Hall law professor Healy traces the evolution of the iconic United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s understanding of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment in this excellent work of history and legal scholarship. The author masterfully depicts the transition from Holmes’s limited view of First Amendment protections to an expansive, eloquent, and precedent-setting interpretation. In one of the landmark dissents in Supreme Court history (in the 1919 case of Abrams v. United States), Holmes said that the “ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas”; that sentiment has since become a bedrock of American jurisprudence and culture. The story of Holmes’s change of heart and mind unfolds gracefully, and features fellow justices, the legacy of John Stuart Mill, legal scholars, and social critics, all of whom provide the intellectual raw material that lead to the great jurist’s conversion. Along with clear explanations of the legal theories at play, the author provides context to Holmes’s decision with informative descriptions of the historical events of the time and insightful forays into Holmes personal psychology. This is a fascinating look at how minds change, and how the world can change in turn. 8-page photo insert. Agent: Ryan Fischer-Harbage, Fischer-Harbage Agency. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 08/20/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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