Oliver Wendell Holmes: Book summary and reviews of Oliver Wendell Holmes by Stephen Budiansky

Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Life in War, Law, and Ideas

by Stephen Budiansky

Oliver Wendell Holmes by Stephen Budiansky X
Oliver Wendell Holmes by Stephen Budiansky
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  • Published in USA  May 2019
    592 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

The extraordinary story of the U.S. Supreme Court's most influential justice.

Oliver Wendell Holmes twice escaped death as a young Union officer in the Civil War when musket balls missed his heart and spinal cord by a fraction of an inch at the Battles of Ball's Bluff and Antietam. He lived ever after with unwavering moral courage, unremitting scorn for dogma, and an insatiable intellectual curiosity.

Named to the Supreme Court by Theodore Roosevelt at age sixty-one, he served for nearly three decades, writing a series of famous, eloquent, and often dissenting opinions that would prove prophetic in securing freedom of speech, protecting the rights of criminal defendants, and ending the Court's reactionary resistance to social and economic reforms.

As a pioneering legal scholar, Holmes revolutionized the understanding of common law by showing how the law always evolved to meet the changing needs of society. As an enthusiastic friend and indefatigable correspondent, he wrote thousands of personal letters brimming with humorous philosophical insights, trenchant comments on the current scene, and an abiding joy in fighting the good fight.

Drawing on many previously unpublished letters and records, Stephen Budiansky's definitive biography offers the fullest portrait yet of this pivotal American figure, whose zest for life, wit, and intellect left a profound legacy in law and Constitutional rights, and who was an inspiring example of how to lead a meaningful life in a world of uncertainty and upheaval.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Top-notch ... An entirely fascinating biography of one of America's most important legal minds." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"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." - Publishers Weekly

"The longevity and complexity of Holmes's life and judicial philosophy present a formidable challenge to a biographer. Stephen Budiansky has met that challenge in distinguished fashion." - James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

"Stephen Budiansky's Oliver Wendell Holmes portrays the ultimate giant of American law and intellectual history. In this stunningly researched and compellingly written biography Budiansky brings Holmes back to life. This is an astonishing look at what made our native jurisprudence genius tick. Highly recommended!" - Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior and Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair of Humanities and professor of history at Rice University

"A lively and informative portrait of the great justice." - Robert C. Post, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School

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Author Information

Stephen Budiansky

Stephen Budiansky is a historian, author, and journalist whose writing has appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, he resides in Loudoun County, Virginia.

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