I am an avid eclectic reader.
I learned so much from this book. I must admit I had not read or studied anything about the history of the first amendment before. This absorbing book is about the law and also about change, how one man's thinking evolved nearly 100 years ago. For 125 years the first amendment was essentially dead until Holmes wrote his dissent in 1919. Thomas Healy shows us how Holmes was educated/persuaded to change his mind about the meaning and reach of our most fundamental safeguard. His friends, Justice Brandeis, Judge Learned Hand, Harold Laski, Felix Frankfurter, Zechariah Chafee (all teachers at Harvard) and others had discussion, letter exchanges and loaned or gave him books to read. Holmes was a voracious reader and during his summer breaks he devoured books that challenged his thinking. Holmes also had a habit we should all learn, he listened to people who didn't agree with him and set about to learn more about the topic from all view points.
The rule, at the time, borrowed from British practice, was that you could speak and publish freely without fear of prior restraint, but once you had spoken, the State had the freedom to prosecute you. Holmes had written the majority opinion in Debs V U.S. upholding the conviction. Eugene Debs was the Socialist candidate for President. He gave a campaign speech and was arrested after for violation of the Sedition act and sentence to 10 years in prison. I found this interesting because via Audible I had read "1920: The year of six Presidents" by David Pietrusza and "Clarence Darrow" by John A. Farrell. Darrow was Debs attorney. Both these books provided a great deal of information about Debs and the above mentioned case. Holmes had been a defender of the power of government to punish controversial speech. He was a Boston Brahmin and his friends were owners of big business so he dismissed the fight of and for unions and the problems of the workers.
I found it fascinating how Holmes's friend educated him at age 78 to change his mind. . When the Court reconvened in the fall they heard the case Abrams V U.S. Holmes decided to write the dissent opinion in the case and changed the Frist Amendment forever. He provided guidelines to help determine when the speech crossed the line, he stated "clear and present danger of public harm" to be the key. The Abrams case is covered in-depth in the book so I will not spoil it by going into it. Danny Campbell did a good job with the narration. This is a book I am going to read again.
“Devil in the Grove” won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Gilbert King did a lot of research to write the story; he goes into painstaking detail about the tactics used by Thurgood Marshall (future Supreme Court Judge) and his co-NAACP attorney Franklin Williams to chip away at the foundations of the Jim Crow Law. He documents in detail the reign of terror conducted in Lake County by the KKK and Sheriff Willis McCall who is portrayed as a ruthless brutal man. The book is about four black men falsely accused of raping Normal Lee Padgett, a 17 year old white woman in Groveland Florida in 1949. King’s research shows that there was no physical evidence and two of the Groveland Four were not even within a day’s drive of the area Padgett claimed the rape took place. Sheriff McCall killed two of the men while in his custody. He was never charged for the shootings. The other two were badly beaten many times but no one was ever charged with the beatings. The KKK burned to the ground the black community in Groveland. King details the complicated case involving 4 defendants, several trials, various appeals, numerous defense attorneys, multiple judges and different points of law. I learned a few pearls from the story 1) more black man were lynched in Florida than any other Southern State and 2) these were the type of cases that evidentially lead to removing the death penalty from rape cases. I was appalled at the treatment of black people by the white in Lake County, if the blacks were the main pickers of the oranges, I just cannot understand why they were beaten and killed. Dead men do not pick oranges. Also it is a disgrace to have Sheriff McCall be re-elected to office for over 20 years. I read this book because I am reading books about the Supreme Court Justices and even though this book takes place before Marshall was appointed to the court I thought it would provide me with an insight into the man, which the book did. Peter Francis James did an excellent job narrating the book.
Over the past four years I have read many books on World War One. This year (2014) marks the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and many books are coming out about WWI. I have read quite a few of them already. This book, “1914: The Year the World Ended”, is by the Australian Historian Paul Ham. The book is mostly about how the world went to war and very little about the battles. Recently a number of books by other writers have covered the same ground and done so in a much more enjoyable fashion. Ham tells the story leading up to the war from Austria-Hungarian, Russian, German, Serbian, British, French and Ottoman perspectives. The author follows the ebb and flow of diplomacy in Europe in the years leading up to The Great War. He highlights the feeling of inevitability of war going back a decade that served to cloud everyone’s judgment. He points out that 1914 was a pivotal year in human history. It led to the Russian Revolution, the cold war and was the seed that allowed Nazism and World War II to grow. It changed societies and countries around the globe. It was the beginning of the end of empires and monarchies as the world had known them. At the end of the book Ham relates briefly some of the battles but only covered one “the miracle on the Marne” in any detail. Despite some flaws the author performs an important role in attempting to distill historical work for the broader audiences. As there is a number of books out on this subject I wish Ham would have covered the role of the Australians played in World War One, I think that would have make a more unique book. Robert Meldrum did a good job narrating this 23 hour book.