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Publisher's Summary

John Marshall (1755 - 1835) was arguably the most important judicial figure in American history. As the fourth chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from 1801 to 1835, he helped move the Court from the fringes of power to the epicenter of constitutional government. His great opinions in cases like Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland are still part of the working discourse of constitutional law in America. Drawing on a new and definitive edition of Marshall's papers, R. Kent Newmyer combines engaging narrative with new historiographical insights in a fresh interpretation of John Marshall's life in the law. More than the summation of Marshall's legal and institutional accomplishments, Newmyer's impressive study captures the nuanced texture of the justice's reasoning, the complexity of his mature jurisprudence, and the affinities and tensions between his system of law and the transformative age in which he lived. It substantiates Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s view of Marshall as the most representative figure in American law.

©2001 Louisiana State University Press (P)2016 Redwood Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"In this sustained and thoughtful examination, Newmyer concentrates on his subject's ideas more than his personality or his life's chronology.... this account will persuade readers that the judge is indeed worthy of study and admiration." ( Publishers Weekly)
"A legal and historical scholar with particular expertise in assessing the impact of U.S. Supreme Court heavyweights, Newmyer here offers fresh insight into the life, times, contributions, and significance of the Court's fourth chief justice. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries." ( Library Journal)

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Long & Informative. Oyez.

Extensive. Exhausting. Both are applicable to this book on John Marshall. Very comprehensive, and so anyone wanting to know what seems to be everything about him, this is the book for you. But I would have preferred the audio book to have been not as long. However, I am glad I did persevere until the end. About two-thirds through I just wanted it to be over. But the author (whose background research into Marshall is impressive) did not intend this book to be one of mere highlights. (His observations on Virginia politics was especially fascinating.)

Surprisingly, my opinion of John Marshall (which had been high) lowered as I learned more about him. I realize he was a product of his time, and a large majority of the elite favored property over freedom, but Marshall’s defense of property seemed to be more than it needed to be. Nevertheless, I still admire his efforts to establish and strengthen the importance and power of the Supreme Court (beginning, of course, with Marbury v. Madison). Although the Supreme Court has generated much ill as well as much good for American society (e.g., the Dred Scott case as opposed to Brown v. Board of Education), I shudder to think what this country would have been had the Supreme Court continued to be a lowly, mostly ignored third branch of government.

I do recommend this book for learning about John Marshall, and the narrator does a decent job. However, be prepared for a significant time commitment to wade through it all.

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Excellent judicial, intellectual history

First and foremost, this should not be your first biography of John Marshall. Had I not just listened to an excellent one, I think I would have been lost quite a bit of the time. Newmyer assumes a passing knowledge of both Marshall and the law, and knowing a handful of Supreme Court cases doesn’t hurt.

That being said, Newmyer offers a fascinating analysis of Marshall’s decisions, situating them vis a vis intellectual, juridical and historical context, looking back to their sources and legal traditions and forward to their effects, ramifications and influences. He deftly teases apart Marshall’s legacy, maintaining their complexity while unwinding the strands into accessible, coherent themes and arguments.

Marshall’s tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stretched over six presidents: John Adams, who appointed him, Jefferson, who hated him, Madison and Monroe, who respected him while disagreeing with him, John Quincy Adams, who defended him and Andrew Jackson, who opposed him as much as possible. Newmyer explores how his jurisprudence adjusted to the changing politics of the age, while illuminating the consistent strands that connect all his decisions.

Well worth reading to fill out and expand your knowledge of John Marshall, antebellum American history, constitutional law and the Supreme Court.