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Publisher's Summary

The remarkable story of John Marshall who, as chief justice, statesman, and diplomat, played a pivotal role in the founding of the United States.

No member of America's founding generation had a greater impact on the Constitution and the Supreme Court than John Marshall, and no one did more to preserve the delicate unity of the fledgling United States. From the nation's founding in 1776 and for the next 40 years, Marshall was at the center of every political battle. As Chief Justice of the United States - the longest-serving in history - he established the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of the federal Constitution and courts. As the leading Federalist in Virginia, he rivaled his cousin Thomas Jefferson in influence. As a diplomat and secretary of state, he defended American sovereignty against France and Britain, counseled President John Adams, and supervised the construction of the city of Washington, DC.

This is the astonishing true story of how a rough-cut frontiersman - born in Virginia in 1755 and with little formal education - invented himself as one of the nation's preeminent lawyers and politicians who then reinvented the Constitution to forge a stronger nation. Without Precedent is the engrossing account of the life and times of this exceptional man, who with cunning, imagination, and grace shaped America's future as he held together the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the country itself.

©2018 Joel Richard Paul (P)2018 Penguin Audio

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Scholarly and Accessible

When I think about Founding Fathers, I usually only think about the Presidents plus Benjamin Franklin. It turns out John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from John Adams through Andrew Jackson (34 years--the record for Chief Justices) is as important as any of them in the forming of our nation.

This is the second book I have listened to about Marshall, and it far outshines the other (What Kind of Nation by James F Simon). First of all, it covers much more of Marshall's biography, providing more personal context for his political life. Second, Paul couches his statement and especially his judgments in historical fact and context, sharing the common narratives, both pro and con, about each topic he discusses. Third, Paul goes as far back as necessary to fully contextualize each important case or event he discusses so that the listener can understand the how we got here, what it means and where it leads us of each of the momentous decisions Marshall wrote. So I learned as much, well, more actually, about law as I did about Marshall himself.

Definitely worth listening to. Fascinating history that has implications up through today.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 03-13-18

A Fascinating Biography

This is a major new biography of John Marshall (1755-1835). Marshall was President John Adams’ Secretary of State. As he was going out of office, Adams appointed John Marshall as the Chief of the Supreme Court. Even though Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice, he was the one that transformed the Court into its current role and one of the key balances of power in the government. Paul covers Marshall’s early life and reveals him as a man. Of course, he also goes into depth discussing his role on the Supreme Court. Marshall was the longest serving Chief Justice. More than any other biography of Marshall, Paul goes into detail about Marshall the man.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Paul attempts to be unbiased as far as Marshall is concerned but not so for President Thomas Jefferson. The book is easy to read with a flowing narrative. Paul’s writing style makes complex legal cases easy to understand for the layman. I found this to be one of the best biographies on Marshall that I have read to date. If one is interested in the Supreme Court, this is a must-read book.

Joel Richard Paul is a Professor of International Economic Law and Constitutional Law at the University of California Hastings Law School in San Francisco, California.

The book is just over seventeen hours. Fred Sanders does a good job narrating the book. Sanders is a stage and film actor as well as an audiobook narrator.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Founding Father Forgotten

This is a solid biography about a little appreciated founding father. John Marshall was the Chief Justice who "created" and defined what the Supreme Court means to the success of our country. With this book, you learn the background of the man who did so much to preserve the union during its infancy. You will also discover that politics today isn't all that different than 200 years ago.

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The Forgotten Founding Father

This work filled a real gap for me. My reading group has started studying The Constitution-- its origins, influences on its creators and details about the controversies that existed as our
Constitution was born. I noticed early on that the references to John Marshall and his contributions to the formation and implementation of The Constitution were the most numerous of any in our reading sources. The fine work by Law professor Joel Richard Paul completely filled my knowledge gap about Marshall.

The book details Marshall's humble beginnings, his military career and the influence of George Washington, his prickly relationship with his cousin Jefferson, his important sojourn to France with Pinckney and Gerry after the Revolutionary War as well as his early role in Federalist-Republican politics. The fledgling Supreme Court, barely had a place to work and live in during it's early days in Washington. Marshall's brilliance and steadfastness helped to define the roll of the court as the defender of the Constitution in several early and crucial cases such as Marbury V. Madison, a ruling that helped to establish judicial review.

Marshall's family and social relationships are also detailed. What a surprise to learn that this polymath wrote poetry!

After listening to this audible book (and also purchasing the book!), I strongly believe that John Marshall deserves a place along side of Washington, Madison, Adams, Hamilton and Jefferson as one of Founding Fathers.

For anyone interested in the early history of our country, and especially the early struggles of the Supreme Court to become a strong and independent arm of our tripartite Republic,
I highly recommend this book.

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Strong performance but continuous mispronunciation

What about Fred Sanders’s performance did you like?

I am enjoying Sanders' reading, but he has mispronounced a central character in Marshall's early years -- Elbridge Gerry. Gerry's name was pronounced with a hard G. We speak of gerrymandering (now pronounced with soft G) because of Gerry's role, as Governor, in establishing voting districts in Massachusetts. But his G was hard. Since the soft G is easier on the ear, Sanders' reading is not hard on the ear even though it is incorrect.

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Worthwhile introduction to Marshall

In my opinion this is a "popular" work, not a scholarly one. If moves fast and does not go into any part of Marshall's life in great detail. I think most listeners would find the material easy to follow. Unfortunately, with these audio books you don't get to see the footnotes and source documentation, which would be useful with a biography like this. This is my first book on John Marshall, so it was nice to have something that gave me a general overview of his life. The book necessarily covers only a small number of the many cases heard by the Marshall court.

My take away from this is I had no idea how influential this one man was in the evolution of the original union of thirteen North American colonies into the tragic behemoth the United States is today. Marshall invented the legal and philosophical foundation by which the federal government usurped the rights and powers of the sovereign state governments that created it. He thereby gave birth to the nation we have today in which all power resides in Washington, D.C. Not surprisingly, there were contemporaries of Marshall who predicted the long-term consequences of his actions, but apparently Marshall was blinded by his fear of a disintegration of the union. Thus he was willing to deny others the self-evident truths (rights) for which he fought as an officer in the American Revolution in order to establish and preserve the supremacy of the new Federal government. Marshall did not seek to strike a balance between the powers of the State and Federal governments, rather he sought to establish the unassailable supremacy of the Federal government that plagues us today.

But Marshall appears to have been a person whose company we all would have enjoyed socially. And he also appears to have been a man of high personal integrity. However, the author does seem to have a bias in favor of Marshall, so maybe he paints a more flattering picture than is warranted. It was refreshing to hear the author's comments on Jefferson, who is worshiped like a deity where I live in central Virginia, yet is dripping with hypocrisy and vanity.

The narrator does an adequate job. I do recommend this book for those with an interest in the subject or period.

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love American history. great man . 15 words or no

audible needs to rethink it's review process can say anything unless I give it at least 15 words I don't want to spend time giving 15 words and thinking I just wanted to say something but that's not what what Audible considers acceptable so this is what you got

0 of 1 people found this review helpful