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Publisher's Summary

Beginning in 1935, in a series of devastating decisions, the Supreme Court's conservative majority left much of Franklin Roosevelt's agenda in ruins. The pillars of the New Deal fell in short succession. It was not just the New Deal but democracy itself that stood on trial. In February 1937, Roosevelt struck back with an audacious plan to expand the Court to fifteen justices - and to "pack" the new seats with liberals who shared his belief in a "living" Constitution. The ensuing fight was a firestorm that engulfed the White House, the Court, Congress, and the nation.

The final verdict was a shock. It dealt FDR the biggest setback of his political life, split the Democratic party, and set the stage for a future era of Republican dominance. Yet the battle also transformed America's political and constitutional landscape, hastening the nation's march into the modern world.

This brilliant work of history unfolds like a thriller, with vivid characters and unexpected twists. Providing new evidence and fresh insight, Jeff Shesol shows why understanding the Court fight is essential to understanding the presidency, personality, and legacy of FDR - and to understanding America at a crossroads in its history.

©2010 Jess Shesol (P)2010 Tantor

Critic Reviews

Supreme Power is an extraordinary book that rings with relevance for our time.” (Bill Clinton)
"Characterizing defining traits of the main combatants—FDR, Chief Justice Charles Hughes, and Senator Burt Wheeler—Shesol skillfully illustrates the nexus of personality and principle, with the New Deal and the Constitution being perceived as at stake. A book sure to recruit history readers, especially those eyeing present political currents." (Booklist)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • IRP
  • Falmouth, ME United States
  • 07-04-10

Excellent Book and Naration

This book was extremely well written and well narrated- it is probably one of the best books I've listened to this year. Jeff Shesol did a great job of painting a picture of all of the key players in Roosevelt's attempt to pack the Supreme Court- from Roosevelt himself to Senators Bert Wheeler and Joe Robinson, to each of the US Supreme Court Justices that made up that court. What made this book so great was that the author did an incredible job of framing each of the key player's personal agendas and priorities as either a proponent or opponent of the court packing scheme as well as providing a brief biography of each of them. Most interesting were the discussions of Chief Justice Hughes (a former US Presidetial candidate) as well as Justices Stone and Roberts (who eventually became the key swing vote in the court). I strongly recommend the book as a great listen

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Powerful and relevent

There are many similarities between our great depression and or current great recession. Understanding the former goes a long way to understanding the latter. This book brings up Roosevelts New Deal agenda, the conservative Supreme Court's opposition and the resulting battle that was waged. Of paramount significance is the realization that today's conservative movement got its start with Roosevelt's defeat to pack the Supreme Court.

The book's presentation is first rate. Mel Foster was an inspired choice to be narrator. His imitation of Roosevelt is right on the mark. A must listen!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

terrific book brings 1930s politics to life

A well-written and well-narrative audiobook that effectively brings the politics of the 1930s to life. Without really meaning to, or doing so explicitly, the number of parallels to the fractious politics of the contemporary scene are remarkable. During the early part of the book I found myself nodding knowingly as I saw things in the early- to mid-1930s that looked like the late-2000s. But as I got caught up in the drama and the characters of the Supreme Court fight, those fell aside and the story moved along without having to remind me of today. A great accomplishment. History does repeat itself, more or less, but history has its own story to tell that is not always an object lesson to what is in the newspaper today. Highly recommended.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • Silver Spring, MD, United States
  • 08-22-10

Marvelous History

"Supreme Power" is a brilliant exposition of the period when the Constitution emerged from the straightjacket of the 19th century property rights movement and helped to create modern constitutional approaches to the inherent powers of the Commerce Clause and the plenary power of Congress to act in the national interest, which was essential to the civil rights and environmental movements, among other important trends in contemporary America. Shesol tells an utterly compellibng story in a lively, non-pedantic manner. An absolute must for any student of American political history.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


During the "read" of "Supreme Power", I couldn't help but feel as if history was almost repeating itself.
And It's amazing how many names associated with the FDR administration are found in later Presidencies, including the present!
Truly, it's a crying shame, that knowing American history isn't a prerequisite to actually participating in Making American history.
This is an excellent story, a real "page turner", with a flawless narration that adds to feel of holding history in your very own hands.
Listen, read, feel - Whatever! - make this the one book you "do" if you're grappling with the issues over our Supreme Court and the demise of our democracy today.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Good but long

This book was very informative for those interested in the topic. I do think it was overly long and repetitive at times. Furthermore, it focuses much more on the issues from the point of view of Roosevelt, the Administration, and Congress than it does from the point of view of the Supreme Court. This might be simply due to the information available, but as a legal history buff, I found this to make it less enjoyable for me. Listeners interested primarily in the New Deal and Roosevelt rather than the New Deal and the Supreme Court, will likely view this book differently than I did.

The narrator was good but droned from time to time.

Overall, recommended to those willing to make the 20+ hour investment.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Jeffrey
  • Petaluma, CA, United States
  • 06-06-12

Exactly what I wanted to learn.

In all the other books I have read about the time I have heard about Roosevelt trying to pack the court, but now I know what that really means.

  • Overall
  • Doug
  • Glenwood, IA, United States
  • 10-13-10


As a history lover I enjoyed this book. Shesol gives intricate details of the struggles of this era. The writing did get a bit dry from time to time.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • rachel
  • Yakima, WA, United States
  • 08-18-10

very tight focus

I was a little surprised by how narrow and tight was the focus of this book. I guess I let myself believe this book would talk more broadly about the history of the supreme court or even more broadly about the presidency of FDR. Instead the book covered several years (~36-~38) mostly during FDR's second term. The action and insight of the book was almost entirely focused on the supreme court and FDR's court packing plan. I know this was what was blurbed for the book but I was surprised that mentions of other national and world events (depression, New Deal and WW2) were quite minimal and only mentioned in passing as they related to the court.
I would have liked more in-depth analysis of those concurrent events and a broader ranging discussion of both the court history and maybe FDR's history. For how much time I spent with this book, I feel like I have gained little, though the reading and the story itself was enjoyable enough while I was listening to it.
I also had to do some homework part way through this book. I needed to refresh myself on the order and years of the presidents just before FDR and I needed to google the 'teapot dome" scandal. I wish the author had filled that in a bit more, though now that I've read the Wikipedia entry I can't say that background would have been very interesting.

Overall, decent book. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it strongly but it isn't a total waste of a credit. I would like to find a broader history of the supreme court, though.

0 of 5 people found this review helpful