Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Life in War, Law, and Ideas
Narrated by: Robertson Dean
Length: 16 hrs and 38 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (211 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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. 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 61, 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. 

Drawing on many previously unpublished letters and records, Stephen Budiansky's definitive biography offers the fullest portrait yet of this pivotal American figure, whose zest for life, wit, and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.

©2019 Stephen Budiansky (P)2019 Tantor

What listeners say about Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Top-Notch Biography

This is a new biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) published this year (2019). I have read a number of biographies about Holmes but most of those had a particular aspect of his life they focused on. This book is a complete thorough examination of Holmes’ life. Holmes is considered one of the greatest legal scholar/thinkers of his time. I was most interested in the detailed account of Holmes’ role in the Union Army during the Civil War.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. The book is long which allowed Budiansky to cover in-depth his early life as well as his time on the Supreme Court (1902-1931). Holmes was considered to be an expert on common law. Budiansky spent time examining Holmes’ tenure on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (1882-1988). This is an excellent biography covering Holmes’ life. The author attempted to be neutral in covering Holmes’ life.

The book is sixteen hours thirty-eight minutes. The written book is 544 pages. Robertson Dean does an excellent job narrating the book. Dean has been nominated several times for an Audie Award. He has won eight Earphone Awards and was Audiofile Magazine’s “Best Voice of 2010”.

29 people found this helpful

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The Great Skeptic

For those interested in philosophical skepticism, this biography of Holmes is a must read as a model for life based on philosophical skepticism.

Even in college Holmes showed a budding skepticism, attacking Plato's idealism, but his full-fledged skepticism was forged as a Union soldier in the Civil War where he observed first hand the dangers of moral certainty. He was not alone in this. At the beginning of the war his unit was divided between Abolitionists and Unionists who derided one another. After a couple of year, nearly all of them had become Copperheads.

Holmes' judicial decisions demonstrated disdain for operating from legal theories and first principles and a preference for operating from custom and historical experience. The one exception to that is that is that Holmes became a great champion of free speech, as it is only through free speech can dogmas be brought down.

13 people found this helpful

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Aims High

you will certainly come to know OWH the man as well as the Justice but I don't think anyone will ever be able to Define him using today's political Spectrum. this book brings you closer understanding but I found myself looking up the cases described as sometimes I had a hard time following the reasoning behind some of the conclusions spelled out by the author. that's not to take anything away from this author who took a very difficult task. definitely not for the Casual reader but definitely worth the challenge

10 people found this helpful

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Best biography of one of the most original thinker

of American jurisprudence. The Holmes model should serve as a model for all of our current supreme Court justices!!

11 people found this helpful

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very enjoyable

This is a very good biography of Holmes, captures his life and influence well and moves along quickly. Dean is a terrific narrator, as usual.

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Always something to learn

Of course I had heard of Oliver Wendell Holmes, but I knew nothing about him. This book is well told, informative and certainly a great introduction to such an influential man.

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An excellent review OWL and the USA in his times.

A fascinating review of not only the life of Oliver Wendall Holmes but also a wonderful history of the USA, in the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. The narration was engaging and the voices well representative of the characters. I learned a great deal about what makes our country great and fallible.

2 people found this helpful

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An Excellent History of Mr. Holmes

I was Not a History Major in college, but found this to be an excellent presentation of the life and times of Mr. Holmes.

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Thoroughly researched

Thoroughly researched and fairly presented. Presented with a critical eye of Holmes, but with knowledge and acknowledgment of his greatness. The quality of the reading is very good, very audible so to speak. I loved it. Holmes was one of the greatest jurists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Recommend this book

An excellent book in all respects and one that I will buy in print for my library.

1 person found this helpful