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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.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Great book, good narration

I'd give this book 5-stars but the anti-Jefferson sentiment was heavy and by the end of the book it became quite annoying. That aside, the book is wonderful.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent book highlighting early SCOTUS history

Look at our first great Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall. Marshall essentially establishes the concept of “judicial review” that makes SCOTUS the arbitrator of constitutionally in law. SOME of the readings of court got a little dry at times, but otherwise a fascinating, well written and performed book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Interesting read...

Good bio on Marshall, but very anti Jefferson and allusions to today's politics that aren't necessary

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Intellectual history at its best.

Too much attention is too often paid to the one or two most prominent figures in an age. The American revolution and early years of the republic happily challenge that practice. Too many players of two much importance. John Marshall gets his due with "Without Precedent," tracing his political and judicial life with deep dives into individual Supreme Court cases and equally deep dives into his relationships with the other great people fighting for and building a new republic. And the dripping distain for Thomas Jefferson is alone worth the time spent listening to this well written and well structured complex story.

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Excellent Historical Biography About Great Jurist

As a practicing lawyer and student of history, I found this book to be outstanding. To a law school student, John Marshall is an icon in American legal history as it was he who defined the role that the US Supreme Court plays in the American political system. As a law school student, I read and studied many of his opinions (Marbury v. Madison, Gibbon v. Ogden, Woodward v. Dartmouth College as examples) which are seminal cases in US law, I never did have an appreciation for the political waters in which Marshall navigated the court nor did I know much about his personal life. This book added great color to my picture of him and I came away with a greater appreciation of what Marshall accomplished not just during his tenure as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court but also as a statesman (he was a diplomat and also the only Justice who also served briefly as Secretary of State during the John Adams administration) and hard scrabble frontiersman who, born of humble origin was able to invent himself as a soldier and lawyer. The book was well written and the narration by Fred Sanders was very very good. At times I thought the book offered too much hero worship of Marshall but the author balanced this much later in the book when he discussed Marshall's turnabout in the Antelope and Cherokee Nation cases. The book also was very disparaging of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Andrew Jackson (which in my opinion is somewhat justified as I personally believe that Jefferson was a very duplicitous hypocritical person), but I thought that the final chapter of the book in which the author contrasted the careers, political philosophy and characters of Jefferson and Marshall (Jefferson and Marshall were distantly related) was a perfect conclusion to the book. I strongly recommend the book not just to law school graduates, political scientists and history students, but also to all readers. In many ways, what Marshall confronted in his times is not much different from what we are confronting as a nation today.

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Excellent history of John Marshall

I am sometimes wary of books with "and His Times" in the subtitle, but in this case the times that were covered added greatly to the context of John Marshall. The early history of the Supreme Court was particularly well done. My other fear about the book was that I might get bored by the legalese in some of the case analysis, but the cases were explained well and the author kept it interesting. I thought I knew the era pretty well, but I was surprised at how much I learned from this well-written book.

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Too much of this historian's particular POV....

This is a GREAT biography of Marshall-- very well researched and with great information which was very useful to me. I had the feeling that Paul took sides in the Jefferson vs. Marshall conflict (on Marshall's side), and I didn't think that helped me all that much as a reader. I think he could have been more generous to Jefferson, but what is the point of taking sides in the first place?