October 14, 2010
Getting to Five: New Biography of Justice Brennan (NB the $2.05 price differential on Amazon for pBook-Kindle eBook editons)
Some, well really who wouldn't say, as Chuck Leddy does that "William Brennan was probably the most liberal US Supreme Court justice in the post-World War II era." See Leddy's Christian Science Monitor review of Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel's long in the making and likely to be viewed for now as the definitive biography of this very influential jurist: Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. 4, 2010). [Link to book's website]
In Getting to Five, (New York Times Sunday Book Review, Oct 8, 2010), Dahlia Litwick writes:
The burning question has always been whether Brennan’s influence on the Warren court — which engendered a revolution that has yet to be fully reversed all these years later — was as dramatic and outsized as we’ve been led to believe. In “The Brethren,” Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong described Brennan glad-handing and horse-trading his way to one victory after another, a depiction Brennan resented for portraying him as the archetypal “Irish ward boss.”
In the decades since, Brennan has come to be seen as an epic strategist and deal-maker who coordinated many of the Warren court’s major decisions behind the scenes. Where this book truly soars is in its account of Brennan’s skills at — as he always described it to his clerks — getting to five: finding a way to string together five fractious votes for some new principle or doctrine, or seeding some future principle or doctrine between the lines. It’s clear from this biography that what Brennan did wasn’t alchemy, even when it wasn’t always perfectly principled. He emerges as so carefully attuned to the concerns and passions of his colleagues that he was able, time after time, to draft opinions, or help them draft opinions, in ways that could achieve five votes.
Stern and Wermiel's work focuses on Justice Brennan's thirty-four-year tenure on the Supreme Court (1956-90), meaning very little attention is paid to his life before SCOTUS. The biography may be hampered by the fact that Wermeil, who had unprecedented access starting in 1986 by way of interviews with Brennan and his papers, put aside his unfinished notes in the late 1990s, meaning Justice Brennan, who died in 1997, never saw even a draft of the biography. Finally in 2006, Wermiel recruited HLS grad and CQ reporter Seth Stern to "rescue the project" as Adam Liptak writes in Brennan Book, Many Years in Making. The biography was mostly written by Stern based on Wermeil's notes and is being well received by book reviewers in the media.
pBook-Kindle eBook Pricing: If you check Amazon volunteer reviews, negative reviews appear for this title because some folks are upset with the pricing for the Kindle edition. Print list price is $35.00, pBook Amazon price is $20.47. Kindle price is $18.42. For more on this emerging development, see Julie Brosman's recent New York Times article, 2 E-Books Cost More Than Amazon Hardcovers. [JH]