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Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir Hardcover – October 3, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (October 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031619980X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316199803
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A gentle memoir by a decent and accomplished public servant. Stevens opts not for jabs or evening scores but rather for reminiscences...Laced with observations on the court's architecture, traditions and even its seating arrangements, it is the collected ruminations of a man who has served his country in war and peace, across the decades... His memoir is as gracious as its author and a reminder that Stevens is more than a longtime member of the nation's highest court. He is a national treasure."—Jim Newton, Los Angeles Times

"Five Chiefs is a 248-page bow-tie; like its dignified author, and his famous sartorial flourish, an unpretentious but important addition to American history...At its core, the book is not just another memoir from yet another judge. It marks instead the end of an era on the Supreme Court and in the broader swath of American law and politics...Stevens' focused eye gives way to a hundred or so smaller points, some densely legal, some historical, some even funny...Five Chiefs is the right book at the right time. It's a brief and largely defanged reminder of some of what we have lost in public life with the demise of the "moderate Republican" on Capitol Hill and the "practical conservative" on the federal bench...A fine new book.—Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic

"A funny little memoir, as quirky and interesting as its author...The biggest value of Five Chiefs is its anecdotal color in filling in our understanding of the Court and its members."—Michael O'Donnell, Washington Monthly

"An informative and very appealing new memoir of life on the Supreme Court...Justice Stevens not only shows extraordinary respect for the Court as an institution, but does the same for his former colleagues-even ones with whom he often disagreed...[It's] classic Justice Stevens: understated and generous to those he differs with, but absolutely clear on where he believes justice lies."—Adam Cohen, Time

"In one way or another, Stevens finds a shared passion-social, military, or just tennis or piloting small aircraft-with everyone at the court, as a way of explaining that at a court, this intimately connected, the commonalities will always outweigh the differences...Coming from the last of a dying breed of jurists who genuinely believe you can learn something from everyone if you just listen hard enough, it is a lesson in how, at the Supreme Court, civility and cordiality matter more, even, than doctrine."—Dahlia Lithwick, Washington Post

"There have been many Supreme Court memoirs, but I can safely say his is the most self-effacing. The title itself is other-directed...And it seems to pain the old-school, bow-tied Stevens that, in order to understand his connection to the chiefs 'some autobiographical comments must be tolerated.' ... Stevens can also be winningly wry."—The Boston Globe

About the Author

John Paul Stevens served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 1970-1975. President Ford nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat December 19, 1975. Justice Stevens retired from the Supreme Court on June 29, 2010.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 96 people found the following review helpful By D.L. on October 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir by retired associate justice of the Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens, is not your typical memoir or autobiography. While it can hardly be called "comprehensive," since it provides a narrow view of Justice Stevens' life, the book is still chock full of wisdom, wit, and insight.

I have always admired Justice Stevens' mastery of the plain English language while he was on the bench and this book is a fine example. While some may be wary about reading a book by a Supreme Court justice for fear that they might not understand it, this book is written in a clear, eloquent and at times folksy language. The only parts that may pose slight problems to the reader is when Justice Stevens discusses a complex case or constitutional issue in little more than a paragraph or two. However, these should not detract from your enjoyment of the book because they serve more as anecdotes rather than central plot points. Furthermore, Justice Stevens includes a copy of the Constitution in the appendix to the book so that those who are not familiar with the part of the Constitution he sometimes quotes may look it up for themselves.

In addition to the language being easily readable and enjoyable, the book is also well organized. The book begins with an introduction to the book that like a good legal opinion serves as a road map for the book.
Next, Justice Stevens discusses the 12 previous chief justices that he had no interactions with. As he discusses, the first he interacted with was the 13th Chief Justice, Fred Vinson, who was the chief when he was a law clerk to Justice Wiley Rutledge.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on October 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think this interesting book by retired Justice John Paul Stevens will appeal to two groups. First, the general reader without much particular knowledge of the Court will find it a pleasant introduction to how the Court functions, the role of the Chief Justice, and some important decisions. Since Stevens served between 1975 and his retirement in 2010, almost the longest term of service in Court history, he has a remarkable perspective for painting a rich and full picture of the Court as an institution. The second group consists of folks like myself who are serious students of the Court and yearn for an insider's candid views of his former colleagues, how the Court operated, and how some important decisions were hammered out.

Stevens is full of some spicy opinions on various topics and not shy about articulating them. His initial chapter is a very quick run through the first 12 chief justices. This affords the reader with a context in which to put Stevens' views of his own period of service. But at 26 pages, it is pretty sketchy, but still helpful for the general reader. Next, he addresses the role of the Chief Justice, not just hearing arguments and writing opinions, but also the important administrative responsibilities he has, such as those involving the Judicial Conference and the temporary transfer of judges. Then he gets into the meat of the book--five chiefs with whom he interacted and/or served.

First up is Fred Vinson who was chief while Stevens was a clerk to Justice Rutledge in the 1947 term. Because his interaction was not great, his personal insights are limited, but he clearly was not impressed with Vinson as Chief. Next he discusses Earl Warren, but since he only interacted with Warren during one oral argument, his personal insights are limited.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Richad of Connecticut VINE VOICE on October 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
You can't possibly know if you want to read Five Chiefs unless you know who and what John Paul Stevens is and represents. Where did he come from? Why does he think the way he thinks? What are his political / judicial beliefs, and will this affect his objective thinking on his opinions of his fellow justices?

The first thing you need to know about reading any book by a former Supreme Court Justice is that these men and women know how to write. Regardless of the political side of the fence you reside on, or they reside on, these justices take writing to a whole new level. This is true in their opinions and in their daily lives. Justice John Paul Stevens is only the most recent in a long line of gifted writers and thinkers to occupy a seat on the court.

When he retired midyear 2010 he was the third-longest service justice in the 200 year history of the court, having served more than 30 continuous years. His predecessor William O' Douglas, whose seat Stevens took, served a year or so longer. President Ford put Stevens on the court and when he did so, he believed that he was creating a conservative seat. This was especially important because Stevens would be replacing the liberal William O. Douglas, one of the most interesting men ever to serve the court. The justice quickly surprised everyone and came in on the center of the court.

It is thought by many that the more interesting and varied a background that one brings to the court; the more successful you are as a seating justice. If this is true than Stevens' background suits the bill perfectly. Here's a man who served during World War II, enlisting the day before Pearl Harbor. He is a participant in the team that breaks the Japanese code that results in the shoot-down of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto's plane in 1943.
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