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Henry Friendly, Greatest Judge of His Era
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 1, 2012
An effective judicial biography focuses upon certain key elements of the judge's life: family background and education; professional career at the bar; how the subject became a judge; interactions on the bench if an appellate judge; and some taste of his judicial writings. By all these measures, this biography of Henry J. Friendly (1903-1986), who had a most distinguished and influential career on the Second Circuit between 1959 and 1986, more than satisfies. Not much I am aware of has been written about Friendly the man, and one definitely comes way from this extensive bio (about 500 pages including text, notes, and index) with a good sense of the man under the robe.

The book follows Friendly from his childhood in Elmira, NY, to Harvard Law School where his record was so strong as to rival that of Louis Brandeis. Here he encounters Felix Frankfurter and is elected president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Graduating in 1927, FF sends him off to clerk for Brandeis on the Supreme Court. More than the author, apparently, I think this period of working with LDB shaped Friendly's work habits and personality. Next, Friendly engages in a 32-year private practice career, and helps found the current firm of Cleary Gottlieb. His practice is heavy on administrative law, an area about which he would write extensively while on the bench and in publications. I am always intrigued by how one gets selected for the bench, and the author offers a short but insightful chapter on how Friendly made the cut (it is always helpful to have influential friends).

The author's research is unsurpassed; he interviewed all of Friendly's former clerks, many of whom have themselves had distinguished judicial or academic careers, as well reviewing his papers, all his decisions, his non-judicial writings, and conducting many additional interviews. This allows him to develop the real payoff to a solid judicial biography: how the judge functioned in chambers, how his opinions were written, and how he interacted with this colleagues and other judges (including Supreme Court Justices). Much like LDB, Friendly did his own work, for example writing all his own opinions (very unusual to say the least for Circuit Judges and Supreme Court Justices today). An entire chapter is devoted to his relationship with clerks, an area (pioneered by Todd Peppers among others) that affords an invaluable insight into how he discharged his responsibilities. He wrote alone, in prodigious amounts, and very, very quickly, even though hampered (like Brandeis) with poor vision. He neither liked over-zealous advocacy or being Chief Judge. But his opinions stand out because they accurately recount how he reached his decisions.

All this carries the reader to page 139 where the author tackles one of the most difficult choices in writing a judicial biography: how to address the body of the judge's written opinions, and how many of them to include. Often, judicial biographers dump onto the general reader so much legal material, their eyes glaze over. Here the author has decided to deal first with the personal elements of Friendly, and limit analysis of his decisions to the final sections of the book. Consequently, the reader confronts case analysis between pp. 139-345. Each of these 15 chapters is devoted to a single topic, and in toto they really cover the landscape of Friendly's opinions. I especially found the chapters on the Fifth Amendment; Administrative Law; Habeas Corpus; Federal Court Jurisdiction and Common Law; and Procedure to be very well done. This massive amount of opinion material is something to be considered by prospective readers. I prefer thoroughness, and this is what you thankfully get.

The author wraps it up with a chapter on Friendly's death and his legacy. One never is fixated on the fact that Friendly took his own life as he reads the book, because the focus is on Friendly in the full flower of his intellectual potency and considerable influence on the development of American law. A fine introduction by Judge Richard Posner, himself one of our finest Circuit judges, contains helpful insights into the Friendly he knew. Having handy a copy of Friendly's 1967 collection of articles,"Benchmarks," is decidedly helpful. 113 pages of notes attest to the author's thorough research. So, we have Gunther's fine bio of Learned Hand, one of the most influential Circuit judges (also on the 2d Cir.) during the first half of the 20th century; and this majestic bio of Henry Friendly who can claim that title for the second half of the century. We must be extremely thankful for both of the judges and for their impressive biographers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2012
As a law student in the US I came across the jurisprudence of Judge Friendly and was impressed by the razor-sharp wit and mental acuity behind the opinions. Having read Judge Posner's foreword I thought I would enjoy this biography (in spite of the fact that judges are usually leaden characters who reserve their wit for their lectures rather than for their own lives) and I wasn't disappointed. In Dorsen's able hands Judge Friendly comes alive as the greatest appellate judge of his generation. He was ridiculously smart (apparently everyone in his family, his wife's family as well as virtually anyone he ever worked with was smart as well), hardworking and honest. I was particularly interested in reading how his role as an appellate judge made him even more important in legal history than he would have been as a Supreme Court Justice. Altogether an excellent book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2012
This book consists of interesting chapters and portions on the life of Judge Henry Friendly, a reknowned judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for many years and somewhat less interesting chapters on his court decisions and written opinions, even to a legal scholar. The latter group were less readable, sometimes imperfect in their analysis, and a big, long read -- thankfully grouped into chapters by legal topic. It's a combination of a biography and a survey of his legal decision making and his legal positions on a great many subjects. Extensive footnotes make it useful as a reference work, almost in the style of a law review article.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2012
Henry Friendly's life may not excite readers of pulp fiction. However, it was a priviledge for me to have worked for him 60 years ago and witness first hand his accuity, wit and skill at making things complex simple. He said that if there was a 1 cent word available, he always preferred it to 2 or 10 cent words. Great Judges and lawyers work behind curtains of confidentiality. This man's life richly deserves being opened to show a wider world the benefits of modest wisdom coupled with caring enormously for the rule of law. Perhaps this book could become required reading at law schools to teach more about what it means to be a real lawyer.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2012
Mr. Dorsen's exhaustive research has produced a first-class resource on the life's work of one of 20th-century America's great legal minds. It's "must reading" for every judge and serious student of American law. It brings us an inside view of how the judicial mind, at its very best, can and should work.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2013
As advertised, this book provides insight into an individual "warts and all". He graduated from high school at age 16 and, according to the author, attained the highest marks ever received by a Harvard Law School graduate. (Judge Brandeis being the other scholastic competitor.) This is a judge whose opinions from the 2nd Circuit are legendary; many were used almost verbatim in a number of Supreme Court decisions. His opinions could be incisive and succinct; they could also be occasionally capricious. He was a true student of the law with an extraordinary ability to reduce his thoughts to the fundamentals. In addition, he was one of the great teachers of jurisprudence;a pedagogue in the best sense. If you clerked for Judge Friendly there was no room for error. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts was his clerk in 1979. (One wonders what judge Friendly would think of Justice Robert's decisions.) That said, this gentleman exemplified H.D. Thoreau's notion that "...men live lives of quiet desperation." He was deeply troubled, essentially a recluse with very few personal relationships including with his own children. In a real sense, this book is an exploration into the pathology of genius. His death was troubling.
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on June 19, 2013
Judge Henry Friendly, after a distinguished career in the private practice of law, including serving as General Counsel of Pan American Airways, served many years as a member of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and of the Special Court, Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973. The book is not a chronological account of Judge Friendly's judicial career. Rather its chapters address the subject matters with which Judge Friendly's clear and concise but well reasoned and fully researched opinions dealt.
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An outstanding piece of scholarship and a magnificent tribute to an iconic jurist. A must read for all lovers of insightful biography. Readable, engrossing and thought provoking. Friendly's thought, judicial and wisdom are laid bare for all to see.
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on August 31, 2013
This was a very comprehensive bio. Unfortunately Judge Friendly was a great jurist but a relatively uninteresting personality. I M glad I read this book.
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on April 7, 2015
Fully realizes Judge Posner's amusing blurb: he's against judicial biographies, except for this one.
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