It's taken for granted today that the Supreme Court has final say on how the Constitution is interpreted, but this principle--hotly debated in the republic's early years -- was established by John Marshall (1755-1835), the fourth Chief Justice. Historian Smith's definitive biography, detailed and lucid, is a model of scholarly writing for the general public. The author claims our admiration for the justice and sparks affection for the man: warm, gregarious, fond of drink, a Federalist with the common touch, a seasoned political infighter who remained on good terms with his opponents.
From Publishers Weekly
The most famous chief justice of the U. S. has been dead for 161 years, but his life and work continue to fascinate legal scholars, political scientists and biographers. Smith, a University of Toronto political scientist, is the most recent devotee. His endnotes and bibliography mention at least a dozen previous books about Marshall. It would be helpful to the lay reader if Smith explained why he believed another book, especially such a massive one, was needed. Like the recently published The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law by Charles F. Hobson (Forecasts, July 29), Smith's version of the life is both respectful and a revision of the revisionism. He acknowledges his debt to Hobson, editor of the Marshall papers, just as Hobson alerted readers to Smith's upcoming tome. While Hobson focused on Marshall's mind, Smith focuses on the externals of Marshall's life. This is essentially a chronological account of a life lived fully. There are few flourishes?for example, Marshall's death is handled matter-of-factly in two pages. The 151 pages of endnotes are frequently livelier, more interpretive and more informative than the matching portions of the text. The pedestrian nature of the text stems mainly from Smith's decision to let Marshall speak for himself. The biography is almost devoid of interpretation and speculation. Sound scholarship, yes; lively lifetelling, only occasionally.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.