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American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Paperback – August 17, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
Biskupic devotes only 21 pages to the first 38 years of her subject's life--the very period the reader is most curious about. How can this be called biography? Compare the first volume of Robert Caro's life of Lyndon Johnson-- 800 deeply illuminating pages on Johnson's first 33 years.
The book offers few glimpses of the influences that shaped Scalia's thought and temperament. Who were the teachers, priests, and professors who taught him? What courses did he take, books did he read, bull sessions did he attend, course papers and letters did he write? He did years of ROTC in school but never served in the military; why not? He spent his junior year at Switzerland's University of Fribourg in what Biskupic calls "a yearlong academic and sightseeing feast." That feastful year gets 43 words.
What was his work during his six years at the law firm of Jones, Day? Hardly a word on this. His four years as a professor at the University of Virginia get only glancing coverage.
The book is drawn almost entirely from published sources. The author did interview the Justice himself several times, and a scattering of family and acquaintances, but collectively these interviews add only the faintest coloration to the public record. Most of Scalia's friends, classmates, and colleagues are still alive, and so loquacious a man certainly has left a lot of private writings and utterances scattered about.Read more ›
In short, this book leavesa lot of questions unaanswered. It is a brilliant piece of inside reporting on court politics and personalities, but a superficial view of its subject.
Particularly commendable about the book is the fact that Scalia is a sitting Justice. It's usually very difficult for an author to remain tonally impartial when she is writing a "history of the present." Yet Biskupic manages to do just that, even when considering such recent events as Scalia's duck-hunting trip with then-Vice President Dick Cheney and the 2009 New Haven firefighters case.
One way Biskupic manages this task is to cite responses to Scalia's public statements and/or opinions from a range of perspectives, "liberal" to "conservative." Another way is to highlight both the consistencies and inconsistencies with Scalia's professed "originalism." But much of the credit should go to Biskupic's own narrative style, which is the hallmark not of "objective" journalistic reporting but of measured historical analysis. Reading her book almost feels like assessing the career of a highly influential jurist from the past. That Scalia is a sitting Justice seems incidental to Biskupic's larger project of understanding his life and perspectives in rigorous historical context.
I highly recommend this book not only to students of law and the U.S. Supreme Court but also to anyone interested in civics, legal reasoning, and the art of biographical writing.
The book is not a complete "hit" piece (hence the 2 starts) on Mr. Scalia, but it is very close. It is obvious that Ms. Biskupic disagrees with most of the positions that Mr. Scalia (and other conservatives) hold and she continually expounds on how Mr. Scalia is not in sync with where the country should be headed. As an example, on page 162 regarding Robert Bork and his resignation from the D.C. Circuit, Ms. Biskupic writes, "When Bork resigned, the Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who had opposed his nomination, said, 'The right wing lost the constitutional referendum of 1987. That is what galls them [conservatives] most about the loss of Robert Bork. Not pity for a man who long wanted to serve on the Court and whose credentials were so superb. It is pity for an agenda that was dramatically, decisively repudiated.'" This comment seems a bit extreme considering the “agenda” of President’s George H.W. Bush (41) in 1988 and George W. Bush (43) in 2000.
On page 184, where she is writing on race relations, Ms. Biskupic says, "(Mr. Scalia) challenged the long-standing argument that special protection should be given to the disenfranchised and disadvantaged. In that view, some critics argued, he was abandoning the core responsibilities of courts in America because the neutral rules he advocated could not bring about racial equality." Again, Ms.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I felt the author (understandably) was too focused on the hot button issue. Crawford and other important criminal procedure cases were inadequately covered.Published 6 months ago by FanYe
I'm a history and politics buff. Really balanced and fascinating treatment.Published 6 months ago by Donald J Hill
Love in or hate him he is a fascinating character. This biography is comprehensive, easy to read, and revealing of the man.Published 14 months ago by Enid Reiman
A very disappointing book. I give the book two stars instead of one only because it was well-written, but it is so loaded with left-wing bias and ignorance of basic legal history... Read morePublished 14 months ago by D. Singleton