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CHIEF JUSTICE: A Biography of Earl Warren Hardcover – June 3, 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

An informative, comprehensive, easy to read biography of the great and good chief justice who, during the mid-20th century, changed the visage of American law, by Cray (General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman, 1990, etc.). Light on legal analysis, this is a serviceable supplement for those already familiar with the man, and an accessible introduction for those unacquainted with the work of Earl Warren. The imminency of the next century presents a particularly timely hour to remember and reassess the man who, as chief justice of the Supreme Court from 1953 through 1969, led a reform not simply of American law but of American social morality. As Cray aptly notes, ``for millions of Americans, the chief justice had come to embody the promise of a nation of truly equal peoples.'' Cray provides a detailed account of Warren's life as family man, lawyer, politician, reform-minded district attorney, attorney general of California, progressive three-term governor of California, and, finally, chief justice. He does not overlook Warren's flaws: As attorney general of California he supervised the internment of Japanese-Americans in that state during WW II. Appropriately, Cray devotes chapters to the pivotal rulings of the ``Warren Court,'' including the school desegregation decisions, protection against coerced confessions and unreasonable searches by the police, the ban on government-sponsored prayer in public schools, and the right of privacy. The passing of the Warren era brought a new Supreme Court, less sensitive to individual rights and substantially less suspicious of the propensity of government to misuse its power. In contrast, Cray's thorough and respectful account reminds us of how one person's courage, integrity, and vision helped fulfill the Constitution's promise of liberty and dignity. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Amazon.com Review

A former prosecutor and moderate Republican governor of California when appointed to the Supreme Court in 1953, Earl Warren (1891-1974) surprised everyone by leading it in an increasingly liberal direction. Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, and other key decisions bolstered the rights of individuals and committed the federal government to acting in support of them. Journalist/historian Ed Cray's detailed account depicts an admirable, self-assured man who arrived slowly at positions, driven not by ideology but by an old-fashioned sense of morality that asked, "Is it fair?"

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 3, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684808528
  • ISBN-13: 978-1131732893
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,216,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
To write a comprehensive book on the life of Earl Warren and include the numerous controversial court decisions would produce a volume so thick, reading it would be exhaustive-and probably boring. Ed Cray has successfully limited this biography to the details of Warren's life without dragging the reader through the typical grandparent and parent's life stories. His overview of the major court decisions, their impact on society and some of the Court's inner battles have been successfully handled.
The reader should know however, that this is not an unbiased book. Cray worships Warren and is very reluctant to criticize him. (The author takes Warren to task over Warren's support of Japanese internment in WWII but I suspect this criticism early on in the book is due to Warren later regret in his involvement.) Among the dedications, is "To Civil Libertarians All"-while there is nothing wrong with that, it points out the author's political bias that is so evident in his writing. Conservatives on the court and in Warren's earlier political life come across badly (especially Felix Frankfurter) and by the end of the book I was cynical as to why Cray constantly referred to Hugo Black as the Alabaman. (Isn't it Alabamian?) None of the other justices were so oft named by the State's origin.
If you love Warren, you'll love this book. If you want an objective and critical look into Warren's life, you might end up frustrated at the author's attempt to over-glorify his subject. Nevertheless, it's still an excellent book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To me this is the definitive biography. It is thorough, critical, and unbiased. His private life was the "American Dream". He had a terrific public life that was justifiably marred by the incarceration of the Japanese. If you are a conservative you should read this book so you can understand how a person can be a political conservative and yet be progressive on social issues.
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Format: Hardcover
A good account of Warren's personal and professional life, and his evolution into a liberal who reinterpreted the Constitution to fit the changing realities of American life.

A strong friend and supporter of JFK (he voted for him in 1960), Earl Warren was deeply shaken by his death. "It was like losing one of my own sons." Ed Cray writes: "Warren personally blamed the radical right and Texas' extremely conservative oil millionaires." Later, he told his son, "I don't know who or what caused this or did the deed, but I sure know where the blame is." He very reluctantly accepted the job of heading President Johnson's Commission to investigate Kennedy's death. In fact, he at first flatly rejected the job, but as Johnson applied his persuasive charms, Warren gave in. In fact, now we know that LBJ told Warren that millions of Americans might be killed in a nuclear war.

Like many liberals who accepted the story that a "Red" had killed the President, and then was killed by a Jewish strip club owner, Warren understood what he was expected to do for the good of the country. I.F. Stone would adopt the same stance. The fear of a new McCarthyism at home and a war with Cuba and the USSR kept many on the Left from investigating the more likely domestic suspects on the Right.

According to Anthony Summers, Warren had been friendly with J. Edgar Hoover; Hoover had run FBI checks on his daughter's boyfriends. But by the time of the Warren Commission investigation, he saw Warren as a nuisance. Hoover wrote in one memo, "If Warren had kept his big mouth shut, these conjectures would not have happened.
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Format: Hardcover
This is probably the best book out there on Earl Warren, covering his life in politics and at the Supreme Court. Ed Cray does a good job explaining the roots of Warren's political beliefs and how he used his political background to exert such a strong influence on the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, Ed Cray doesn't follow up on at least two issues: Warren's friendships with J. Edgar Hoover and William Knowland. According to the book, when Warren was in California state government he became such good friends with J. Edgar Hoover that he called Hoover "Jay"- yet it seems hard to imagine that Warren's friendship with Hoover survived some of his court decisions. Perhaps it did, but Cray doesn't address the issue. Similarly, it seems that Warren's liberal court decisions would have impacted his friendship with conservative Senator William Knowland, but the book doesn't talk about this, either.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Earl Warren grew up in Bakersfield, California. To those of you who've been there, it seems an unlikely place to beget one of the great justices of the 20th century who was known for his ability to continue to mold and change his ideas. However, this comprehensive and excellent biography of Earl Warren, Governor of California and 14th Chief Justice of the United States, shows that he turned out far from where he might have been expected to wind up.

The book starts with Warren's childhood, where he was an above-average student who went into the county courtroom every day because it was too hot outside and became entranced with the law. He would go to UC Berkeley for his undergraduate and law degrees, and after a few odd jobs would wind up as the Alameda County DA, where he made a name for himself by cleaning out organized crime, gambling, and prostitution from the county. His work gave him high visibility, from which to launch his campaign for Attorney General of California, where he would be responsible in the infamous forced internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor (as the author notes, only near the end of his life did he come to terms with this act). Then, as now, State AG was merely a stepping stone to the Governor's Mansion, to which he won three terms. Although a Republican, he pushed for progressive reforms in many areas: he tried to get all Californians covered for healthcare (and failed), he tried to make college in California excellent and inexpensive (and succeeded), and he tried to pass worker safety and environmental protection legislation (and did both).
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