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A Defiant Life: Thurgood Marshall and the Persistence of Racism in America Hardcover – January 19, 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thurgood Marshall's long and influential life of challenging racism and championing affirmative action makes him prime biography material today. Ball, a political science professor at the University of Vermont and author of 16 previous books on the federal judiciary, expertly interweaves Marshall's life with the history of civil rights in America. From the rise of the NAACP?which coincided roughly with Marshall's 1908 birth in segregated Baltimore?to Brown v. The Board of Education, a case that Marshall argued before the Supreme Court in 1953, we see Marshall as a towering figure, an indefatigable adversary of the ruthless and endemic racial discrimination that surrounded him much of his life. As Ball's focus is on legal history, other civil rights leaders, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., are barely mentioned. In contrast to Juan Williams in his recent biography, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (Times Books), Ball skims over Marshall's personal life, either downplaying or omitting details of his heavy drinking, sexual misconduct, poor health, virulent anticommunism and general cantankerousness. Instead, Ball devotes nearly 200 absorbing pages to Marshall's Supreme Court tenure and casework, presenting detailed?but very clear?analyses of pivotal cases in which Marshall was involved, as a NAACP lawyer, as a U.S. Solicitor General and as the first black judge appointed to the Supreme Court. Those cases are Marshall's legacy, and Ball's fine biography places his subject's legal accomplishments squarely in the context of American history. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

On October 1, 1991, Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court, the last remaining liberal after Justice William Brennan stepped down in 1990. Marshall had sat on that distinguished bench for 24 years. Coming on the heels of Juan Williams's recent biography (Thurgood Marshall, LJ 9/1/98), this study of the late Supreme Court justice is basically a rehash. The books are similar in detail, tracing the rise of Jim Crow, the history of the NAACP, etc., and focusing on public education and affirmative action battles, the Civil Rights movement and its key players, and Marshall's years as a jurist. One difference is that while Williams shows more of the personal side of the man, Ball (Hugo L. Black, LJ 6/1/96) concentrates on the legal aspects of Marshall's life. With the massive amount of attention given to the judicial system, this is primarily for lawyers and judges. Not a necessary purchase.?Ann Burns, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 428 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (January 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517599317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517599310
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,771,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Gut wrenching in its honesty,thought provoking in the truest sense of the word. It allowed me to take a step back from racial madness and see through another pair of eyes. No law can change people's attitudes, morality is judged by the majority, this book shows us. And yet it had a hopeful note beneath the surface. Initially I was put off by the inhuman, thesis sounding title.. do not make my mistake-read this book and absorb culture at its ugliest (and most honest).
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By A Customer on December 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"A Defiant Life" presents the heroic life of Thurgood Marshall and his fight against racism in a compelling manner. The book does not tell a feel bad/feel angry/feel good story. There is little recourse to anecdotes, and hardly any moments for emotional release. Instead it tells what Marshall did as an advocate for the minorities - for example how he travelled many times to the South facing mortal danger to argue important cases. It also tells us of his opinions, and how they influenced his use of the legal system to help the oppressed. After reading this book, one comes away knowing that Marshall was one of the great men of 20th century America. And one comes away understanding the reasons for the far reaching implications of several Supreme Court cases.
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By A Customer on January 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
From its rather droll beginnings: "Thurgood Marshall was born in 1908," Howard Ball's biography, A Defiant Life : Thurgood Marshall and the Persistence of Racism in America, only goes downhill. His writing style is bland and the story line follows no distinguishable pattern, aimless flowing from point to point with few overarching themes.
Unlike Juan Williams' Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (a truly great biography focusing on the personal as well as the legal issues of this American giant) or Mark Tushnet's Making Civil Rights Law and Making Constitutional Law (two books that provide an excellent legal analysis of Marshall's work), Ball's book repeats stories and facts that are already well-worn and understood. Most tragic, one gets little understanding about what drove Marshall to fight the brutal system of Jim Crow oppression and led him to become such a forceful advocate of individual rights on the bench.
The personal and legal story of Marshall is much more interesting and deserves a much better biography. Best to skip this one.
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