Reviews by Jan Wolter
This biography of Antonin Scalia is also a pretty good look into how the US Supreme Court has operated since 1986, and of the dominant competing theories on how constitutional judgements should be made. The author, a historian, has written a number of other biographies of past supreme court justices (William O. Douglas, Abe Fortas, Felix Frankfurter and Louis Brandeis) so he come to the table with a deep knowledge of the history and traditions of the court. He's clearly more liberal than Scalia (most people are) and his personal views are sometimes evident, but for the most part he simply lets Scalia, his supporters and critics speak for themselves, in numerous lengthy quotations that seem to make up nearly half the book. Since these are very articulate people this is quite an effective choice.

Much of the book is just case after case. Murphy briefly summarizes the facts of the case, quotes from the majority opinion, and from dissenting opinions. Often it turns into a battle of cutting footnotes, as the justices answer and sometimes belittle each others opinions. There is very little about the hearings here. It's all about the rulings.

This can be a bit dry, but the author effectively shows the evolution of the court, how everyone's positions slowly shift, and makes clear the differing rationales at work. There are plenty of quotations from Scalia at different points in his career, eloquently and convincingly arguing for evolving philosophy of originalism. There are also plenty of quotations from other people pointing out limitations of the theory, and plenty of examples of Scalia putting his foot in his mouth, and inconsistencies and self-contradictions are relentlessly pointed out.

The book left me feeling like I had a good idea of the balances of powers and ideological conflicts that have shaped the modern supreme court.
Decent Early Reader
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Lots of rhyming words, limited vocabulary, cutely constructed and attractively illustrated. A satisfying book for a beginning reader.
It's OK. He Knows Where He's Going.
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I'm really only entering this review because I had the perfect title for a review and had to use it. But I really enjoyed listening to this music, which is a sort of funky fun percussive minimalism that just makes me happy. You could dance weirdly to it, and you just might.
Wall Street Takes a Licking
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America has often suspected that the billionaires of Wall Street have sold out the nation and the people for personal profit, and they have often asked their government to investigate and legislate, but usually such government action has ended up leaving Wall Street unmarked. This is the story of the one time that something significant actually was accomplished.

Instead of structuring this as a chronological biography of Ferdinand Pecora, the author focuses on the first ten days of Pecora's investigation of City Bank's misbehavior during the early years of the Great Depression. But he pads it out with a huge number of digressions, partly to supply the backgrounds of all the major players, partly to tell two parallel stories that where happening at the same time, and magnified the impact of Pecora's investigation - the collapse of banks nationwide, and the preparation of president-elect Franklin Roosevelt to pick up the reigns of government from Herbert Hoover. There is a lot of detail, some rather dry, some quite amusing, and it all comes together to tell the story quite effectively and reasonably impartially.

The investigatory committee was chaired by a Senator who knew a great deal more about well-drilling than finance, and his selection of a little known Italian-American lawyer as council baffled a nation that believed that all Italian-Americans were gangsters. They were up against Sunshine Charlie Mitchell, the highly respected leader of one of the nations most powerful banks. And they took him carefully to pieces, showing how City Bank had betrayed its stockholders and customers en mass to pad the pockets of its executives. Against the backdrop of banks collapsing nationwide, this focused the anger of all America, and with a new president taking over just days later, opened an opportunity of instituting a broad slate of new laws regulating the financial industry, including the creation of the SEC, the FDIC and the Glass-Steagall regulations.

So if you've seen protesters during the recent financial crisis with signs saying "Where is our Ferdinand Pecora?" this is the book that explains what they mean. Alas, no new Ferdinand Pecora ever actually showed up, but, then, neither did the other conditions that made all the difference in 1933.
Yet Another Excellent Christie
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One morning a pretty young woman is found straggled to death on the hearthrug of the fusty library of some stodgy old friends of Miss Jane Marple. Clues multiply, pointing in many directions, and not making a whole lot of sense, until Miss Marple reveals all. I think if you were remarkably good at thinking outside the box and not being distracted by passing red herrings, you might be able to solve this before Miss Marple does, but those of us of mere mortal intelligence will have a pretty good time admiring the cleverness of the construction and enjoying the little bits of humor that pop up along the way, like the character who mentions "Agatha Christie" among his favorite mystery writers. She's one of mine too.