Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Great Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court - Edited by Maureen Harrison and Steve Gilbert

You may notice that this book doesn't really have an author, as such. There are only 'editors', as they have humbly named themselves; they've cut the text of the decisions way down, and added some background information, but that's it. The real authors, of course, are the supreme court justices who made these decisions.
That's what makes this book so interesting. As a book concerning America's history - or at least a facet of it - it's much closer to the original firsthand source material that histories are made of than any textbook you can find.

This isn't really a history of our country in a general sense. It's exactly what it says on the cover, which is a history of the supreme court, and to lesser extent our legal system. You get to see why and how the whole concept of judicial review developed, and how the sometimes stupidly complex system of legal precedent works. You get to read firsthand the reasoning behind some of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated in the name of the law in this country - Dred Scott v. Sanford and Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the notions of slavery and 'separate but equal', are fascinating in a terrible sort of way, if you can get past the 19th century legal prose. 19th century legal prose, by the way, isn't gripping.
The more recent cases are the really interesting ones - issues like slavery and segregation are long dead, but things like the constitutionality of prayer in schools and whether or not it is legal for the press to publish information declared confidential by the government are still very much being debated today, and many people who have strong opinions on such matter don't know exactly what the law has to say (including myself. It isn't like this book gives you a comprehensive understanding or anything.)
Overall, if you're a human being that is capable of reading and has any spare time at all, I recommend this book to you.


Pros See above.
Cons Shipped with bobcat.


moonrat said...

Oh god. What became of the bobcat?

Simon said...

Colbert took care of it for me.