Brookhiser’s volume is the third to appear since the beginning of 2016. It is also the first that is genuinely satisfying ... This is due largely to the author’s penetrating intelligence and his style, which is both elegant and readable. It’s also reflective of his somewhat unusual approach to his tale ... rookhiser has wisely chosen to write what is essentially an inspired political and legal history of the early republic, with Marshall serving as the focal point. But, in common with almost all the author’s works, it aims to follow the pattern of Plutarch in its brevity, its felicitous prose, and its emphasis on meaningful analysis over the presentation of mountains of detail. One cannot but be struck by its timeliness ... [a] superb account of the life of America’s greatest jurist.
...as Richard Brookhiser’s fine new biography, John Marshall, makes clear, the polarization of the age of Marshall matched (or even surpassed) our current battles over the composition of the Supreme Court ... As Brookhiser’s compact and balanced account makes clear, Marshall famously transformed the judicial branch into one fully equal to the president and Congress in stature and legitimacy ... although Brookhiser’s biography reminds us that American politics has always been polarized, today the polarization threatens to transform the deliberations of the court.
It’s an understandable, but regrettable, lapse [that Brookhiser focusses on politics rather than law] ... Brookhiser also underestimates the chaos and danger of the politics that he does highlight. Perhaps for that reason, he doesn’t give Marshall his full due ... John Marshall is, to be sure, entertaining and instructive — worthy to be set beside its author’s earlier works. It would be ideal reading for a student contemplating law school. And in addition to the pleasure of its prose, it may, one hopes, whet appetites for an even deeper look at the career of 'the Great Chief Justice.' ... If Brookhiser aims to reveal the politics surrounding Marshall’s career, he disappoints somewhat at this point. A fuller political profile of the Marshall years would give the reader more of the scope of his unlikely triumph ... Brookhiser brings to vivid life the gaudy facts and seamy characters behind such great cases as Dartmouth College and McCulloch. And he summarizes the one area where Marshall’s legal imagination was lacking — the law of American slavery.
The difficulty for Brookhiser is that his life of Marshall is too detailed and careful to sustain such mythmaking. In Brookhiser’s short and captivating biography, Marshall emerges as the institution’s first great partisan operative: a man who managed with extraordinary success to reassemble a judicial branch in American government from the broken pieces of the Federalist Party ... Brookhiser’s account captures much of the chief justice’s high-wire act [of Marbury v. Madison]... Yet Brookhiser’s version of the case misses the key step, one that reveals the full extent of Marshall’s political project in the crisis ... Brookhiser’s narrative shares the great shortcoming of a very common misreading of Chief Justice Marshall. It minimizes the politics at the heart of Marshall’s project. Brookhiser’s updated version of the conventional story presents Marshall as the Atlas of American law, hoisting the Constitution upon his broad apolitical shoulders. Understating the politics of the court’s founding years, however, is misleading.
Marshall’s life, up until he was elevated to the Court, is lively and interesting, and author Richard Brookhiser does a masterful job of showing the forces that shaped his philosophy ... will please legal scholars more than casual readers, but even the latter will find much to enjoy and savor here.
Brookhiser has perfected the art of brief, concise, and reflective biographies of America’s founding generation ...Brookhiser’s last chapter, which examines Marshall’s legacy, is a masterpiece of concise analysis.
Brookhiser’s eye for the telling anecdote is particularly valuable as he sets the scene and explains the issues at stake. What emerges is a vivid picture of the early nineteenth century’s freewheeling economy, ethically challenged local governments, and a legal profession that thought nothing of someone serving as attorney general while representing private clients ... Brookhiser offers a less than enthusiastic appraisal of Marshall, both as a man and as a jurist, a stance seemingly driven by Brookhiser’s own skepticism about the Court’s place in contemporary America, a point he mentions but fails to develop fully. ... Brookhiser’s depiction of Marshall as a dinosaur stranded in the age of mammals seems overdrawn.
[Brookhiser's] political journalism skills empower him to tell the story of his subject’s landmark career on the Supreme Court absent legalese, writing up the facts and holdings in Marshall’s most important cases as if they were short stories — which makes for an easy read out of what could have been technical tedium ... Brookhiser’s three prior books on Washington surely paved the way for his complete grasp of the nation-changing relationship between 'the Father of Our Country' and 'the Man Who Made the Supreme Court' ... Brookhiser properly concludes his biography by asking the right questions about where the nation is going now in the context of knowing where it’s been.
Brookhiser’s book may be overshadowed by Joel Richard Paul’s recently published Without Precedent, a lengthy and well-received study of Marshall’s life and times. Nevertheless, those looking for a concise, informative, and at times entertaining biography of our nation’s fourth chief justice would do well to read this one.