[Mr. Paul] has crafted a scholarly but highly readable and often entertaining chronicle that embeds Marshall among the leading lights of the nation’s founding generation, humanizing him along the way … The work of the Marshall court appropriately forms the core of Mr. Paul’s book. His elucidation of its decisions—over 1,100, more than half of them written by Marshall—is refreshingly crisp and unhobbled by jargon … Marshall is justly celebrated as the most far-sighted justice ever to lead the Supreme Court. His lasting achievements are ably served by Mr. Paul’s deeply felt and penetrating biography.
[Paul] brings to Marshall's career exactly the kind of perspective that a legal scholar can best provide – and that's often needed, especially considering the sheer amount of legend that's grown up around Marshall the legal titan … This kind of skepticism is refreshing because it's so rare; Marshall tends to prompt the same kind of hagiography that's lavished on most of the Founding Fathers. And even as tough a biographer as Paul yields to the temptation – unfortunately, on the subject that least deserves it: slavery … The narrative of Without Precedent picks up momentum when relating the turbulent legal and political infighting of the Chief Justice years.
While Paul greatly admires Marshall, he conscientiously provides the evidence on which a more nuanced assessment of Marshall may be made. In particular, it may be suggested that Marshall, while hugely instrumental in assuring for the federal judiciary its limited supervisory role over the legislative branch, exhibited a subservience to the executive branch that continues to haunt us ... As Paul’s fine volume repeatedly notes, Marshall not only empowered the federal judiciary but guided it to safety during some of the most perilous years in our nation’s history.