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Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir

3.44  ·  Rating Details  ·  709 Ratings  ·  121 Reviews
When he resigned last June, Justice Stevens was the third longest serving Justice in American history (1975-2010)--only Justice William O. Douglas, whom Stevens succeeded, and Stephen Field have served on the Court for a longer time.

In Five Chiefs, Justice Stevens captures the inner workings of the Supreme Court via his personal experiences with the five Chief Justices--F
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Hardcover, 292 pages
Published October 3rd 2011 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2011)
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Supreme Court fanatics
12th out of 67 books — 21 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,820)
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Laura
Oct 30, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: NPR
Good book. Not a law professor’s book; not even the sort of law professor’s book that’s written for a lay audience. Nor does it get deep into the weeds the way Edward Lazarus’s Closed Chambers did. Instead, it was like a casual conversation with someone who was deeply involved in writing the world we live in.

It’s mostly conversational, but emotion does bubble up. On the retirement of Justice Thurgood Marshall, who he clearly had great respect for:
“Thurgood’s retirement may well have been the
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Jim Talbott
Oct 19, 2011 Jim Talbott rated it it was amazing
I gave this book a much better rating than most other readers, so I feel like I should explain why. 1. I'm a total Supreme Court gossip junky, and this has lots of little details about the justices and their spouses. 2. People want this book to be like Toobin's "The Nine," but I like that when you're reading Stevens, you know he's making himself look good because he wrote it. Whereas in Toobin's book, the people who agreed to divulge dirt on other justices got to look good, but you really had to ...more
Vanessa
May 15, 2012 Vanessa rated it it was ok
Ehhhhhhh. Even in the realm of reading something as an homage to a jurist I very much admire, this was kind of a snooze. I still love you, Justice Stevens! I wore a bow-tie for your birthday! But your book is not that good.
Cicely
Nov 13, 2011 Cicely rated it liked it
Shelves: biographies, law
Rambly schmably. I guess the description had me hoping for a slightly different kind of book - if it had been called "random thoughts on my awesome life and the people I ran into" by Justice John Paul Stevens, I was totally there. I thought there would be more about the transitions in the court from Chief to Chief, which I felt was lacking, except in a really superficial way, when Stevens seemed to remember that that is what his memoir was supposed to be detailing - accomplished with random, non ...more
Sarah
Sep 17, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: scotus
It's telling that after serving on the bench for 35 years and retiring at 90, Justice Stevens publishes a Supreme Court memoir mostly about five other guys. Stevens does take the opportunity to disagree, a lot. But he remains constructive in his disagreement, which is an achievement considering how crucial the issues are (the death penalty, campaign finance and gun control). His criticism is unequivocal but he still doesn't harp on Citizens United (though he does refer us to his 90-page dissent) ...more
Jean Poulos
Stevens offers some engaging insight about each of the five Chief Justices he worked with, Fred Vinson, Earl Warren, Warren Burger, William Rehnquist, and John Roberts. He discussed the times, judicial approaches, opinions, respective roles on the court, administration abilities, leadership, personal and professional challenges and their relationship with colleagues. He also talks about the court as an institution. The book is a series of anecdotes, observation and musings that is enlighten and ...more
Andy Miller
Nov 24, 2012 Andy Miller rated it really liked it
An interesting perspective by Justice Stevens on his time on the court; the focus on the Five Chief Justices that he knew including the three that he served with on his time of the court. There is some irony on this focus in that after leaving aside the administrative parts of the job, a theme of Stevens is that the Chief Justice is just one of nine in deciding the major legal issues facing our country.

While the book includes discussion of the legal issues and the perspective of Stevens on the m
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Megan
May 22, 2012 Megan rated it really liked it
Enjoying this book is going to depend entirely on how fascinating you find Supreme Court procedures and rulings. If you are interested in personalities and gossip of high-powered Washington insiders, you will only get glimpses. Stevens, it seems, is a gentleman. He rates each of the Chief Justices under whom he worked (either as clerk, arguing advocate, or fellow justice). Stevens seems to strive to combine accuracy with tact and fairness in his analyses. He includes strengths and weaknesses for ...more
Pamela Okano
Apr 28, 2013 Pamela Okano rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Chatty legal memoir by Justice Stephens about the five Chief Justices with whom he had dealings. Occasionally the discussion gets into obtuse principles of constitutional law. But there are other attractions to this book: for example, who knew that there are spitoons behind the US Supreme Court bench? Or that Justices Stephens and Breyer agreed that the Bush Campaign's application to stay the Florida recount was so frivolous that the Court would never grant it? Justice Stephens manages to roundl ...more
Nicholas
Aug 18, 2013 Nicholas rated it it was ok
Try as I might, I just couldn't finish it. I'm a fan of most popular writing about the Supreme Court--not just Toobin, but also biographies of justices. But this was just so dull. At once too detailed about some pretty mundane aspects of Stevens' life and almost too abstract about the role of the law. He also tended to talk about the intricacies of some of the major cases as if we are all necessarily familiar with them already. This was true for me for a few of them, but not most. I kept on tell ...more
Rick
Sep 05, 2013 Rick rated it liked it
Man, JP Stevens never forgets a grudge. And he never fails to describe a grudge in the politest possible terms. He spent like seventy-five pages not quite saying that CJ Rehnquist was a peacocking slacker who never read the Constitution. I love it, but you have to love that kind of stuff to love this book.

JP Stevens's editor could have used a heavier hand. Still, breezy, a quick read, and enjoyable.

Also, a good crash course on all of the terrible constitutional decisions in the last thirty yea
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Lauren
Sep 20, 2015 Lauren rated it liked it
In this memoir, Stevens recounts his experiences with the five most recent Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, with short introductions to those that came before. He intersperses his memories of these men (alas, ALL men!) with his own opinions of the biggest rulings of the time period. In general, it's an okay read, and I learned quite a bit of factoids (who knew it was ruled constitutional to incarcerate a person for life without parole for passing a single bad check until the late 1980s!) abo ...more
Riley
Jul 09, 2015 Riley rated it liked it
I enjoyed this memoir by Justice John Paul Stevens, though it suffers from an ailment that books by longtime public figures often have: it comes across in many places as too diplomatic and too unwilling to criticize.

That said, I found Stevens' perspective on Warren Burger the most interesting, since Burger has long been an object of ridicule, perhaps in part because of Bob Woodward's less-than-stellar portrait of him in "The Brethren."

It is clear that Stevens, by contrast, believes that Burger
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Yune
Dec 16, 2014 Yune rated it really liked it
I quietly adored this book, but I'm still pretty new to SCOTUS literature (Toobin's The Nine is now on my reading list). As with most of my realizations about politics, it hit me rather belatedly how far-reaching the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions could be, and this particular branch of the government is wrapped up in Latin and a preponderance of older folks in dark robes and the accompanying intimidation factor.

Aspects I particularly appreciated: a human face to the justices--
Basketball was his
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Jason
Oct 12, 2011 Jason rated it it was ok
This book was disappointing. I was expecting an examination of what the five Chief Justices are like and their contributions as seen by a longtime member of the court. Instead the book is partly a discussion of the chiefs but mostly its a rambling memoir, similar to but not as interesting as all the other books on recent Supreme Court history. In essence this is a way for Justice Stevens to get the last word on some cases, the outcome of which he disagrees with.
Matthew
Sep 17, 2015 Matthew rated it liked it
Another audio binge. John Paul Stevens is a wonderful writer, and even though he doesn't give nearly as much detail as I want, his cleverness and sincerity somewhat make up for it.

My favorite moment by far was when he disengaged from the political atmosphere and commented, probably for a solid page or so, on the remodeling of the room in which the justices deliberate. It struck me as solidly ridiculous. While he frequently commented on the physicality of many spaces, those at least appeared to
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Sheri
May 02, 2014 Sheri rated it it was ok
Justice Stevens titles this "a Supreme Court memoir," but that's rather a misnomer. His explanation of what he knows of the Chief Justices, only three of whom he served with, is fascinating. It's the inclusion of much legal history & a fair amount of legal analysis & discussion of specific opinions, and extensive quotes from some of those opinions that makes this rather dry for a so-called memoir. His tales about his experiences with the Chief Justices and other Associate Justices is cat ...more
Jack
Jul 10, 2014 Jack rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was an excellent short read. Justice Stevens has been on the court for about 35 years. His legacy is long, interesting, and depending one's political views, impressive. Though appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford, by some measures Stevens ended up as the most liberal justice on the Court. In this book Stevens does not hide his legal opinions, but he also offers a fantastic overview of the history of the Court, how it works, and what his recounting of working with five chief justice ...more
Rick
Jul 29, 2014 Rick rated it it was ok
I have enjoyed legal histories and was looking forward to Justice Steven's view of his time on the court. What I read was shambling and rambling and really told me very little about his time on the court. Yes I know about the deep respect he had for the various Chief Justice's he practiced under and served with and I respect that what I find lacking is there no insight into the various cases that vexed the nation during his tenure. He speaks next to nothing about the Bush decision and dismisses ...more
Leslie Nord
Jul 06, 2014 Leslie Nord rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Okay, this book is totally out of my comfort zone and I have had it sitting on my coffee table for weeks with just a furtive glance, but today was the day I decided to skim the hell out of it and get it done. If you are a lover of history and law then this compact book is something you would enjoy. It sums up the people who make up the history of the court- with a chapter on each of the chief justices. Short and sweet with some fun facts mixed in such as how incredibly talented these justices we ...more
Michael Kramer
Nov 10, 2011 Michael Kramer rated it really liked it
The book focuses on the five Chief Justices that Justice Stevens had met, but also provides a short bio on all Chief Justices of the United States. The book gives a nice, behind the scenes look at the Supreme Court.
James Cooper
Jan 18, 2015 James Cooper rated it liked it
The book contained good, factual information that was presented in a well thought out manner. It seemed to be all factual information with very little opinion from Stevens. While I liked reading about the process of The Court, and all of the undertakings that it handles, it seemed like the majority of the book discussed the non-judicial tasks that The Justices have. While a lot of people think of The Court as a laid back, barely works, rarely hears cases, and tries to get out of work by disposin ...more
Lukasz Pruski
Dec 07, 2013 Lukasz Pruski rated it liked it
Books about the United States Supreme Court belong to my favorite genre of non-fiction. The nine justices wield enormous power, surpassing that of most, if not all, politicians. The results of their deliberations affect the country in a much deeper way than the election of a particular president, Carter or Reagan, Bush or Obama.

John Paul Stevens, retired since 2010, is one of my most admired justices, probably because of his lifelong tradition of moderate views and opinions. He had been consider
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Drew
Jan 06, 2012 Drew rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, ebook
When I first heard that John Paul Stevens was writing a memoir that coved his life's intersection with the Supreme Court of the United States, I was very excited. He was one of my favorite justices, due to his somewhat liberal bent. Liberal in that the rest of the Court had moved so far to the right that a moderate conservative is now seen as a "liberal".

What a fantastic book. Stevens gives insight into his judicial philosophy and what has transpired during the tenures of the last five Chief Jus
...more
Allizabeth Collins
Nov 05, 2011 Allizabeth Collins rated it liked it
Description:
Five Chiefs is memoir detailing John Paul Stevens' life and career as a Supreme Court Justice, which includes sections about the Chief Justices he served under.

Review:
I have never been a "politics-junky", but as I have gotten older I've realized the importance of politics in today's society. So when I read the blurb, I decided to try reading it. Thankfully, John Paul Stevens writing style and organization wasn't as dry and boring as I thought it would be. Sure, some sections seemed
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Jeni Enjaian
I really wanted to rate this book higher. I guess a more accurate rating would be a 3.5. I did enjoy this book despite the lower rating.
A few things kept me from rating it higher.
1. Justice Stevens chronology is confusing. It is a memoir so there is a bit of wiggle room. However, at times it read like an old man reminiscing and losing track of the point he wanted to make. Also, since he focused on the chief justices he made little mention of when other justices retired or were appointed to the c
...more
JudgyK
Mar 01, 2012 JudgyK rated it really liked it
Justice Stevens is adorable. I mean, the man wears bow ties. What’s not to love about that? When he retired from the Court, the Chicago Bar Association held a gala in his honor, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. At the gala, he gave a short speech in which he railed against originalism, particularly as applied in four cases: Lopez, Printz, Heller, and McDonald. He was polite and showed a huge respect to his brethren, but also was more than willing to disagree in an intellectual, w ...more
Brien
Jul 24, 2012 Brien rated it liked it
This was a pretty interesting take on Justice John Paul Stevens' 35 years (1975 - 2010) on the Supreme Court. He organized the book based on the 5 chief justices that he knew or worked with personally (either as a lawyer, appellate court judge, or Court justice).

Because he spent such a long time on the Court, Stevens was able to provide a bit of a first person account of some of the Court's most important recent decisions, and explain his thoughts on those decisions. He doesn't hold back any pu
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Jayme
At the time of his retirement in June 2010 Justice John Paul Stevens was the oldest and the third-longest-serving Supreme Court Justice. In his Supreme Court memoir Five Chiefs Justice Stevens has written an elegant and engaging book about the inner working of the Supreme Court under the leadership of the five chief justices that Stevens worked with and knew. If you are looking to read smack or naughty tidbits of the other justices, this book is not for you and you don’t know Justice Stevens. Fi ...more
Joan
Jan 17, 2012 Joan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: law students or people interested in law
This was more closer to 3.5 than 3. However, Putting it at 4 stars seems a bit of a reach. The Justice's background shows and some of the book was just too technical for most readers. He also isn't telling the whole truth I feel. If you read this book, all the justices just get along absolutely great with each other all the time and the biggest interpersonal issue was that Rehnquist put gold stripes on his robe. I did find his comments about why he wouldn't attend the taking of the oath for just ...more
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Lit Lawvers: This topic has been closed to new comments. November 2011: "Five Chiefs" discussion 5 23 Nov 28, 2011 06:21PM  
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John Paul Stevens served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 1970-1975. President Ford nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat December 19, 1975. Justice Stevens retired from the Supreme Court on June 29, 2010.
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