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Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun's Supreme Court Journey

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  865 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
"A fascinating book. In clear and forceful prose, Becoming Justice Blackmun tells a judicial Horatio Alger story and a tale of a remarkable transformation . . . A page-turner."—The New York Times Book Review
In this acclaimed biography, Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times draws back the curtain on America's most private branch of government, the Supreme Court. Greenhouse
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Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 4th 2006 by Times Books (first published May 2nd 2005)
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The Pelican Brief by John GrishamThe Nine by Jeffrey ToobinThe Brethren by Bob WoodwardThe Runaway Jury by John GrishamThe Last Juror by John Grisham
Supreme Court (History & Fiction)
7th out of 81 books — 101 voters
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Supreme Court fanatics
3rd out of 67 books — 21 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,157)
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Matt
Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it
If you've never heard of Harry Blackmun, well, you should have. As I write this, President Obama's visit to Notre Dame is on the front pages of America's major newspapers. There was a controversy because Notre Dame is a Catholic college and President Obama is not an abortion hardliner. This controversy springs from the most polarizing case in Supreme Court history: Roe v. Wade. Written by Justice Blackmun.

Linda Greenhouse's book traces the "journey" of Blackmun by using his private papers. In p
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Lightreads
Jan 16, 2010 Lightreads rated it liked it
More history than biography, written almost entirely on the basis of Blackmun's recently unsealed papers (he kept everything). It's a bit of a weird book because of that. The opening biographical sketches getting Blackmun to his Scotus appointment are very cursory, as these things go, and the real meat of the book is the themed sections on abortion and Blackmun's authorship of Roe, then the death penalty through Greg v. Ga. and beyond, and to women's rights (which were, by the way, completely un ...more
Mark
Sep 29, 2007 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: political
This is a concise biography of Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. Because it is concise it focuses on a small number of his most famous decisions plus describing briefly how the Supreme Court functions and the relations between the judges. It doesn't spend any time describing a theory of law, but shows on specific concrete cases what he was thinking.

What was most interesting to me was seeing how a conservative judge of just a couple decades ago could take positions that would place him on the
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Tamlynem
Jun 29, 2014 Tamlynem rated it really liked it
The gynecologist in my pro-choice book club brought the author, Linda Greenhouse, to our book club. It was amazing! The woman is a living institution. The family sought her out to write this extremely well-researched, thorough, and yet entirely enjoyable book about Justice Blackmun.
I read _The Brethren_ a long time ago but a lot of the information here dovetails with that history of the SCOTUS. For example, Burger was not a great manager/steward of the Court, nor was he well liked. But it was i
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Christopher
Jan 10, 2015 Christopher rated it really liked it
My key takeaways were that Blackmun was perhaps the world's most cute and adorable old man ever and that he was fundamentally decent while also being thin-skinned, features that led directly to his becoming an improbable women's rights hero. Buffeted by a backlash against Roe he never seemed to fully understand in either its substance or its personal vitriol towards him (it was a 7-2 decision, after all), he increasingly dug in and, in so doing, more directly embraced its true import: moving tow ...more
Oliver Bateman
Dec 23, 2014 Oliver Bateman rated it it was amazing
Blackmun was a mediocre intellect by the lofty standards of Douglas/Harlan/Hughes/et al., but at least he was a "plodding mediocrity" (to use Cardozo's felicitous term) who kept amazingly detailed records. Greenhouse's book does, uh, justice to a man who, though frequently out of his depth, struggled to decide cases as fairly and logically as possible. It's a shame there was no discussion of his inane Flood v. Kuhn opinion, though that subject is covered elsewhere. One of the most unique judicia ...more
Jessica
Dec 03, 2015 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Every time I read it, I take something different out of it. A masterpiece
Jean Poulos
Mar 30, 2014 Jean Poulos rated it it was amazing
For historians Blackmum must be an angel, as he kept all his papers and on his death turned them over to the Library of Congress. He also sat for 38 hours of videotaped interviews with his former clerk Harold Hongju Keh now Dean of the Yale Law School. Greenhouse was provided early access by Blackmum’s daughter to write this biography. Greenhouse is a Pulitzer Prize winning Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times. The book provides a fascinating story told in clear and forceful prose telli ...more
Susan
Mar 23, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
After seeing the excellent Minnesota History Theatre production of "Courting Harry" earlier this month, I was determined to finish reading this book. I'm glad I continued reading.
The author, a New York Times reporter, who has covered the Supreme Court since 1978, was given access by Blackmun's family to his personal and official papers left to the Library of Congress, two months before the Library opened the collection to the public. The book is largely based on that collection.
Greenhouse admit
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Alisa
Jan 15, 2012 Alisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: scotus
Justice Blackmun had a long and distinguished career on the bench, and for a reluctant appointee he took the job on with industriousness that typified his personality. Owing to the fact that he took copious notes and kept them all (a one-man discovery treasure trove!), the author had a first hand account of what he was thinking when he analyzed cases as well as his interaction with his fellow Justices on and off the bench. If you are familiar the the Court and it's landmark rulings, you know Jus ...more
Durwood
Mar 01, 2012 Durwood rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Supreme Court, American history or political buffs
Shelves: 1-kindle
Justice Harry Blackmun was appointed to the US Supreme Court by President Nixon in 1970. This biography is based on Justice Blackmun's own personal notes, letters, and documents which were released 5 years after his death in 1999. It is the defenitive biography of one of the more influential Associate Justices in modern history.

A major thread in the book involves Blackmun's relationship and interactions with other Justices, with particular emphasis on his relationship with Chief Justice Warren B
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Sam
Jan 17, 2010 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, law
Linda Greenhouse is a distinguished Supreme Court reporter for the NY Times, a fact which shows in her detailed yet easy-to-read and accessible account of Harry Blackmun's tenure on the Supreme Court. This biography of Justice Blackmun's professional career -- with a focus on abortion (Blackmun authored Roe v. Wade), the death penalty, sex discrimination, and his friendship with Chief Justice Warren Burger -- is a must-read for anybody with even a passing interest in either the Supreme Court as ...more
Jonathan
May 22, 2013 Jonathan rated it really liked it
Justice Blackmun is known for writing the majority opinion in Row v. Wade. The book goes into depth regarding that case and other abortion cases. However, it also explores Justice Blackmun's entire legal career. Death penalty cases came up a lot during his time on the bench. The book is not a personal biography, but rather a judicial biography of the man. Along the way you learn details regarding other Justices and cases during the 60s, 70s, 80s, and early 90s. I found the book very educational ...more
liz
Sep 14, 2008 liz rated it really liked it
Ever since I told my aunt, who got her JD in '04, that I plan to go to law school, she's started giving me books about the Supreme Court after she finishes with them. "You're interested in this," she'll say, and it is not a question. "Becoming Justice Blackmun" was genuinely fascinating. Written by a woman who's been covering the Supreme Court for the New York Times for something like 20 years, she almost exclusively used Blackmun's copious archives of personal correspondence and dictated biogra ...more
Mona
Apr 16, 2007 Mona rated it really liked it
It might sound kind of odd, but I didn't really expect myself to get through this one. I learned about it through a daily e-mail newsletter, which provides a small excerpt of a nonfiction book each day for a week, to allow readers to get exposed to books that they might like to read. I signed up because I have a problem with finding nonfiction that I like, and this happened to be the first of the e-mails I received. I guess the newsletter was successful, because once I began this book, I kept re ...more
Shea
Dec 03, 2011 Shea rated it it was amazing
Wow! Excellent biography of an excellent Supreme Court Justice!

It is quite obvious that author Linda Greenhouse benefited greatly from Harry Blackmun's obsessive note-taking, journaling, and consistent chronicling of his life from a very early age. Greenhouse should be credited for relying heavily on these records in the composition of this biography as they offer the most accurate depiction one could hope for in a book written after the fact. One of the factors I appreciated most is how "the" v
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Sarah
May 02, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it
An excellent overview of Blackmun's tenure on the Supreme Court. This book is not a full-fledged biography, and focuses mainly on several strands of Blackmun's life, including his involvement in Roe v. Wade, his friendship with Warren Burger, and the death penalty. Since many of the issues on which Blackmun wrote decisions still come before the Supreme Court, the book is timely as well as historical. I especially enjoyed Greenhouse's tracing of how Blackmun came to see himself as an advocate for ...more
Jim
Feb 20, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. I didn't know the history of Roe vs. Wade as well as I thought. It was also interesting to learn how Blackmun's views on woman's rights evolved. It seems like the best Justice's are the ones that do not come to the court with an agenda. Blackmun didn't, Roe vs. Wade was just his best effort to deal with a case that he hadn't pre-judged. However, he did have a stronger than normal understanding of the medical issues involved, since he had been at the Mayo clinic for nine year ...more
Tom
Feb 07, 2009 Tom rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This biography of Justic Harold Blackmun was compiled largely from journals and notes taken by the subject starting from when he was a boy. In addition, surviving family members contributed.

Because of the detailed journal Blackmun kept during his youth a great deal of information is included from this time frame.

It focuses largely on the Roe v. Wade decision for which he wrote the majority opinion although also discusses a number of other cases. His lifelong friendship and its eventually decline
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Bryan
Mar 31, 2015 Bryan rated it really liked it
A fantastic biography taken straight from the Justice's own private papers, Becoming Justice Blackmun tells the story of, well, Justice Harry Blackmun. Originally pegged as one of the "Minnesota Twins" with his childhood friend, Chief Justice Warren Burger, Blackmun's life takes a turn after he is assigned the opinion Roe v. Wade by Burger. The personal thoughts of one of the great Supreme Court Justices on both cases he decided and everyday life show us that above all things, Supreme Court Just ...more
Giuseppe
Feb 28, 2015 Giuseppe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: law, to-purchase
I chose to read this biography after repeatedly reading from other texts the outsized role Blackmun played in the jurisprudence of abortion rights. While he may be forever remembered for that opinion, his role on the court-on which he was a member for 30+ years-encompasses a vast array of judicial issues. This biography succeeds, largely thanks to the massive amount of personal correspondence made public after his death, in tracing the evolution of the man. Like the constitution's meaning, he ev ...more
Lily Bond
May 13, 2016 Lily Bond rated it it was ok
Meh. I was kind of bored. Normally I looove reading about the Supreme Court but this one was a struggle to get through. I'm not entirely sure why I struggled so. Partly the author's writing style & organization, and partly because Blackmun isn't the most interesting justice in my opinion. (Hugo Black! Now there's a guy). And Warren Burger = yawn. This book wasn't as in depth as I would have preferred, either. The section on his thoughts during Roe v. Wade were hardly groundbreaking. In the p ...more
Mark
May 18, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
Excellent biography about Justice Blackmun. How a good man came to be a force for the majority opinion of Roe v Wade, death penalty cases, and many other important Supreme Court cases over the last 40 years.
Earl
Dec 18, 2015 Earl rated it liked it
An interesting account of the Justice most known for his authorship of the Roe v. Wade majority opinion. A defender of women's rights to the end, this book does a decent job of telling the tale of a complex man from Minnesota who left an indelible mark on the history and course of this nation.
Rachel
Dec 20, 2010 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read this this past spring when I was already super stoked about my decision to go study The Law, etc. and still in a biography-y mood post-Team of Rivals. 'Twas a strong choice. I'd recommend it for law nerds. I especially enjoyed reading about the process of opinion writing - circulating drafts and trying to craft something persuasive and deft enough to have others willing to sign their name to it. Intellectual meritocracy at its finest, in my opinion.

Also, Blackmun was basically the architect
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Virginia
This is a very thorough biography and is not only the personal story of Justice Blackmun, but also the story of other justices and the major cases the Court was reviewing during his years. I came to appreciate Justice Blackmun as hardworking, always reworking his drafts, and rethinking all the aspects of cases. He was selected to write the majority opinion on Roe v Wade, representing the other 8 justices, and continued to be a strong advocate for Physician's rights and women's rights whenever ca ...more
Lauri
Dec 28, 2013 Lauri rated it it was amazing
To call this a biography actually misrepresents what it is. There are biographical sections in the very beginning but the main purpose of the book is to focus on several key cases in which Justice Blackman evolved from a cautious, conservative justice to a champion of women's and civil rights. A lucid read. You do not have to be a lawyer or particularly knowledgable about the workings of the Supreme Court to thoroughly enjoy this book. Justice Blackman left behind notes and scribblings and vast ...more
Kathie
May 28, 2007 Kathie rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. Beyond the fact that is gives awesome insight into the inner workings of the Court and Blackmun's relationships with the cases he worked on as well as with the other judges, it traces the personal history of Justice Blackmun and Chief Justice Burger's friendship. The fact that this book covers issues of Watergate to Roe and beyond (basically the things I find most enthralling in DC's history), I was bound to love it. But the look into Burger and Blackmun's man love was more ...more
Michelle
Jul 02, 2011 Michelle rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I thought this would build up towards Roe v. Wade, but instead, the monumental case happens relatively early, both in the book and in Blackmun's career. Not only did this case have serious repercussions in the course of US history, it had a similarly huge impact on Blackmun. Forever tied to a decision that was just about randomly assigned to him, Blackmun's personal philosophy and stance on not only abortion, but also women's rights and equality evolve.

Wonderful insight on the life and mind of o
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Jwmccabe1
Dec 27, 2007 Jwmccabe1 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about the Supreme Court in general, and in particular, the life and career of Justice Blackmun. Although originally thought to be a conservative jurist in the style of Chief Justice Warren Burger, Justice Blackmun found himself steadily leaning to the left of the ideological divide on the Court as he grew older. You will be amazed by his thoughtfulness and the care with which he decides some of the most difficult court cases of the ...more
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