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The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind--and Changed the History of Free Speech in America
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The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind--and Changed the History of Free Speech in America

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  475 ratings  ·  88 reviews
A gripping intellectual history reveals how conservative justice Oliver Wendell Holmes became a free-speech advocate and established the modern understanding of the First AmendmentThe right to express one’s political views seems an indisputable part of American life. After all, the First Amendment proudly proclaims that Congress can make no law abridging the freedom of speech. But wel ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 20th 2013 by Metropolitan Books (first published May 14th 2013)
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Start your review of The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind--and Changed the History of Free Speech in America
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I learned so much from this book. I must admit I had not read or studied anything about the history of the first amendment before. This absorbing book is about the law and also about change, how one man's thinking evolved nearly 100 years ago. For 125 years the first amendment was essentially dead until Holmes wrote his dissent in 1919. Thomas Healy shows us how Holmes was educated/persuaded to change his mind about the meaning and reach of our most fundamental safeguard. His friends, Justice Br ...more
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
The premise of free speech is one that remains central to many of the constitutional documents in democratic societies. That being said, the current form that many cite when wishing to express themselves was not generally held until the past century, at least in the United States. As Thomas Healy recounts in this comprehensive book, free speech in America drastically changed at the hands of one man in particular, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Healy effectively argues that Holmes—l ...more
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: law
First audiobook I’ve ever listened to- I normally listen to meditation videos to fall asleep so I just swapped this out. Took me FOREVER because obviously I kept falling asleep (but that was the intention, naturally).

The audiobook was 10 hours long. TEN HOURS. This book would have taken me max three hours to read normally. This is why I’m not an audiobook person. It’s so inefficient. That said, the voice reader was great. Even ten hours later, his voice wasn't annoying, which is a damn miracle.
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Freedom of speech is as American as apple pie. It's not only a central safeguard in the Bill of Rights, it's central to American self-identity as a democratic nation. When college students criticize freedom of speech, national pundits must weigh in on what it all means. Hucksters like Sarah Palin use the First Amendment as a shield against any criticism whatsoever, because it speaks to a deep-seated conviction that in America, you can say what you like. That's what it _means_ to be American. ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I’m such a law nerd for reading this book. But a law nerd who very much enjoyed reading about an important moment in building and establishing modern First Amendment law.

With a style somewhere between general nonfiction and a law review article, The Great Dissent is an odd book. I liked it, but, unfortunately, I think the weird hybrid style means it will have a smaller audience than it deserves.

Tracking Oliver Wendell Holmes’s shift on free speech, the event at the center is an intellectua
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I entered the Goodreads early reader giveaway for The Great Dissent for my husband so this is really his review: He told me that the book was utterly fascinating. He had a hard time putting it down. He is a retired attorney so the subject matter was immediately interesting for him. He said the book read more like a novel than like a non-fiction book. In fact he's got me so intrigued I'm going to add it to my reading pile!

He said the writing style is very easy to read and the details
Nicole Jenkins
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I just finished tis book today. I loved every bit of it from the authors writing style to the information within. I recommend giving it a read. I won this book from Goodreads First Read Givaways!
Bob Schmitz
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-history
If you are looking for a light or exciting read don’t read this book. If you want to know in tremendous detail Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s life, friends, letters, thoughts regarding his 1919 Supreme Court dissent which established a new interpretation of the 1st Amendment this is the book for you. But you better be ready to slog through long quoted letters and minute legal arguments.

Prior to 1919 the US Supreme Court had never reversed a lower court decision impinging on any type
Bill Wilson
Sep 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous book. A very rare bird - a book that layman and lawyer will enjoy equally. Part biography, part history, part social commentary, all incredibly readable, interesting, engaging. Professor Healy seamlessly weaves together several disparate influences, both people and events, on Justice Holmes, who starts the book as something of a curmudgeon not at all a fan of free speech with definite and limited ideas of what it meant. Healy charts his grudging progress, nudged inexorably toward a more ...more
Vincent Li
Aug 06, 2017 rated it liked it
An "insider" book similar to Wild Justice (at least the part of Wild Justice I've read so far) recommended to me by a good friend who's essentially a first amendment scholar (name dropping here). Similar to Wild Justice, The Great Dissent tries to provide to the layman a narrative to explain a turning point in constitutional law. The Great Dissent focuses on Holmes's Abrams dissent.

Healy establishes the mystery of Holmes seemingly changing his mind at the Abrams dissent. As Healy describes very
Nov 26, 2013 marked it as to-read
Shelves: law, history-american
Gunther covers this topic in pretty thorough detail in his fine bio of Learned Hand .Learned Hand: The Man and the Judge, but I gather that Healy has broadened scope of OWH's evolving view on free speech by including letters previously unknown. (Who writes letters like this nowadays, I wonder? Do current Justices debate one another via emai ...more
Paul Mullen
Sep 24, 2013 rated it liked it
So those famous phrases, "Clear and Present Danger," and "Marketplace of Ideas" -- Now we know where they came from. This history of the Supreme Court's approach that led to our nation's current ethos around free speech.

At times I got lost in the names and places, but the overarching view of how we got to a liberal sense of free speech was really helpful.

Edward Sullivan
The writings of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes are the basis of contemporary interpretations and applications of freedom of speech, but it took many years for great minds to convince him of its value. This fascinating, insightful story chronicles the unfolding of Holmes’s change of heart and mind on the First Amendment. A remarkable, engaging work of intellectual and legal history.
Jim Angstadt
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Great Dissent. How Oliver Wendel Holmes Changed His Mind - and Changed the History of Free Speech in America

I love the way Thomas Healy tells this story. Each chapter is digestible on it's own. Each adds color and style to our understanding of Oliver Wendell Holmes (OWH). Each builds our understanding of free speech before and after Holmes. Put them all together for a great read, and a fascinating look at how far we have come in less than 100 years.

===== Table of Cont
Steven Meyers
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mr. Healy introduces Oliver Wendell Homes at the judge’s age of 77 in June 1918. ‘The Great Dissent’ is not a biography or even an abbreviated one. You’ll need to look elsewhere for such a book. The author does skim over some nonessential material such as the judge’s infatuation with a married woman when he was 55. I was confused as to why this bit of gratuitous gossip was in Mr. Healy’s work. The author does insert some colorful background history of the times that helps to understand why most ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
While this seems to be a fairly thorough examination of the various reasons that Holmes changed his mind (many of which seem somewhat petty - though to be fair even the most apparently noble decisions probably frequently have many base components to them as well), I did not get a great sense of why Holmes' dissent in this particular case was so great. From the way Healy talks in many places, it would seem like this particular dissent - which, by the nature of being a dissent, is not binding law ...more
Colleen Browne
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in the bill of rights
Healy examines the road that Holmes took to get to the "clear and present danger" requirement in judging protected speech. Encouraged by friends, including Felix Frankfurter, Harold Laski, Learned Hand, Zacharia Chafee, and Louis Brandeis, Holmes' views on free speech evolved and his dissent in the Abrams case eventually became the standard by which protected speech is determined.

Healy points out that the First Amendment, up until Holmes and his contemporaries, received very little attention in
Al Towers
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent book on the history of free speech jurisprudence during the time when many of the standards still used today were set. I thoroughly enjoyed it. For a careful reader of history, many of the characters will be familiar, and it only deepens the reverence one will have their legacy.
Joshua James
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a great, if short, review of the events that led to Holmes' dissent in Abrams v. United States. The author does a good job explaining all of the moving parts that led to Holmes becoming the great champion of the First Amendment that we know him as today.

The Abrams dissent is as much the work of Holmes as it is of those who influenced his thought--Harold Laski, Felix Frankfurter, Zechariah Chaffee, and, in many ways, Learned Hand. In the summer of 1919, the time between Holme's majority
Cindy Lasher
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Law nerd alert! Justice Holmes became known as the great dissenter because of his First Amendment jurisprudence. But he did not start out with the opinions that he wrote about in that famous dissent. This tells you where he started from and how he got to where he ended up.
Matthew Werner
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A must read for anyone with interests in free speech, liberty, or Constitutional history. I love reading about the Supreme Court. This non-fiction book read almost like a thriller.
Interesting and well-written. I hope to see another book from Healy
B. Roebuck
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Hands down one of my favorite books on the subject of the Supreme Court. It is a true page turner that keeps you from putting it down. It's a book for everyone as well not just attorney's or professors.
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: law-related
The Great Dissent is a refreshingly precise and engaging intellectual history. It's precise in that it's modest in its scope. Thomas Healy traces Oliver Wendell Holmes's position on free speech rights over the course of less than two years; he focuses on a single Justice, and covers a single legal doctrine--really, a single dissent, in Abrams. Yet the book still seems substantial, because that single dissent espoused a theory of the First Amendment that (eventually) changed how courts all over America underst ...more
Richard Larsen
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very well done. Compelling story about Holmes and the evolution of the Court on free speech
Lane Willson
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I bumped into Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. when TCM showed a film based on his life, The Magnificent Yankee. He was one of the few former Supreme Court Justices I knew and remains one of the most quoted Americans. I thought I would like to know more about him.

The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind - And Changed the History of Free Speech in America by Thomas Healy was a great place to start. Though not a comprehensive biography of Justice Holmes, it certa
What factors contribute to a great transformation in an individual's reasoning? To what degree do outside influences affect these changes? For Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the relationships with three left leaning law intellectuals made all the difference in the world.

During the conclusion of World War I, American society became terrified of Bolshevist influence and protective against efforts to undermine patriotic war efforts. Times of emergency often result in a suspension of
Stephanie Pounds
Jul 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: your, library
I opened this book, read the first few pages, closed it and then went to get a pencil. This, I knew, was going to be one of those books where I wanted to do a lot of underlining and note-taking. The Great Dissent follows the path that Oliver Wendell Holmes took from 1918 to 1919 as he wrestled with the issue of the kinds of speech the government protects and the kinds that it can prosecute. Author Thomas Healy does a masterful job of taking someone with a novice understanding of the points of vi ...more
Jun 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book details the history and possible influences on O.W. Holmes in his dissent in Abrams v. United States. Holmes was originally a staunch defender of suppression of speech, even going so far as to say that it is appropriate for a majority class to kill a minority class to ensure that its ideas govern. Healy argues that Holmes's communications with Learned Hand, Justice Felix Frankfurter, Zechariah Chaffee, and above all Professor Harold J. Laski convinced him to change his mind. Laski was ...more
Chris Burd
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
At it's core, this book is about Oliver Wendell Holmes and this history of free speech in America, just as the title suggests. But there is so much more packed into this incredibly well researched and unique book. I listened to this one as an audio book- spending close to 10 hours within a single 24 hour period of time absorbing it. I don't think I can do justice to it with my review.

The primary subject alone is a fascinating one. What did the first amendment really mean in late 19th
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In political debate, I think there are few arguments lazier and more probative of a lack of intellectual firepower than to label your opponent a "flip-flopper." If a person condemns the considered and thoughtful change of opinion on important public issues, then truly I am reminded of the old chestnut, "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

To me, some of the greatest heroes of our political history are those who have courageously stepped away from opinions and beliefs they previously h
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