What I Read May 2018

With class getting out for the summer, I finally got a chance to do some reading. I read through a couple of books about the Supreme Court I picked up because my Con Law class but hadn’t had time to read and one mediocre fantasy book I picked up out of a discount bin.

A Man Betrayed

JV Jones

I don’t know what possessed me to start reading a book series with the second book. That’s what I had with this trilogy, the second and third books I picked up for buck each at a used book store. It is fun, but largely generic fantasy. Jack is a castle baker who has mysterious parentage and mysterious powers (no points for guessing that he is probably a prince). He has escaped a castle with Melliandra, a noble’s daughter who doesn’t want to marry a mad prince. There is also Tawl, a knight who apparently failed in his quest to find some young boy (no points for guessing that boy is Jack) and Nabber, a young thief who idolizes the knight. After Jack and Melli are seperated, all of the characters save Jack end up in the powerful city-state of Bren.

There isn’t a lot new or special here; it is mostly going through familiar beats in the typical fantasy story. That is actually kind of comforting, though, when I haven’t managed to read much new in what has long been my favorite genre. It is very much from the same school that birthed Game of Thrones, the kind of fantasy that focuses on the ugly aspects of made up semi-medieval life. That probably explains some of my indifference to this book. That and not having read the first book. This is fine.

The Brethren

Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong

A look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court in the 70’s, written while many of the Justices in it were still sitting, compiled with the secret help of Justice Potter Stewart. It follows the Court starting with Warren Burger taking over as Chief Justice. It is a rather unflinching look. None of the Justices are spared an at best humanizing look. William O Douglas comes off as selfish and condescending, but also frequently brilliant. Thurgood Marshall looks disinterested and lazy, but also personable and caring. Byron White is inscrutable. Harry Blackmun is conscientious, but indecisive. The one who comes off looking the best is William Brennan, though he is not shown to be without fault. Burger, though, comes off looking completely terrible. I don’t know that I’ve read a more unflattering portrait of a man. He is intellectually dishonest and just dishonest in general. As the book goes along even his ideological allies seem to turn on him personally.

That humanizing look is what makes The Brethren work. It shows the Supreme Court Justices as people as they try to decide the cases they see. They are sometimes petty, sometimes sometimes honorable, but always people. It makes for an enlightening and entertaining read.

Becoming Justice Blackmun

Linda Greenhouse

This biography looked almost exclusively at Justice Blackmun’s papers to tell a short version of his story. It briefly details his youth and his life before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, but it is mostly about his time on the Court. A large portion of it is about Roe v. Wade, one of Blackmun’s early opinions that he came to represent. He also drifted to the left as he sat on the bench, joining Justices Brennan and Justice Marshall to form the liberal block of the court in the 80’s. It also details how his relationship with Chief Justice Burger disintegrated, going from them being childhood friends in Minnesota to being called the Minnesota Twins when Blackmun joined the court to them barely speaking by the time Burger stepped down. It is a rather slight biography, it works mostly as a supplement rather than a thorough examination. It is well written and a very readable biography, but it too short to have much depth. Still, it is very worth the read.

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