Re: “This Is Not a Good Book”

by Ed Whelan

On top of the Wall Street Journal review I highlighted (as well as an earlier one): In the Washington Post, legal journalist Seth Stern (whose biography of Justice Brennan I’ve praised) offers a very critical review of Bruce Allen Murphy’s new biography of Justice Scalia.

Stern observes that Murphy “offers little new insight in this relentlessly negative book.” Further, despite not having conducted “many” interviews (I think the actual number is zero) and having evidently spoken with Scalia only “a single time at a reception,” Murphy “has no compunction about writing as if he knows exactly what the justice was thinking or feeling at any given moment.” (For examples of some of the absurdities that Murphy’s armchair psychologizing yields, see my Part 4 post (points 2 and 3) and my Part 7 post. Links to my full series of posts about Murphy’s book are available here.)

By Stern’s judgment, Murphy’s book “fares poorly in comparison with” Joan Biskupic’s 2009 biography of Scalia, “which was more compact and yet far richer in detail about his early life and jurisprudence.” My own four-part review of Biskupic’s book combined some praise (especially on the biographical part) with much more criticism (of her account of his jurisprudence), but I agree with Stern that Biskupic’s book is much, much better than Murphy’s. (For an excellent extended account of Scalia’s jurisprudence, read Ralph Rossum’s Antonin Scalia’s Jurisprudence: Text and Tradition.)

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