What is a good book about the Supreme Court?

That a non-lawyer could read.

I like history and I’d like to learn about the history of the Court. I tried one book, don’t recall the title because I’m pretty sure that reading that book put me in a coma.

Anyway, any suggestions?

The Brethren by Bob Woodward is probably the best insider’s view yet written, although it focuses almost exclusively on the Burger court of the 1970s.

Woodward is not a court insider, but he interviewed dozens of clerks, interns, lawyers and justices to develop the book. His primary source turned out to be Justice Potter Stewart, revealed only after Stewart’s death.

I have not read The Nine or The Brethren, but I’ve heard good things. I’m not sure if they are solely current events or if they go into history. Hopefully, someone who has read one can speak to that.

I may need to take in parts as 230 odd years may be too much for one book.

The Nine and its successor The Oath by Jeffrey Toobin are both excellent. They focus on current events but give extensive histotorical context. I highly reccommend them.

For a narrower look at a particular, very important case, try Gideon’s Trumpet. It’s one of the books that inspired me to go to law school.

Peter Irons is a legal historian who’s written several books on the Supreme Court. A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution is a good one to start with.

Do you ever listen to recorded courses (while you’re driving or whatever)? There’s a course from the company called The Great Courses that fits your requirements. The course is called The History of the Supreme Court, it consists of lectures by a professor named Peter Irons, and it’s eighteen hours long. A third of the lectures are about the period from 1790 to 1921, a third of them are about the time from 1921 to 1953, and the last third are about what’s gone on since 1953.

Somehow I missed Little Nemo’s post. That’s the same person. He wrote a book and did a recorded course on this subject.

I wonder if that is on iTunes? I could listen on the subway.

It’s offered on “audio download.” I don’t know what that means. You’ll have to check into this yourself:


It’s so old it’s available for a penny on Amazon, but I recommend Brandeis and Frankfurter: A Dual Biography by Leonard Baker.

The Supreme Court of the 19th century was a conservative, moss-backed, hidebound conclave of privilege and bigotry and ruled that way. The story of the Court in the 20th century is how - slowly and painfully - virtually every important decision of the Court was reversed. Baker, a Pulitzer Prize winner, does an exceptional job of detailing this history, as well as the personalities of the men involved. One of the few books I’d give that “changes the way you see the world” accolade to.

Simple Justice is a fascinating account of the Brown v. Board of Education struggle, starting years before it got to the Supreme Court, but including the court decision as well.

Thank you for this thread, Zebra; it’s a terrific topic.

Thanks to everyone else, too, especially Little Nemo and Wendell Wagner; Mr. Irons’ books sound excellent.

I can confirm that there are a number of courses available thru iTunes U about the history of the SCOTUS, but I have not yet watched any of them.

So Stewart was Deep Robe, huh?

Toobin isn’t my favorite talking head to say the least. Are his books fair and balanced?

Try this online, and then the SC Historical Society has a gift shop IN the SC building, I have been there several times.


The Documentary History books are expensive but very informative.

I don’t know whether “the great courses” are available from iTunes or anywhere else, but they are from Audible.com.

I agree. I also recommend the “companion book” to the TV miniseries (for lack of a better word for it) The Constitution: That Delicate Balance, which, despite the book’s title, deals with major Supreme Court cases.