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Publisher's Summary

The remarkable story of John Marshall who, as chief justice, statesman, and diplomat, played a pivotal role in the founding of the United States.

No member of America's founding generation had a greater impact on the Constitution and the Supreme Court than John Marshall, and no one did more to preserve the delicate unity of the fledgling United States. From the nation's founding in 1776 and for the next 40 years, Marshall was at the center of every political battle. As Chief Justice of the United States - the longest-serving in history - he established the independence of the judiciary and the supremacy of the federal Constitution and courts. As the leading Federalist in Virginia, he rivaled his cousin Thomas Jefferson in influence. As a diplomat and secretary of state, he defended American sovereignty against France and Britain, counseled President John Adams, and supervised the construction of the city of Washington, DC.

This is the astonishing true story of how a rough-cut frontiersman - born in Virginia in 1755 and with little formal education - invented himself as one of the nation's preeminent lawyers and politicians who then reinvented the Constitution to forge a stronger nation. Without Precedent is the engrossing account of the life and times of this exceptional man, who with cunning, imagination, and grace shaped America's future as he held together the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the country itself.

©2018 Joel Richard Paul (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“[Paul] has crafted a scholarly but highly readable and often entertaining chronicle that embeds Marshall among the leading lights of the nation’s founding generation, humanizing him along the way... [Marshall] is justly celebrated as the most far-sighted justice ever to lead the Supreme Court. His lasting achievements are ably served by Mr. Paul’s deeply felt and penetrating biography.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Engrossing... Paul brings to life Marshall’s seminal cases.” ­(The Weekly Standard)  

“[Paul] has added a well-written and admiring biography to the long line of Marshall scholarship.” (San Francisco Chronicle

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  • Diana Black Kennedy
  • 01-03-2018

Scholarly and Accessible

When I think about Founding Fathers, I usually only think about the Presidents plus Benjamin Franklin. It turns out John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from John Adams through Andrew Jackson (34 years--the record for Chief Justices) is as important as any of them in the forming of our nation.

This is the second book I have listened to about Marshall, and it far outshines the other (What Kind of Nation by James F Simon). First of all, it covers much more of Marshall's biography, providing more personal context for his political life. Second, Paul couches his statement and especially his judgments in historical fact and context, sharing the common narratives, both pro and con, about each topic he discusses. Third, Paul goes as far back as necessary to fully contextualize each important case or event he discusses so that the listener can understand the how we got here, what it means and where it leads us of each of the momentous decisions Marshall wrote. So I learned as much, well, more actually, about law as I did about Marshall himself.

Definitely worth listening to. Fascinating history that has implications up through today.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Jean
  • 13-03-2018

A Fascinating Biography

This is a major new biography of John Marshall (1755-1835). Marshall was President John Adams’ Secretary of State. As he was going out of office, Adams appointed John Marshall as the Chief of the Supreme Court. Even though Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice, he was the one that transformed the Court into its current role and one of the key balances of power in the government. Paul covers Marshall’s early life and reveals him as a man. Of course, he also goes into depth discussing his role on the Supreme Court. Marshall was the longest serving Chief Justice. More than any other biography of Marshall, Paul goes into detail about Marshall the man.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Paul attempts to be unbiased as far as Marshall is concerned but not so for President Thomas Jefferson. The book is easy to read with a flowing narrative. Paul’s writing style makes complex legal cases easy to understand for the layman. I found this to be one of the best biographies on Marshall that I have read to date. If one is interested in the Supreme Court, this is a must-read book.

Joel Richard Paul is a Professor of International Economic Law and Constitutional Law at the University of California Hastings Law School in San Francisco, California.

The book is just over seventeen hours. Fred Sanders does a good job narrating the book. Sanders is a stage and film actor as well as an audiobook narrator.

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  • George Bailey
  • 13-03-2018

Worthwhile introduction to Marshall

In my opinion this is a "popular" work, not a scholarly one. If moves fast and does not go into any part of Marshall's life in great detail. I think most listeners would find the material easy to follow. Unfortunately, with these audio books you don't get to see the footnotes and source documentation, which would be useful with a biography like this. This is my first book on John Marshall, so it was nice to have something that gave me a general overview of his life. The book necessarily covers only a small number of the many cases heard by the Marshall court.

My take away from this is I had no idea how influential this one man was in the evolution of the original union of thirteen North American colonies into the tragic behemoth the United States is today. Marshall invented the legal and philosophical foundation by which the federal government usurped the rights and powers of the sovereign state governments that created it. He thereby gave birth to the nation we have today in which all power resides in Washington, D.C. Not surprisingly, there were contemporaries of Marshall who predicted the long-term consequences of his actions, but apparently Marshall was blinded by his fear of a disintegration of the union. Thus he was willing to deny others the self-evident truths (rights) for which he fought as an officer in the American Revolution in order to establish and preserve the supremacy of the new Federal government. Marshall did not seek to strike a balance between the powers of the State and Federal governments, rather he sought to establish the unassailable supremacy of the Federal government that plagues us today.

But Marshall appears to have been a person whose company we all would have enjoyed socially. And he also appears to have been a man of high personal integrity. However, the author does seem to have a bias in favor of Marshall, so maybe he paints a more flattering picture than is warranted. It was refreshing to hear the author's comments on Jefferson, who is worshiped like a deity where I live in central Virginia, yet is dripping with hypocrisy and vanity.

The narrator does an adequate job. I do recommend this book for those with an interest in the subject or period.

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  • Darin M Groteboer
  • 17-07-2018

Great book, good narration

I'd give this book 5-stars but the anti-Jefferson sentiment was heavy and by the end of the book it became quite annoying. That aside, the book is wonderful.

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  • Peter Riley
  • 15-07-2018

Excellent book highlighting early SCOTUS history

Look at our first great Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall. Marshall essentially establishes the concept of “judicial review” that makes SCOTUS the arbitrator of constitutionally in law. SOME of the readings of court got a little dry at times, but otherwise a fascinating, well written and performed book.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 17-09-2021

Time well spent

Loved it. I am working my way through presidential and chief justice biographies in order. This is one of the best among the 19 I've read so far. My respect for Marshall increased a lot and my dislike for Jefferson increased.

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  • jason leclerc
  • 19-07-2021

great book on a great chief Justice

well written and read. great I cite on a great man. the author had a little bias against Jefferson in book but Gave great Insight into Marshall's life

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  • Coppertop
  • 14-07-2021

great book!

An excellent analysis of Marshall. Makes the law understandable. Well read and easy to listen to.

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  • JOE GUIDE
  • 18-06-2021

Excellent in research and historical accuricy

Here is a fine example of what any lawyer could aspire to. Marshall risked his life in the service of his Nation during the Revolutionary War. His cousin, the wealthy and snobbish - Thomas Jefferson did not serve his Nation during a time of War. He took advantage of his slaves and his crops and in making himself richer. Marshall had few faults, unlike his cousin Thomas, but what a life and times he experienced. Will History or Discovery Channel ever do a program on John Marshall? I doubt it. Joel Paul did a exceptional job in his research and layout for this lovely book about our first and still the greatest Chief Justice.

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  • Daniel Frederickson
  • 12-05-2021

A decent portrait painted with bad history

Go somewhere else for a Marshall biography. This book does a decent job of portraying John Marshall’s personal and political life. However Joel Richard Paul drags Marshall’s name through the mud with phrases like: “expansive interpretation”, “the constitution is a living document” and “constitutionally enshrined slavery”. Some of Paul’s claims are misleading at best but at times patently false.

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