St. Mary's Law Journal
Sheldon Novick’s biography, Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, is a traditional biography of one of the most important public figures in the United States since the Civil War.
Although the author disclaims it, Honorable Justice is a defense of Holmes. Novick writes of some of Holmes’ faults, but too often Holmes’ human imperfections are defended as strengths. It appears that Novick was trying hard to defend Holmes from late twentieth century critiques. This defense of Holmes seems a misguided attempt to re(de)ify Holmes to a group of readers which will likely include a large proportion of skeptical, professional ironists.
Holmes was a complex man whose life is worth the effort Novick clearly expended on the biography. The complexity of Holmes is pursued on enough occasions that the book is worthwhile reading, and for that Novick should be commended. However, it remains uncertain whether Holmes was an honorable man, or an Honorable Justice.
Michael S. Ariens, Dutiful Justice (book review), 22 St. Mary’s L.J. 1019 (1991).