Frank M. Coffin


In the legal profession a deep sigh of relief is heard over the land. After roughly two decades of incubation, the long-awaited biography of the great judge has arrived, Learned Hand: The Man and the Judge, by Stanford Law Professor Gerald Gunther. The book, in my opinion, is well worth the wait. Nearly 700 pages, plus a hundred more for footnotes, it nevertheless represents a heroic condensation of some 100,000 different items on file at Harvard Law School, including no fewer than 50,000 items of correspondence, 1,000 district court opinions, and nearly 3,000 circuit court opinions. The inventory alone requires 500 pages. Literally “generations” of helpers played a part; the author lists 36 research assistants. This is an “authorized” biography. The author had full access to materials and to the Learned Hand family, i.e., children, in-laws, and grandchildren. And although there are specialized studies and collections of materials honoring Judge Hand, there is no other work that pretends to be a full-scale biography. This one, therefore, comes under the best auspices-a gifted law professor, former clerk, and recognized authority on constitutional law, with the blessing and cooperation of the family. The work evidences thoughtful organization and painstaking efforts. The author takes us from Hand's early days in Albany, in the shadow of Learned's formidable father, to law school, then to practice in Albany and New York City, then to his district judgeship, his ascendancy to the Second Circuit, with detours to politics and other external interests, revealing correspondence with other luminaries on some of the great issues of the times, near missed appointments to the Supreme Court, and a gathering public acclaim in his golden years.

First Page