'Becoming Justice Blackmun': Deconstructing Harry

IF there is a special place in heaven for those considerate of the claims of history, Justice Harry Blackmun deserves a spot. Some justices destroy their papers. They believe the less the public knows about the Supreme Court, the more easily the illusion is preserved that our system is based on rule of law, rather than men and women.

But Blackmun, who sat on the court for 24 years, kept everything from hotel receipts to private exchanges between justices in many of the 3,875 cases in which he participated; and he sat for 38 hours of videotaped interviews with his former clerk Harold Hongju Koh, now the dean of Yale Law School. This pack rat then donated his entire collection to the Library of Congress, providing that it be opened five years after his death.

As the requisite waiting period drew to a close in 2004, hordes of journalists, scholars and the curious were expected on ''opening day.'' After all, Blackmun wrote the majority opinion in the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. His daughters shrewdly decided to give Linda Greenhouse, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, a two-month head start.

Just a year later comes this fascinating book. In clear and forceful prose, ''Becoming Justice Blackmun'' tells a judicial Horatio Alger story and a tale of a remarkable transformation.

From Laura Kalman's New York Times review of Greenhouse's new book.