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JANUARY 17, 2000: 

The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions edited by Kermit L. Hall (Oxford, hardcover, $35)

It wasn't until 1803 -- when Chief Justice John Marshall officially articulated the doctrine of judicial review in Marbury v. Madison -- that the United States Supreme Court became the final arbiter of our Constitution. Since that time, judicial review -- the doctrine that the federal judiciary is solely responsible for interpreting the meaning of the Constitution -- has become an essential pillar of our constitutional structure. Consequently, the Constitution doesn't mean much of anything outside of the interpretations found in Supreme Court decisions.

Browsing through this fine reference guide is like paging through the chronicles of our national history. From the formation of the country to the crisis of civil war to Reconstruction to "separate but equal" and the flourishing of the civil rights movement, the Supreme Court has been there, occasionally as a protector of justice and human decency, occasionally as a preserver of an unsavory status quo. Either way, these cases map the evolution of constitutional philosophy in the United States. The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions describes and analyzes 440 of the most important Supreme Court cases. As a quick reference, it is invaluable. My only gripe is that there isn't enough of the original text of these decisions, many of which feature some of the most eloquent social and political writing ever written. That's a small gripe, though.

This guide is a handy thing to have around, even for those with only a casual interest in the history of this country. -- Steven Robert Allen

Bad Men: Outlaws & Gunfighters of the Wild West by Bob Boze Bell (Tri Star Boze, paper, $18.95)

What is the difference between an urban criminal and an awe-inspiring, indeed romanticized, outlaw? If these Bad Men possessed any redeeming qualities, they are negated by their self-indulgences. Yet in spite of their unworthiness in life, they reign supreme in death. Our fascination dictates obtaining every detail, real or invented. In fact, many of these outlaws saw their exploits in print and reveled in it, even contributed to their myth by self-invention of name and various killings and deeds.

This book is filled with concise, fascinating facts and amazing photographs. Some photographs have been published elsewhere. However, the size, quality and quantity in this collection are outstanding. There are large photos of outlaws having received their violent end and a parcel of posed photos.

You'll be held up by the many New Mexico references, like the hanging windmill in Las Vegas and the $70,000 train robbery near Folsom. Something about New Mexico has always made it an attractive place for celebrity outlaws. Our famous "Kid" is, after all, the most portrayed gunfighter in film.

Included also are many bullets on history. The U.S. population in 1881 reaches 53 million! Tuscon, Ariz., police expect motorists to observe speed limit of 7 mph in 1909! Geronimo was still a POW and had $10,000 in the bank when he died!

All this in one attractive package makes Bad Men a worthwhile read. -- W.A. Larson

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