Yankee from Olympus Critical Context - Essay

Catherine Drinker Bowen

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Bowen began researching Yankee from Olympus a few years after Justice Holmes’s death in 1935. This allowed her to interview many people who knew Holmes personally, mainly during his years in Washington while he served on the Supreme Court. The result is a close-up view of Holmes’s personality and a deeper understanding of the subject than the author of a biography usually attains. On the other hand, when Bowen researched the life of Holmes, she did not have access to his private papers, which were not available to scholars until the 1980’s. Thus, some details of his private life and his own writing about some aspects of his career were not available to Bowen when she prepared her book.

Interest in Holmes’s career remains more than half a century after his death. Part of the judge’s fascination was his lifelong interest in learning. Asked at the age of ninety-two why he read Plato’s works, he responded that he was interested in improving his mind. Beyond that, as Bowen stated, “He had a genius for living, a genius for finding himself wholly, using himself wholly. He loved life and believed in it.” This quality of Holmes’s life makes Yankee from Olympus valuable not only for history students but also for all young readers.