Novick, Sheldon M. 1941–

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Novick, Sheldon M. 1941–


Born June 19, 1941, in New York, NY; son of Irving (an immigration consultant) and Ruth (a social worker) Novick; married Carolyn M. Clinton (a higher education administrator; second marriage), November 30, 1985; children: Melia Bensussen (from former marriage), Michael Clinton. Education: Antioch College, Yellow Springs, OH, B.A., 1963; Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, MO, J.D., 1977.


Home—Norwich, VT. Office—Vermont Law School, P.O. Box 96, South Royalton, VT 05068. Agent—Elizabeth Kaplan, 80 5th Ave., New York, NY 10011. E-mail—[email protected].


Lawyer, educator, and writer. Environment (formerly Scientist and Citizen) magazine, St. Louis, MO, began as associate editor, became editor and publisher, 1964-77; Center for Biology of Natural Systems, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, administrator, 1966-69; Milgrim Thomajan & Jacobs (law firm), New York, NY, associate, 1977-78; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Philadelphia, PA, regional counsel, 1978-84; Environmental Law Institute, Washington, DC, senior staff attorney, 1984-86; Municipal government of Strafford, VT, town agent and grand juror, 1987-97; Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT, adjunct professor of law and history, 2004—. Scholar in residence, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, 1987-2004.


American Book Publishers' Association award for the best law book, 1986, for Law of Environmental Protection; Scribes Award for the best book on a legal topic, American Bar Association, 1989, for Honorable Justice.


The Careless Atom, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1969.

The Electric War: The Fight over Nuclear Power, Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1976.

Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.

Henry James: The Young Master, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

Henry James: The Mature Master, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.


(With Dorothy Cottrell) Our World in Peril; An Environment Review, Fawcett (Greenwich, CT), 1971.

(With Donald W. Stever and Margaret G. Mellon) Law of Environmental Protection, Clark Boardman Callaghan (Deerfield, IL), 1987.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Collected Works of Justice Holmes: Complete Public Writings and Selected Judicial Opinions of Oliver Wendell Holmes, foreword by Erwin N. Griswold, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1995.

Contributor to periodicals, including Harvard Law Review, Washington University Law Quarterly, Williamand Mary Law Review, Henry James Review, and the Supreme Court Review.

Also author of Sheldon M. Novick Web log.


Sheldon M. Novick's first two books focus on issues concerning the environment and energy use in the United States during the twentieth century. He wrote his first full-length work, The Careless Atom, when he was an associate editor of the periodical Scientist and Citizen (now Environment magazine). The book was part of a wave of intellectual debate in the late 1960s that questioned the effects of the corporate structure of America on both its citizens and its future. Novick's second volume, The Electric War: The Fight over Nuclear Power, expands this theme. Novick then took a break from writing to earn a law degree from the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri. His third book, a biography of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, reflected his new interest in law.

The Careless Atom was published in 1969 to widespread publicity. At the time, the harnessing of nuclear energy for consumer use had been successfully sold to the American public. The devastation caused by the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in effect ending World War II, gave way to smooth reassurances from power companies who promised consumers an idealized world through atomic energy. As Novick points out, the public was told that nuclear reactors offered progress in the form of a cheaper, cleaner energy source that benefited everyone. More than one hundred reactors were either in operation or in the planning stages across the country during the time when The Careless Atom was published.

The Careless Atom argues that the use of atomic energy and its possible risks were not carefully researched or made fully public, and that the U.S. government, through both legislation and the structure of its regulatory bodies, was abetting utility companies in reaping profits while quite possibly endangering the lives of millions of citizens. Novick describes how the passing of the Price-Anderson Act in 1957 enabled power companies to assume the astronomical building costs of starting up a reactor without fear of bankruptcy in the event of a catastrophic accident and subsequent lawsuits. The act stated that the federal government would insure each reactor for up to 500 million dollars, but that no one would be liable for damages beyond that amount. The Careless Atom warns of the massive risks that threaten largely populated areas where the reactors are situated, where a single human error could result in not only billions of dollars in damages but also the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. Novick also criticizes the placement of these reactors near urban centers. The threat of radioactivity, the by-product of nuclear reactors, is also explored in the volume, as is the lack of conclusive data regarding radioactivity's long-term effects. In the book, Novick calls for an increased public awareness of the dangers of nuclear energy and an open debate on the subject at all levels.

The Careless Atom received much attention at the time of publication. Writing in the Saturday Review, Robert A. Charpie praised the book as "even-handed" and noted that it is written "boldly and simply for the broad audience." However, Charpie faulted the book's central thesis for "treating superficially the complex interplay" of technology, profit, and safety. Stanley Klein, a contributor to the New York Times Book Review, stated that "the book makes its most vital contribution in urging a public review of the potential dangers from the sudden rush to nuclear power."

The Electric War follows the theme of the author's first book in questioning the safety of nuclear energy. In this volume, however, Novick concentrates on tracing the crooked path that led to the growth of the atomic industry in the hands of power companies with the invaluable assistance of the U.S. federal government. Novick attempts to relate both sides of the issues, as he interviews power company executives and antinuclear activists alike. The Electric War was well received by many critics. Nation contributor Harvey Wasserman praised the interview portions of the work, noting that "[Novick's] talks with the industry heavyweights are quite intriguing." Deborah Shapley, in a review for the New York Times Book Review, asserted that "Novick writes … with a clarity and simplicity rarely found in public policy writing." Shapley also lauded the book's interviews, noting that the author is "clever and well-informed at cross-examining his subjects."

Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, is a radical departure from the issues of the environment and technology that Novick explored in his earlier writings. As the first in-depth biography of the noted U.S. Supreme Court justice and American legal scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes, the book examines both his career and his personality. Holmes, who sat on the U.S. Supreme Court for almost thirty years, was the subject of earlier slim volumes as well as three failed attempts to document his complete life and work. In Honorable Justice, Novick combines earlier Holmes scholarship with his own research of the justice's personal papers to provide a comprehensive biography.

Honorable Justice describes Holmes's patrician background and intellectual development that led to later accusations of somewhat fascist tendencies in his court opinions. He served on the faculty of Harvard Law School and at the age of forty published his magnus opus, The Common Law, in 1881. Novick points out how influential this work was to the development of American constitutional scholarship and how it continues to form an integral part of the justice system. Honorable Justice relates the consistency of Holmes's legal opinions and defends some of his more controversial beliefs by placing them in the context of both the justice's unique legal philosophy as well as the intellectual and popular opinion of the era. After being appointed to the high court in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Holmes wrote several influential decisions that upheld his invariable belief that First Amendment rights were fundamental to the basic order of the nation.

Honorable Justice also narrates many personal aspects of the colorful Holmes, most notably his married life and alleged womanizing. This information, joined with the full recounting of his legal career, allows Novick to present a complete portrait of a larger-than-life figure in American history. James O. Freedman, reviewing Honorable Justice for the Washington Post Book World, commented that the volume "skirts important areas of Holmes's achievements," but conceded that "Novick has written an interesting and readable" biography. New York Times Book Review contributor Edmund Morris praised Novick's skill and observed that "as chapter follows masterly chapter the [anticipatory] hopes mature into admiration of author and awe of subject."

In addition to his biography of Holmes, Novick edited The Collected Works of Justice Holmes: Complete Public Writings and Selected Judicial Opinions of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Considered the first official collection of Holmes's works, the three-volume work includes Holmes's writings as a youth, his college papers and essays, Civil War poems, and numerous legal writings. In a review for Trial, Peter J. Messitte noted that "this compilation is almost certainly as comprehensive as a Holmes collection will ever get." Messitte also stated: "Novick's accompanying notes are especially informative, including his brief biography of the justice, a discussion of Holmes's philosophy and jurisprudence, and—best of all—his appraisal of Holmes's significance."

Novick turns his attention to an undisputed American literary giant in Henry James: The Young Master, which focuses on the author up to the age of thirty-eight. Richard Jenkyns, writing in the New Republic, called the book a "half-life" but also noted that it "offers us the chance to think about Henry James in a fresh way." Jenkyns added: "Novick is a good storyteller, and he has a good story to tell." A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that the "biography will … stir controversy about the relationship of James's personality to his creativity." In a review for the New York Times, Renee Tursi commented that the author "presents an uncluttered narrative … backed with scrupulous documentation."

With Henry James: The Mature Master, the follow-up to Henry James: The Young Master, Novick concludes his in-depth analysis of the life and career of Henry James. The volume commences in 1881, shortly after the publication of The Portrait of a Lady, covering the rest of James's life until his death, following a long illness, in 1916. Novick dutifully details all possible aspects of James's life, covering both the author's professional and personal pastimes. Novick pays particular attention to the daily activities that relate to James's writing and publishing career, noting the politics involved in the business. A contributor for Kirkus Review commented that "James's relentless work habits produced a frequently stunning oeuvre. His biographer's focus on the novelist's daily rounds in an otherwise quiet life is just as relentless and demanding, but far less artful." Over the course of the book, Novick challenges traditionally held ideas regarding James's sexuality, causing quite an uproar. David Leavitt, writing for the New York Times Book Review, commented that the "debate over James's sex life had the unfortunate effect of distracting attention from the many other aspects of Novick's biography, among them his powerful evocation of James's childhood, his portrayal of Henry James, Sr., and his persuasive rereading of a crucial episode in James's youth involving Minny Temple and Oliver Wendell Holmes."



Booklist, September 1, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of Henry James: The Young Master, p. 56.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of Henry James: The Mature Master.

Lambda Book Report, December, 1996, Ulysses D'Aquila, review of Henry James: The Young Master, p. 20.

Nation, February 26, 1977, Harvey Wasserman, review of The Electric War: The Fight over Nuclear Power, pp. 245-246.

New Republic, April 14, 1997, Richard Jenkyns, review of Henry James: The Young Master, p. 44.

New York Times, March 10, 1969, review of The Careless Atom, p. 43; November 1, 1996, Michiko Kakutani, review of Henry James: The Young Master, p. 4; November 3, 1996, Renee Tursi, review of Henry James: The Young Master, p. 18.

New York Times Book Review, March 9, 1969, Stanley Klein, review of The Careless Atom, p. 3; January 16, 1977, Deborah Shapley, review of The Electric War, p. 2; August 20, 1989, Edmund Morris, review of Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, pp. 3, 25; December 23, 2007, David Leavitt, "A Beast in the Jungle," review of Henry James: The Mature Master, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly, August 5, 1996, review of Henry James: The Young Master, p. 419; September 10, 2007, review of Henry James: The Mature Master, p. 51.

Saturday Review, April 26, 1969, Robert A. Charpie, review of The Careless Atom, p. 62.

Trial, June, 1996, Peter J. Messitte, review of The Collected Works of Justice Holmes: Complete Public Writings and Selected Judicial Opinions of Oliver Wendell Holmes, p. 70.

Washington Post Book World, March 2, 1969, review of The Careless Atom, p. 18; January 16, 1977, Joel Darmstadter, review of The Electric War, p. E8; July 30, 1989, James O. Freedman, review of Honorable Justice, p. 6.

ONLINE, (September 11, 2008), Michael S. Grant, review of Henry James: The Mature Master.

Sheldon M. Novick Home Page, (September 11, 2008).

Vermont Law School Web site, (February 3, 2006), author faculty profile.