The Good Fight by Danielle Steel (Hardcover; 300 pg)
Meredith McKenzie is almost six at the start of Good Fight and her daddy is off to war. It’s 1942, and he has been assigned to the legal corps. A few years later, the family is off to Nuremberg, for the war crime tribunal. While there, she gets a new brother.
Shortly after they come back, Merrie’s granddad has been nominated by President Truman to be a Supreme Court justice. Justice McKenzie has high hopes for his granddaughter, believing she is destined to fight the good fight.
Her conservative parents expect her to be a wife and mother.
This is not Meredith’s destiny as she goes to Vassar and law school, watching as the civil rights movement develops, taking part in it along the way. Meredith ultimately runs her own law firm and the book ends with her fostering a Vietnamese orphan.
She meets Claudia Steinberg at Vassar, becoming her BFF. Claudia is the only member of her family that survived the Holocaust. Claudia was adopted by a Jewish American family and falls in love with a Southern military man. But, racism and his family expectations block their happiness. Nonetheless, she too finds happiness with a filmmaker and becomes a writer.
The Good Fight is a typical Danielle Steel book mixed with the characters experiencing thirty years of action packed history, including two wars, young women being away at school, the civil rights movement, and all along fighting to keep true to themselves and their values.
“I’m there to fight the good fight. To defend the people who need it and protect people from being discriminated against, or being abused by bad laws. You always have to fight the good fight, Meredith. That’s what you’re going to do one day.”
Newly appointed Justice William McKenzie is here talking both about his new job, and what he always expected for his granddaughter. And, that is what she did do.
Should I Read It?
My mom has long been a fan of Danielle Steel. I personally have read about three of her books, one a WWII story (a young Courtney Cox had a small role in the television miniseries) years ago. I also read Finding Ashley, involving adoption and #MeToo plot material.
From what I can tell, Steel’s style currently is a simple straightforward writing style, which is appropriate for young adult readers (at least complexity-wise). At times, the writing style seems to me a bit too simplistic, but also it allows for a quick read and a wide audience.
The style is not so simplistic that it is bothersome. Still, the story does not really have too much complexity, with the leads well off, if having various serious things happening to them. There are supporting characters who do not “fight the good fight,” but we are basically meant to dismiss them. (One minor exception.) It’s good to see signs they exist all the same.
The Holocaust survivor is not just an average Jew, for instance, but came from an elite Jewish family, and then is adopted by a well-off Jewish family. Meredith is wealthy to begin with, only more so when her Supreme Court justice grandfather died and leaves her money. Sad things happen, people die, but things mostly wind up happy for the characters involved.
I have not done a complete review, but the book seems to be written in her typical style. She also has multiple historical novels, but not sure if they are all chock full with this much historical detail. If you’re a Steele fan and enjoy historical novels this might be for you.
As someone interested in history and the law, I found the book interesting, though I would have liked more legal material. I also was after a while a tad overwhelmed by how much historical stuff was happening. After a while, it was like one thing after another. It might have been better if more time was focused on a specific thing for longer than it was.
Verdict? Fans of the author should like the book and those who are not her regular readers might find it worth reading, especially if they are history buffs. It probably could have been shorter, but there were many good vignettes, including the final one about Vietnamese foster children. Oh, there were no explicit sex scenes, though everyone was not completely chaste.
My usual approach when writing book summaries here is to provide a comprehensive summary of the book. I will instead provide a basic outline, and offer some books and links for those who wish to learn more about the events portrayed, from World War II to the early Nixon Years.
 World War II
Freedom means that we can do what’s right and make our own choices and decisions, and no one can stop us or make us do something wrong. Sometimes we have to fight for freedom, like your daddy. If we’re not free, we become slaves. There are bad people in the world, like Mr. Hitler in Germany right now, who want us to become their slaves. And all the free people in the world are going to Europe to stop him. They’ll come back heroes when the war is over, just like your dad.
— Bill McKenzie to six-year-old Meredith
The book starts with Meredith’s father joining the U.S. legal corps during World War II.
There are many books about WWII, of course, including about spying. One well received book, Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt (yes, a great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt) is a legal thriller. The author is a lawyer and law scholar, so has special insights in that direction.
“They’re not all bad, Merrie. And many of them sufferred at the Nazi’s hands. The men who committed the crimes have to be punished.”
Meredith’s dad was then part of the Nuremberg trials, which were a set of war crime tribunals against Germany. The trials in part addressed the Holocaust, and her father was also present at the liberation of camps themselves. A basic historical moment for human rights.
The most well-known book about living as a Jew under Nazi Germany would be Anne Frank’s diary. A classic movie, starring Spencer Tracy, also portrayed the Nuremberg trials. Former U.S. senator, Chris Dodd, also wrote Letters from Nuremberg: My Father’s Narrative of a Quest for Justice, which provides helpful insights.
 Supreme Court
[This review was finalized the day President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. If Meredith is still around, as I suppose she is, I am sure she is quite supportive of the choice.]
The appointment is obviously fictional, but the book correctly notes two vacancies arose when two liberal justices died during Truman’s term. In a few years, Chief Justice Earl Warren would be confirmed, and the historical Warren Court would hand down a range of racial justice opinions including Brown v. Board of Education. Some of these cases are cited in the book.
A good account of the Warren Court, with a brief discussion of the years beforehand is The Warren Court and American Politics by Lucas Powe, Jr.
Meredith goes to Vassar, her mom’s alma mater, but unlike her mother, she has dreams of more than marriage and a family. Meredith meets Holocaust survivor Claudia Steinberg and then becomes besties. Their lives are contrasted with people like Betty, just there to get married.
Both ultimately resist family pressures of more traditional paths. Meredith volunteers for the ACLU (a civil liberties organization) and goes to law school. Claudia becomes a writer, ultimately falling in love with a Jewish documentary filmmaker.
The 1950s was a mixture of going back to normalcy and the rise of great changes including among women. The classic book about women being unhappy with their expected traditional fates, especially those who went to college, is Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.
One Vassar graduate around this time period was Marion White, the wife of future Justice Byron White (who clerked at the Supreme Court about the time fictional Justice Mckenzie was appointed). She had an interesting career before and after college.
Meredith lives through and is in various ways affected by ups and downs of the 1960s as she settles into a life as a civil rights lawyer. As one, she also helps her friend Claudia obtain reparations from Germany; turns out Claudia is from a REALLY elite German Jewish family.
She is there with her grandfather at JFK’s inauguration and then hears about his assassination while talking with a client. She takes part in civil rights and anti-war discriminations. Her teenage brother dies in Vietnam and she takes care of a Vietnamese orphan.
 Civil Rights
Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons (such as John Lewis) wrote various books about these times. Also, King’s father has an interesting lesser-known autobiography.
Nicholas Katzenbach, who for instance was at the desegregation of a college portrayed in the book, also wrote Some of It Was Fun, a memoir of his government service for JFK and LBJ.
I would also recommend We Shall Overcome: The History of the Civil Rights Movement as It Happened by Herb Boyd, which not only summarizes key aspects but provides audio and photos.
A look at white women who took part in the civil rights movement is Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement by Debra L. Schultz.
Meredith continuously resisted as the Vietnam conflict grew from the 1950s until full escalation in the mid-1960s.
At one point, Meredith and Claudia meet a woman journalist, who wrote about Vietnam. One way to learn about Vietnam through new eyes is reading You Don’t Belong Here by Elizabeth Becker, an account of three women journalists who covered Vietnam.
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace by Le Ly Hayslip are autobiographical accounts of a Vietnamese woman who lived through the conflict.
Germany started to provide reparations, a type of repayment to victims of the Holocaust starting in the 1950s. And, continues to do until today, as do battles to try to reclaim things lost. One such effort, later made into a film, is discussed in The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor. Meanwhile, a summary of the creation of the country of Israel can be found here.
Also touched upon in the book is the attempt to find Nazi war criminals. Various books talk about the capture and trial of the infamous Adolf Eichmann, including The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt and Hannah Arendt’s accounts with her famous “banality of evil” reference. Lipstadt was nominated by President Biden as a special envoy against anti-semitism.
Points to Ponder
A few characters throughout the novel do not fight the good fight. They sacrifice their values because they are weak-willed and follow the wishes of their family. They repeatedly come to bad ends. A minor character focuses on getting ahead over fighting the good fight, but she is not portrayed as sacrificing her values. So, Meredith in the end respects her.
This is fairly expected in a story that is framed largely in black and white terms, but real life tends to be complex. It is realistic, how the book provides insights on how things do not change. How people find ways to justify discrimination or unhappy lives, marriages, and careers.
These people, however, in real life do not all come to the unpleasant ends some characters in this book. Yes, “this is just a story,” but we can put stories to the test too.
About the Author
Danielle Steel is a world renowned writer who has written a lot of fictional novels and various non-fiction ones about dogs, her work with the homeless, the story of her son Nick Traina’s life and death, and various children’s books too. Her website currently cites over 200 books.
A nice little library can be set up with just her books alone. Here is a list of titles.
Is On The Good Fight a Reliable Source?
This is a fiction book, but good fiction makes an effort to be reliable, including when it portrays a range of historical events.
The Good Fight is one that would have benefited from a short note at the end about her research. Danielle Steel puts a whole lot of historical material in here, one that could provide a lot of Teach ‘n Thrive content, But, not even the book website provides such material.
The bottom line, the characters experience history, but we do not really have any extended examination of the historical events. It is largely snapshots and historical references as time goes by. We have two federal judges (one a Supreme Court justice) and the main character becomes a lawyer, for instance, and we have no actual scenes in the courtroom.
All of this, however, is probably for the best given Danielle Steel has no special expertise to go into the details. And, in that general way, the book does provide a generally accurate look at the times the characters experience.