Thought Provoking and Entertaining Law Books
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1. Selling the People's Cadillac: The Edsel and Corporate Responsibility by Jan G. Deutsch. "The greatest law book ever written. Professor Deutsch boldly goes where no man has gone before or since. A man obviously not of this earth. Astonishing."
2. Swindling and Selling by Arthur Allen Leff. "The second greatest law book ever written. The greatest book on sales ever written."
3. The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres. "The third greatest law book ever written. And a shout out to my homie GT."
4. Sex and Reason by Richard A. Posner. "The fourth greatest law book ever written. Finally, a law book with real world practical applications pertaining to a subject everyone enjoys."
5. Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime by John H. Langbein. "The fifth greatest law book ever written. A brilliant book. Regrettably the issues are still relevent today."
6. Art in the Courtroom by Vilis R. Inde. "An excellent book by a good friend and law school classmate. An entertaining and learned analysis of several legal cases involving famous artists. Vilis is now an artist and gallery owner in Marfa, Texas."
7. The Little Green Book of Golf Law by John H. Minan. "A fun book that allows you get in touch with your inner regulatory lawyer. A wonderful concept well executed."
8. Minnesota Rag: Corruption, Yellow Journalism, and the Case That Saved Freedom of the Press by Fred W. Friendly. "An engaging read, by broadcast journalism pioneer Fred Friendly, telling the story of the 1931 Supreme Court case Near v. Minnesota. Friendly provides a masterful in-depth look at the exceptional 5-4 decision that was critical in saving freedom of the press in the U.S. during a pivotal period in our history."
9. The Buffalo Creek Disaster: How the survivors of one of the worst disasters in coal-mining history brought suit against the coal company--and won by Gerald M. Stern. "Reads like a thriller. A page turner you won't be able to put down."
10. Death of Contract by Grant Gilmore. "A very readable and engaging lecture on the history and development of contracts in western civilization. Everyone should read this book."
11. Gideon's Trumpet by Anthony Lewis. "A very accessible book telling the story of Gideon v. Wainwright. This case is the reason we all know by heart: 'You have the right to remain silent . . . . ' Anthony Lewis, who was for many years a New York Times columnist, amazingly makes criminal procedure come to life."
12. Woe Unto You, Lawyers! by Fred Rodell. "You may not always agree with the late Professor Rodell, but you will always be entertained by this very readable critique of the law, lawyers, judges and law schools. I think this is what used to be called a jeremiad."
13. How to Ruin Your Life by Ben Stein. "Not technically a law book, but Ben Stein was a former White House Counsel in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Since then he has been a recovering lawyer, with relapses caused by teaching at several law schools. Anyway, this is my list. My goal in life has long been to become the next Ben Stein. A very smart and very funny man."
14. The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.. "The most famous book by the most famous Supreme Court Justice in US history."
15. The Nature of the Judicial Process by Benjamin N. Cardozo. "A thoughtful book from one the greatest of legal minds in our history. Cardozo was never elevated to the Supreme Court, and the country is probably poorer for it."
16. The Morality of Consent by Alexander M. Bickel. "Simply brilliant."
17. Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment by Anthony Lewis. "Another engaging and accessible classic by Anthony Lewis on one of the most important cases in civil rights and first amendment law. Fascinating."
18. Economic analysis of law: Some realism about nominalism by Arthur Allen Leff. "More brilliance from the late Professor Leff."
19. Path of the Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.. "Another gem from Holmes."
20. The Growth of the Law by Benjamin N. Cardozo. "From a bygone day when lawyers and judges wrote clearly and succinctly. Stylistically, we'd all be better off following Cardozo than Brandeis."
21. The Economics of Justice by Richard A. Posner. "A classic."
22. Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy by Richard A. Posner. "No one in law publishes more prodigiously or at such consistently high quality. A brilliant thinker and intellectual explorer."
23. Overcoming Law by Richard A. Posner. "Another dazzling performance by Posner.”
24. Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline by Richard A. Posner. "An astonishing social critique. Brilliant."
25. Law's Empire by Ronald Dworkin. "This and the following three books on the list are in many ways discussions between the authors. All are classics."
26. The Morality of Law by Lon L. Fuller. "Lon takes up the side of the old school. No answers, but great questions."
27. The Concept of Law by H. L. A. Hart. "Probably THE most famous book of jurisprudence."
28. Law, Liberty, and Morality by H. L. A. Hart. "Useful in thinking of many of the issues facing our country today."
29. How to Do Things with Words by J. L. Austin. "The liguistic basis of contract in the guise of speech act theory."
30. Just Gaming by Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud. "Lyotard and Thebaud use language games to examine the problem of justice. Engagingly structured as an extended Platonic dialogue. A post-modernist classic."
31. The Rise and Fall of Freedom of Contract by P. S. Atiyah. "Probably the weightiest tome of the list, but a very important work on how the wheels of commerce are greased by the law of contract."
32. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Law by Roscoe Pound. "A classic from the 1920s."
33. The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn, Jr. "I didn't recognize any of my law school experience in this book, but then again, I didn't go to Hahvahd in the late 1960s (or any other time). Nonetheless, an entertaining read. Also a movie and TV show. Read these types of books with a grain of salt. I recall a lawyer in Los Angeles comparing legal practice with the TV show LA Law, 'The law is more interesting, but there is a lot less sex.'"
34. One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School by Scott Turow. "Yet another account of the first year at HLS, this time set in the mid 1970s. Like The Paper Chase, this book is entertaining but appears just a bit overwrought to give it some drama. Yes, the first year of any law school is about being brainwashed. Then you just pick up the pieces and move on. For the most part, law school is boring and tedious. Beer and sex were helpful diversions."
35. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. "Deep down, every lawyer wants to believe they could be Atticus Finch. I would have settled for believing I could be Gregory Peck. Oh well, 0 for two."
36. Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams. "One can quibble about Justice Marshall's impact and legacy as the first black Justice on the US Supreme Court, but there is no such argument about his civil rights work on behalf of the NAACP. Marshall was clearly one of the most brilliant trial and appellate lawyers of the 20th century. Juan Williams pens a very readable and sensitive portrait of a fascinating lawyer and jurist."
37. Can America Survive? The Rage of the Left, the Truth, and What to Do About It by Ben Stein. "I couldn't resist another book by Ben Stein."
38. A History of American Law by Lawrence M. Friedman. "The best and most readable history of american law. Friedman effortless distills concepts and events into elegant and intelligent prose."
39. The Lost Lawyer: Failing Ideals of the Legal Profession by Anthony Kronman. "Professor Kronman writes a timely and cogent book about the decline of the law as a profession. Regrettably the law is now primarily a business, and has lost much of the humanity it formerly held."
40. Ages of American Law by Grant Gilmore. "A witty and erudite intellectual history of American law."
I read recently Arthur and George by Julian Barnes, relating the Edalji case, where a solicitor was accused of killing animals, and asked eventually Arthur Conan Doyle to help him
In French, En Cas de Malheur by Georges Simenon is the story of a prominent lawyer falling in love with one of his clients. The film version featured Jean Gabin and Brigitte Bardot.
If you are interested in baseball and the law, you might also look at Creating the National Pastime by G. Edward White. White is a constitutional scholar and law professor, so his history of baseball contains a lot of detail about and thoughtful analysis of the legal issues that have affected the game.
First, please note that Benjamin Cardozo did serve on the US Supreme Court, following his service as Associate and Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals (what would be known in most other states as the state supreme court).
I was a student of Jan Deutsch (at Yale Law) as he was finishing the People's Cadillac book. Whether it is the greatest law book ever, I don't know, but it is a knockout. As is anything by Arthur Leff (notably including his article "Law And", the definitive work on interdisciplinarity in law). I would probably place Grant Gilmore's Ages of American Law higher than his Death of Contract, at least for a general audience. And as long as we are praising Yale Law authors, let me add Robert Cover's essays to the top of the list. For those interested in doctor-patient issues, Jay Katz's Silent World of Doctor and Patient is sterling. I could continue--and perhaps will at a later point.
The recommended works by Holmes and Cardozo are of course classics, but I think are more of historical interest than great contemporary relevance for most readers. Cardozo was considered daring in his day, but would not be today, and his highly distinctive and idiosyncratic style is not for all tastes.
I am decidedly less enamored of Richard Posner's work than is dpbrewster. The good judge is certainly prolific--he publishes faster than I read--and he tends to make his points quite emphatically. I am less impressed with the quality of much of his work, which sometimes seems slapdash, insufficiently considered, and limited in its consideration of (or respect for) alternative points of view. Too much sounds like the work of a judge issuing decrees, without much felt responsibility for justifying his conclusions in a way that holds up to critical scrutiny.
I'll return at some point with some additional recommendations and evaluations.
--The Wise Bard (a law professor)
Thank you for the interesting comments and additions -- I certainly look forward to your additional recommendations. I can't believe I had Cardozo NOT serving on the Supreme Court. Don't know what I was thinking. Thank you for pointing out that greivous error on my part. He didn't serve long on the court. I guess I did have a lot of Yale Professors on the list. I wasn't smart enough to go there.
I once took a London "Legal Walks" tour; we peeked in the window of Mortimer's law office.
The book is most enjoyable as a thriller/mystery, of course. But beyond that, the two most important ways to view the book are as:
-- a Zen meditation; look especially for the Flitcraft aside from Spade; and
-- as a model of clean, concise writing. Nobody -- not even Hemingway -- can match Hammet for economical exposition.
Falcon is one of two masterpieces from Hammet. The other is Red Harvest.