Five Books Every Law Student Should Read
While summer is a time for law students to broaden horizons and gain experience doing legal work through internships and the like, it is also a great time to relax and read a good book. Here is a list of five books every law student should read:
- Bleak House by Charles Dickens
When it comes to Charles Dickens, his works A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities tend to first come to mind. However, Bleak House is heralded by many to be his greatest novel. Many consider it a masterpiece and “one of, if not, the most important literary work about the law. Dickens based it on his personal dealings with lawyers, including his experiences related to copyright infringement of A Christmas Carol.
Bleak House placed third on the ABA Journal’s ranking of the 25 best law novels, part of its’ review reads:
“In the forefront of this Dickens classic is the story of Esther Summerson, who lives at Bleak House oblivious to the fact that she is the illegitimate child of Lady Dedlock. There is a murder, of course, and Lady Dedlock is suspected. But lawyers are not attracted to Bleak House for the whodunit. What they love is Dickens’ ongoing account of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, an estate case that drags from generation to generation until the money runs out. Dickens hits a nerve in his classic description of the underlying cynicism that too often drives litigation.”
- 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
Adam Goodheart’s account of the Civil War made the list for the ABA Journal’s “30 Lawyers, 30 Books.” Goodheart’s 2011 description begins in the year the war started and contains a heaping helping of history and constitutional law that should interest most lawyers. Learn about how both houses of Congress voted to amend the Constitution to make the right to own slaves a constitutional right. Further attempts were made to make it the only amendment that could never be amended. All to appease and pacify the southern states.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A dystopian novel published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale examines women who are subjugated in a patriarchal society and the different methods they use to resist and recover their individuality and autonomy. In addition to its adaption into both a film and an opera, the book has been adapted into a popular 2017 television series. A sequel, The Testaments, was published in 2019.
The ABA Journal includes The Handmaid’s Tale among its 25 greatest law novels ever, its review reads in part as follows:
“Set in Gilead, a dystopian nation once known as the United States, Atwood’s best-seller explores an overthrow of the Constitution in favor of a Christian theocracy that results in a wholesale reversal of women’s rights. Women are forbidden to read or write or vote. And although the darkest fears presented by Atwood have proved unfounded by the decades since it was published—during the prime ascendancy of the Christian Right in national politics—the book’s fundamental apprehensions could be applied to a more global context.”
- Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J Sandel
In Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? the author, Michael J. Sandel, noted Harvard law professor, author, and lecturer discusses the role of justice and how it relates to addressing our society’s most compelling and difficult issues. The topics include the recent government bailouts, the draft, surrogate pregnancies, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and reparations for slavery.
Goodreads states the following in its review:
“Justice offers readers the same exhilarating journey that captivates Harvard students. This book is a searching, lyrical exploration of the meaning of justice, one that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, patriotism and dissent, the moral limits of markets—Sandel dramatizes the challenge of thinking through these conflicts and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.”
- The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham
Judge Bingham, considered by some to be the GOAT of judges, takes a brief examination of the historical context of the phrase “the rule of law.” He carries the analysis further by looking at the evolution to its current state.
Conor A. Gearty writes the following about Bingham’s book:
“Written in a jaunty, broad-brush style, this book is an enjoyable excursion through the greatest hits of the common law in general and English law in particular. It reads like the transcript of a parlor game played by a particularly precocious set of undergraduates: what are the 12 best ‘rule of law’ kind of things to have happened since 1200? What are the eight most important features of the rule of law today?”
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