Recommended Summer (Pandemic) Legal Reading
If you find yourself restless during the pandemic while you await the return to your legal studies and some semblance of normalcy, here are some great books about the law to enrich your legal intellect.
- Bleak House by Charles Dickens
While Bleak House is regarded by many as a masterpiece and Charles Dickens’ greatest novel, Bleak House has also been declared to be “the most important literary work about the law.” The ABA Journal ranks this novel third in its poll of the 25 best law novels. “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.” Interestingly, Dickens based Jarndyce v. Jarndyce on his own legal experiences while taking on publishers who had released unauthorized copies of A Christmas Carol.
- 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
In choosing this historical account of how the Civil War began and the American revolution ensued as his pick for the ABA Journal’s “30 Lawyers, 30 Books,” Washington, D.C. attorney Trevor Potter says, “A great book for this summer’s reading list. Written 150 years after the beginning of the Civil War, 1861 is a fascinating, riveting description of the year the war started. It reads like a thriller but is full of bits of history and constitutional law that lawyers will love. Did you know both houses of Congress voted to amend the Constitution to enshrine the right to own slaves in the Constitution—and make it the one amendment that could never be amended? They did. All in an attempt to mollify the Southern states.”
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Currently, the adaptation of this novel is a popular series on Netflix. The book is cautionary and extremely relevant. As contended by The ABA Journal in including this one among its 25 greatest law novels ever, “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
Michael J. Sandel is a Harvard University professor famous for attracting multitudes of students to lecture on some of the most challenging issues facing lawyers and society as a whole. According to Goodreads, “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
Tom Bingham’s achievements as a judge were many, including authoring this compelling book on the historical context and modern-day significance of the phrase “the rule of law.” Human rights law professor and practicing lawyer Conor A. Gearty said, “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?” Although Bingham died a decade ago, the insights contained in this book still serve as an influential and fundamental guide for any scholar seeking to understand the paramount role laws play as a lynchpin of a balanced, lasting society.
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