Law in Contemporary Society
           I was going to email Eben to ask if he had any recommendations for books to read over the summer and I realized other people might be interested as well. Hopefully not only Eben, but we all, can post book recommendations here.

-- ElviraKras - 23 May 2012

I will admit to some ambivalence: I would rather be recommending reading outside the domain of the law for the first summer after the beginning of law school. In my view, this is a good time to be broadening the intellectual and emotional horizon again. Law school, as we have seen, has many strengths, but its weakness—despite all the supposed interdisciplinarity of its faculty's interests—is reductionism. The subject—law's complex role in society and its entirely human and therefore indeterminate object, which is justice—is routinely reduced in each doctrinal area to a few leading propositions, most of them narrowly economic in outlook. The subjects—that is, you—are reductively identified, largely as law firm lawyers in training, with an intermingling of something called "public interest" (though it more sensibly calls itself "social justice"), for—one supposes—a kind of moral leavening. This treatment reduces not only your present, but also your future.

Resisting the reductionism within the framework of the academic environment of law school is what I've been trying to teach you this term. Some people like that and some people don't, which is completely comprehensible. For even those who don't, it's still useful, in my view, so I don't, as you know, apologize for it in any context. But it isn't necessarily the project for the next few weeks. Now is a good time to be getting away from the reductionism altogether, neither accepting it nor struggling against it. Some of you will maintain touch with the law this summer by starting to do some of it. For you, the question isn't so much what you wind up doing in your first period of apprenticeship, but rather who you find yourself being in the course of events. Everything that heightens your self-awareness, that reduces the tendency to slip into a new social role and take on new values without noticing, will be valuable for you. If you like reading poetry, now's the time to read William Carlos Williams. If you like shorter imaginative prose, maybe the Nocturnes of Kazuo Ishiguro. It's a wonderful time in life to read Moby Dick if you never have. Or to dip into the trilogy of collected brief vignettes in New World history by Eduardo Galleano, collectively called Memory of Fire. Or read any great ethnography that helps you exoticize the familiar as well as experience the complexity of human cultural diversity. Doesn't matter whether it's "true" or "false." Read Coming of Age in Samoa, or The Half-Way Sun, or even The Sword and the Chrysanthemum or The Mountain People. You're not primarily learning anthropology: you're letting your mind expand again into the real depth and complexity of the human world.

Some people, on the other hand, will be doing other kinds of work this summer, or will be far enough away themselves that exoticization of the familiar is unnecessary, or have tumbled head over heels in love with law, or for some other reason want to maintain contact. In this case, too, I still feel the benefit of avoiding rather than surrendering to the desire for technical, doctrinal content. Even should you feel that you want to continue staining your dyer's hand, this is the season to change the composition of the marinade. The stuff you crammed for exams will soon have disappeared more or less completely, which is primarily the fault of the whole examination-based approach to evaluating learning, but secondarily the result of how you train your memories under its absurd sway. If that were really what we wanted you to learn, in order to be effective we'd set you to reinforcing your memory by reading all of it again.

But that isn't what anybody wants. So they give you some true/false test on whether you understand their interpretation of the material you aren't going to hold long term. Keeping you in touch, intellectually, with your own development as a lawyer over this summer is not best accomplished by going back over the ground they ploughed.

If you are interested in criminal law, you might want to read Leo Katz's quite lovely book, Bad Acts and Guilty Minds: Conundrums of the Criminal Law, which is chock full of engaging presentations of theoretical problems. If you are interested in civil procedure or torts, mass litigation, legal ethics, or what the pursuit of justice can do to a person, you will find it very rewarding to read Jonathan Haar's extraordinary A Civil Action.

Maybe you would find it valuable to read Peter Irons' Courage of Their Convictions, a series of biographies built around interviews with people who chose to be plaintiffs in some of the great constitutional "test cases" of the 20th century.

The late Louis Auchincloss spent his life in a large New York law firm, and he wrote about the kind of institution now entering the autumn of its life just before the beginning of its high summer. He was the most thoughtful and realistic writer of literature about the life of the lawyer in New York until ... well, until the Whitmanesque achievement that is Larry Joseph's Lawyerland. (You are going to finish reading the rest of Lawyerland, aren't you?) The post-war legal powerhouses, and what it meant to be a young lawyer in one of them, has never been more clearly imagined than in Auchincloss' The Great World and Timothy Colt. That this "great world" is completely white and completely male will escape nobody. For this reason alone—because it shows the human results of several kinds of very serious struggling in the latter 20th century we are all supposed now to consider over, unnecessary, maybe somehow misguided or wrongly led in the first place—it might be worth taking up for an evening.

If you have time for a big book this summer, consider Richard Kluger's Simple Justice, which is simply the best history of how we got to Brown v. Board of Education. Or Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters: America in the King Years. Because the United States changed in little more than one generation from a country where power was wielded exclusively by white Christian men into what we see, without actually achieving social equality for African-Americans, we live—as we all know—without anything resembling a shared understanding of our current condition. Understanding how and why the United States changed the way it did, both the triumphs and the disasters of that process, will help you think about the nature of contemporary American society much more effectively through the rest of law school.

For a change I'm going to put something of mine on the reading list, because after a term in which what I do didn't matter very much, it might start to be relevant, at least for some of you. This is a policy speech I gave last week in DC, at Freedom2Connect. It's called Innovation Under Austerity. There's a transcript for those who'd rather not spend the time and aren't interested in the Q&A.

I hope these suggestions are useful. If they're not, write to me or post here asking. Otherwise, I leave the business, very confidently, to everyone else.

           I wasn't looking for books about the law in particular; just books that would be useful for us to read in this stage of our lives (be they about law or not), books that as a teacher you think your students should read and know as part of their "education", books that impacted you and you want to share with others, or just books that are interesting- that are good stories. Basically, exactly what is happening in this thread.

-- ElviraKras - 22 Jun 2012

Great topic! I don't know if it's the kind of book you're looking for, but the His Dark Materials series made me cry like a baby.

-- AgnesPetrucione - 23 May 2012

Agreed! I picked up Eliot Aronson's "The Social Animal," which is great, but can't remember enough other book recommends from the class.

-- JoshuaDivine - 23 May 2012

One of my favorite books is The Dancing Wu Li Masters. If you're interested at all in theoretical physics, it relates the topic to far-eastern philosophies. It's really cool--and don't worry, there's no math.

-- HarryKhanna - 24 May 2012

If you're interested in economics/the occupy movement, one of its lead activists called David Graeber wrote a book called "Debt: the First 5000 Years" which looks at the social structures, creditor/debtor relationships, the nature of money and interest, the relationship between debt and military conquest and other fascinating things from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia through to the present. Not technical at all, available as an E-book and a very enjoyable read.

I found this review of Graeber's book to be the best I've seen so far. If you are interested in these ideas but do not necessarily want to commit to a 500+ page book, I highly recommend checking it out.

-- RohanGrey - 24 May 2012

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a beautifully written and researched emotional novel about a christian missionary family moving to the Congo during the 1950's. Additionally for those interested in short stories, Professor Moglen once recommended me the book Mirrors by Eduardo Galeano which is a compilation of hybrid short story/poems some of which I find breathtaking and others I'll admit I hardly understand...

-- SkylarPolansky - 26 May 2012

I haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, but The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander comes highly recommended from several people. It seems like the kind of "interesting legal thinking" about the mass incarceration system that we've been drawn to in class.

-- JaredMiller - 28 May 2012

I recommend Ill Fares the Land, by Tony Judt, which is relevant to some of the discussions we've had in class. Three of my favorite non-law related books are Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, by Simone de Beauvoir; Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar; and Call it Sleep, by Henry Roth. All 3 are the kind of books that demand more attention than it would have been possible for me to give non-school reading during 1L year, but they are so worth it. This summer I'm planning on reading Masha Gessen's biography of Vladimir Putin and Andrey Kurkov's novel Death and the Penguin (plus any great recommendations I get from this thread).

-- KatherineMackey - 4 July 2012

Thanks for the recommendations guys. Jared - I've also heard that The New Jim Crow is great and plan to read it this summer. Michelle Alexander used to be the Racial Justice Project Director at the ACLU of Northern California, and when I interned there the staff told me all about her amazing work. For those interested in the environment and our eating choices, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is very interesting. Last summer I had a Faulkner phase - I feel as though The Sound and the Fury is always a good summer read. For poetry, one of my favourites is Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal.

-- MeaganBurrows - 2 June 2012

Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov are always worth (re)reading, especially fresh from Criminal Law.

-- AlexKonik - 03 Jun 2012

I was never a comic book kind of girl, but I began reading Are You My Mother? this week and it has refreshened my mental hygiene. Alison Bechdel writes a memoir about her relationship with her mother and psychotherapy all as a graphic novel. It is wonderful to take in information that is organized in a manner that is a lot more organic to the visually-inclined. And also somewhat-related to law, the Justice League of America.

-- ArleneOrtizLeytte - 04 Jun 2012

I'm getting back to basics. I started with the New York Times (I've neglected staying in touch with the outside world since Fall of 2011). I am also reading 20 under 40: Stories from The New Yorker. It's a terrific collection of short stories from writers that have been heralded as the next generation of great American writers. -- AbiolaFasehun - 14 Jun 2012

I recommend The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I heard Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman is good, so I think I'm going to give that a go this summer.

Meagan, I love Michael Pollan. In Defense of Food is high up on my to-read list. And Agnes, the His Dark Materials books are the best! I think I read all of them in about three days.

-- PaulaKim - 13 Jun 2012

           There are so many great suggestions here! I haven't read any of the books in this article, 15 Summer Reads Handpicked By Indie Booksellers, but it was forwarded to me and I thought I would share it.

           My recommendations are In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. (I also second The Master and Margarita.)

           Olu (from my first paper) recommends The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.

           Alex- I have tried but never been able to get through Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov (or Anna Karenina for that matter) but I am going to try and give them another go this summer.

           Arlene, if you liked Are You My Mother, I would recommend Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

-- ElviraKras - 22 Jun 2012

I have always felt that Blindness by Josť Saramago is a worthwhile read. I really enjoyed it the first time I read it and hope to re-read it this summer. It's since been made into a movie - most likely not a very good one - but I hope that doesn't dissuade anyone from checking it out.

-- ElizabethSullivan - 22 Jun 2012

A few great books: Don DeLillo? 's White Noise, Ken Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion (long but life-changing), and Jorge Luis Borges' short story collection, Labyrinths.

Also Better World Books is a great place to order used books from. They have lots of sales, their books are cheap, free shipping, and every book purchased contributes to their mission to promote literacy and opportunity worldwide.

-- SherieGertler - 2 Jul 2012


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r22 - 22 Jan 2013 - 18:07:40 - IanSullivan
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