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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oedipus Chats

Fall is a great season for law books, and I have a bunch to recommend, but I thought I'd start with two of them. By way of background, when I was in my first year of law school, I was just coming out of journalism and felt somewhat disconnected from what I was studying at first. What changed was coming across a large number of relatively contemporary (ie., 20th century) biographies and histories in the dark and lonely sub-basement of the Columbia law library, where I was purportedly studying. They helped put a narrative frame on the law for me and gave me a way in to the tradition and its conflicts. I've been attracted to those kinds of biographically based intellectual histories of the law ever since.

A book has just come out that would have greatly appealed to the young me, and still does: James Hackney's Legal Intellectuals in Conversation: Reflections on the Construction of Contemporary American Legal Theory. It consists of a series of transcripts of well-conducted interviews with some of the leading figures in the field of legal theory in roughly the 1970s and 1980s, including Duncan Kennedy, Richard Posner, Catharine MacKinnon, Patricia Williams, Bruce Ackerman, and Jules Coleman. It is about their ideas, of course, but it's also about their backgrounds, influences, and intellectual and interpersonal conflicts. It situates them incredibly well and is a tremendously entertaining read, every bit as exciting as the title would suggest. One strong note in the book, which is certainly part of the interviewer/author's perspective but emerges as well from the interviewees, is the sense that there were grand arguments afoot in those days about legal theory, and that the modern age by contrast features much less conflict but also much less ferment. I must say in particular that while I'm not terribly familiar with Jules Coleman's work, alas, his interview is terrific and contains some strongly personal grace notes. The book is well worth checking out.

I also am surprised that more attention has not yet been paid to another forthcoming book that would have been another pleasure to encounter in the sub-basement of my youth. In December, Oxford University Press will publish Reason and Imagination: The Selected Correspondence of Learned Hand, edited by Constance Jordan with an introduction by Ronald Dworkin. The book, says the press,

offers a unique sampling of the correspondence between Hand and a stellar array of intellectual and legal giants, including Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Roosevelt, Walter Lippmann, Felix Frankfurter, Bernard Berenson, and many other prominent political and philosophical thinkers. The letters--many of which have never been published before--cover almost half a century, often taking the form of brief essays on current events, usually seen through the prism of their historical moment. They reflect Hand's engagement with the issues of the day, ranging from the aftermath of World War I and the League of Nations, the effects of the Depression in the United States, the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, McCarthyism, and the Supreme Court's decisions on segregation, among many other topics. Equally important, the letters showcase decades of penetrating and original thought on the major themes of American jurisprudence, particularly key interpretations of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and will thus be invaluable to those interested in legal issues.

I can't wait for this one either. Christmas shoppers, take note! 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on September 25, 2012 at 09:54 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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Thanks for the recommendation. Was trying to find a book for my friend who just started studying Law. Will definitely choose one of these for his Birthday.

Posted by: Claudz from 2012 Individual tax return | Sep 26, 2012 3:23:23 AM

I look forward to reading James Hackney's book. It sounds like the perfect book for a law student. Thanks for the recommendation.

Posted by: Pamela Simmons | Oct 30, 2012 12:27:04 PM

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