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Friday, June 23, 2006


Ever vigilant, Dan has beaten me to the punch in commending the new issue of the Yale Law Journal, which is indeed excellent and a nice counterpoise to those folks over at the other school (actually, they're both the "other" school, since "the" school is located in Morningside Heights).  The colloquium on Akhil Amar and Jed Rubenfeld's recent books is fascinating, although in my view it has a certain flavor of insular Yalishness about it.  Still, they have both written superb books and the colloquium is an excellent collection.

However, I can't help but point out that the sharp-edged nature of the reviews and responses at times begins to resemble the silver-tongued harshness and/or defensiveness that I've observed is one of the more entertaining features (actually, I'd say the last entertaining feature) of the New York Review of Books.  Case in point: Jed Rubenfeld's statement, in the very first sentence of his reply, that "I do not know Michael Stokes Paulsen or his writings."  I assume it's accurate, but it also strikes me as an unnecessary put-down (although of whom, I'm not sure), and could have been dispensed with if he'd taken the simple step of sitting down with a couple of Paulsen's very well known and excellent articles.  Other case in point, although it's a somewhat different NYRB tactic: Amar's quotation and citation (by way of excusing Paulsen, a former roommate of Amar, from any taint of bias in praising Amar's book) of some "glowing" reviews of his book by "eminent lawyers and historians."  Both strike me as instances in which an editor's red pen would have been useful.   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on June 23, 2006 at 03:04 PM in Legal Theory | Permalink


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» Friday Night Law Review Fights from Is That Legal?
I was going to post something quasi-lengthy about the head-turningly nasty exchanges between Yale lawprof Jed Rubenfeld and Minnesota lawprof Michael Stokes Paulsen in the most recent issue of the Yale Law Journal, but I see that Paul Horwitz and... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 31, 2006 8:14:51 PM


Bruce, I think the sycophancy line was a shot at Paulsen's review of Amar's book in the same article that he reviewed Rubenfeld's book.

Posted by: Ivan | Sep 8, 2006 11:34:52 PM

It seems to me that the alleged intemperance/snarkiness of both Paulsen and Rubenfeld to each other and the reference to the alleged nastiness of the NYRB hold nothing [I believe that Hofstadter's quip is still quite accurate] to either the battle royals in the English historical journals [e. g, EHR, Past & Present] of the late '40's through the late 60's regarding whether it was the rise or fall of the gentry that brought about the English Civil War [e.g., one perhaps apocryphal story has it that Lawrence Stone was driven out of Oxford for falling on the wrong side of this debate] nor to many reviews to be found in the Times Literary Supplement: even though the TLS no longer has anonymous reviews, reviewers can often be extraordinarily cutting in their reviews and in the many subsequent letters columns. In my view, Paulsen's and Rubenfeld's comments are really quite tame, but there again I come from a different academic tradition.

Posted by: derek hackett | Sep 6, 2006 11:12:08 AM

The "I do not know Michael Stokes Paulsen" line reminds me of Michael's comment to his sister in "The Godfather II" when she shows up at Tahoe with her new husband to be: "I don't know this Merle, I don't know what he does for money."

Posted by: Brannon Denning | Sep 1, 2006 8:26:58 AM

My guess, based on the other sarcasm in the opening paragraphs, is that Rubenfeld was making a snide reference to the number of times Paulsen cited to his previous writing.

In any case, Rubenfeld came across as quite bad at handling criticism.

Posted by: Harry | Jun 25, 2006 10:52:58 AM

Either he was speaking metaphorically, or he's forgotten meeting Paulsen (which is certainly possible, although I might have thought seeing Paulsen's name on top of the review would jog his memory), or he takes the view that "knowing" someone requires more than just meeting and interacting with them. Viz.: Following up on Anon's comment, here's this link to Balkin:


And the relevant text:

"One of the highlights of the session was a spirited exchange between the University of Minnesota's Michael Stokes Paulsen and my colleage Jed Rubenfeld on the status of the fetus-- or, as they put it, over whether an acorn is an oak tree. Mike Paulsen's strongly pro-life views, delivered to an audience that I presume was probably more pro-choice than pro-life, had a powerful effect."

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 23, 2006 11:51:20 PM

Maybe Rubenfeld was speaking metaphorically, like Tony Soprano saying, "He's dead to me!"

Posted by: Bruce | Jun 23, 2006 11:16:39 PM

"I do not know Michael Stokes Paulsen or his writings, ..."

Now that's weird, because just last year Rubenfeld and Paulsen contributed essays to the same book, Jack Balkin's What Roe v. Wade Should Have Said. Did Rubenfeld not read the book after his contribution was published? Or scan the list of other authors?

(They also sat on the same four-hour-long panel together when the book was first in production. Like ships in the night...)

Posted by: Anon | Jun 23, 2006 10:50:55 PM

Thanks for the link to this. (Remainder of this comment has been redacted for failure to comply with Prawfs comment policy).

Posted by: anonsky | Jun 23, 2006 7:08:17 PM

Back when I subscribed to the Journal of American History, the very first section I used to read was the "Letters to the Editor," where you'd get exactly the sort of miffed responses Rubenfeld wrote. ("Failed to read my book ... on page 87, I clearly state ... any minimally competent reader without some peculiar axe to grind would know ... A first-year grad student would understand...") It was great fun, and I hope the YLJ continues the tradition.

The other bit that struck me as somewhat odd in the first paragraph was Rubenfeld's comment that "[Paulsen's] absolute refusal to engage in sycophancy should be a model to us all." I get that it's sarcastic, but I don't get the premise. Paulsen's at the University of Minnesota, hardly a chump school, and is actually senior to Rubenfeld in terms of experience. Why would it be "sycophancy" for him to falsely praise Rubenfeld's book?

Posted by: Bruce | Jun 23, 2006 5:19:58 PM

I believe it was the Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter who called it "The New York Review of Each Others Books."

Posted by: anon. | Jun 23, 2006 5:13:37 PM

I am serious. I don't think what we're saying is actually mutually exclusive. We can set the no-criticizing-our-critics policy to one side. The reviews are not harsh, although they often consist of using a book to say what one wants to say for oneself, or writing a review of a book that the author didn't actually write. I was referring to the correspondence section, which it seems to me often reaches for new heights of pissiness.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 23, 2006 4:24:32 PM

Are you serious? I tend to think of the NYRB as a mutual admiration society. The harsh review is a rarity. And I'm told it is unoffical policy not to run critical reviews for anyone in their circle of love. Try writing a critical review of an Alan Ryan book! Or a Tony Judt book!

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Jun 23, 2006 4:17:33 PM

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