« Rap and Conservative Talk Radio | Main | The DMV »

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Book List for New Law Professors

What books would you recommend to new law professors? Perhaps we can create a list in the comments.

Here is the thing. If you are a new professor, you will have no trouble packing your bookshelves with books. Free review copies of casebooks from the big publishers can fill up your office in no time. But what should you be filling your bookshelves with?

As a relatively newish prof (in my third year of full-time teaching), I've found a few books to suggest for the list. I suppose some people may have suggestions for books about teaching. I'm curious to hear those. But my suggestions, below, are substantive. These are the books I should have bought the first day I decided I would become an academic. They are resources for the beginning scholar looking to load up on the sort of law-professory knowledge that's good to have no matter what your subject you teach.

Friedman A History of American Law by Lawrence M. Friedman. This book is eminently readable, and it is broken down into highly digestible little sections. Each section is a brief treatment of a certain subject over a certain period of history. Care to spend a few minutes learning about divorce law in the 1800s? Friedman has you covered. His book is a ready reference with a wealth of historical context for almost any course you could teach. 

Transformation The Transformation of American Law 1780-1860 and The Transformation of American Law 1870-1960 by Morton J. Horwitz. This two-volume treatment of the story of American law is not easy-breezy reading like Friedman's book. But it is rewarding. In some places, I have found almost every sentence to be highly illuminating in its own right. Wonderful stuff. 

Canon The Canon of American Legal Thought, edited by David Kennedy and William W. Fisher III.
Law school is famously said to be about teaching law students to think like lawyers. This is the book for the course that teaches law students to think like legal scholars. It is a compilation of canonical law review articles – sort of the greatest hits in legal scholarship. Here you can read seminal works in legal realism, law and economics, critical legal studies, and more.

Anglo The Anglo-American Legal Heritage by Daniel R. Coquillette. Taking on an enormous swath of history, this book traces the roots of American law much farther back than the books listed above. It covers a little of Rome and a lot of Old England, and it brings all of it up to the present. It is also chock full of wonderful illustrations. I've never met anyone who had so much history instantly at his command as Coquillette. What he's put down on paper here is a treasure. Also distinguishing this book from those listed above is its binding. In hardback with gold lettering on a regal red spine, it will look great in your office.

I am reading all of the above books in bits and pieces -- which is how I like to tackle books of this sort. Thus, I can't say I've read them cover to cover. But I can say I am tremendously glad to have found them to get lost in occasionally. For the new law professor, I can confidently pronounce them to be value-packed bargains. 

What else should be on the list?

(And if you like reading lists, see the many PrawfsBlawg posts under the category of Research Canons.)

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on October 7, 2009 at 09:20 PM in Research Canons | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Book List for New Law Professors:


I think that Government by Judiciary is a good book to read. I'm not even an Originalist and I enjoyed the book's history of the 39th Congress even though I disagree with Berger, especially regarding Plessy.

Posted by: anon | Oct 8, 2009 7:43:55 PM

A few thoughts:

1. The Least Dangerous Branch - Bickel
2. The Concept of Law - Hart
3. The Summa: Treatise on Law - Aquinas
4. Taking Rights Seriously - Dworkin
5. The Morality of Law - Fuller
6. Nicomachean Ethics - Aristotle

I am a bit...jurisprudentially biased...though....

Posted by: Jonathan | Oct 8, 2009 4:10:58 PM

Brian is right about the "philosophy of law and legal theory" bibliography, indeed, the description applies to all of the law-related and non-law bibliographies you'll find in the Directed Reading series: the lists were not intended to merely circumscribe titles for those "looking for things they HAVE to know."

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 8, 2009 8:43:00 AM

The Fisher & Kennedy "Canon" reprints a number of good pieces, though it is a bit weirdly Harvard-centric. Ward Farnsworth's book "The Legal Analyst" is actually very useful for those new to law teaching, or students thinking about law teaching (with the caveat that the "Jurisprudence" chapter has almost nothing to do with jurisprudence).

It does strike me that Professor Johnson's list is rather titled towards legal history; I would be very surprised if most law professors had read most of those books, though I imagine everyone has dipped into Friedman and Horwitz at one point or another. But I can't think of a reason why those new to law teaching *ought* to be reading these books unless, of course, their work has an important historical dimension to it. A nice thing about the Farnsworth book is one can dip into it depending on one's interest, and pick up vocabulary and concepts that are of general applicability. The book has a strong L&E tilt, obviously, but it's soft L&E, of the kind that is now pervasive in the legal academy and legal scholarship.

Patrick's bibliography, linked above, is quite comprehensive, but wildly overinclusive from the standpoint of someone looking for things they *have* to know.

Posted by: Brian | Oct 8, 2009 8:18:01 AM

Dear imminent: Spelling error noted and corrected. Thanks!

Posted by: Eric E. Johnson | Oct 8, 2009 6:12:08 AM

"imminently" readable?

Posted by: imminent | Oct 8, 2009 3:29:12 AM

I have no idea whether anyone reads Grant Gilmore's The Death of Contract anymore, but that's my suggestion. Brief, hilarious, brilliant.

Posted by: elektratig | Oct 8, 2009 3:17:48 AM

Here's the URL left out above: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2008/03/directed-reading.html

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 8, 2009 1:17:51 AM


As a follow-up to your parenthetical comment, and by way of updating several of the lists in the "research canons" project, please see my Directed Reading series at Ratio Juris, the latest compilation for which covers "philosophy of law and legal theory:"

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 8, 2009 1:15:14 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.