January 31, 2008


Beckert, Jens, Inherited Wealth translated from the German by Thomas Dunlap (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2004, 2008) (Notwithstanding the facts (1) that both the ABA and the Carnegie study people are taking legal education further down the road of recasting legal education into a preparation for a trade rather than preparation for a professional, (2) very few law courses are offered in comparative studies (quite surprising in this so-called global economy), (3) legal education is in the middle of yet another attack on the value of interdisciplinary approaches to law—especially at non-elite law schools, and (4) students today, speaking in general terms, think of themselves as well-educated despite being poorly read, there might be a few ‘Gifts & Stiffs’ students who rage against these trends and who would find the subject title of interest. “Debates on how the transfer of property mortis causa should be regulated are not new, nor are they limited to the United States. The controversies are of great social and political interest. Since they concern the institutional organization of social relations, they are also a topic for sociological scholarship. Nevertheless, the sociology of inheritance is only in its infancy. The present book seeks to contribute to this field of study by examining one significant part of the topic from a historical and comparative perspective. How have the rules of inheritance law in the United States, France, and Germany changed over the last two hundred years? How can we explain these changes, and what do they teach us about eh evolution of the normative structures of modern societies, especially about the relationships among the individual, the family, and society?” Id. at vii. “The four areas of conflict are (1) the degree of testamentary freedom; (2) the legal rights of the testator’s relatives, especially his or her spouse and children; (3) entails; and (4) inheritance taxation. Why is the testator allowed only minimal testamentary freedom in France, while that freedom is almost unlimited in the United States? Why did the principles of real partitioning come to prevail in France? Why do family interests play a much more important role in German inheritance law than in American inheritance law? Why, in all three countries, was inheritance taxation introduced or fundamentally reformed in the early twentieth century? Why were much higher estate taxes introduced in the United States than in Germany? Why were entails banned in Germany only in 1919, 140 years later than in the United States and 70 years later than in France?” Id. at 1-2.).

Frymer, Paul, Black and Blue: African Americans, The Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (Just by coincidence, I am reading this just as the Clintons--Hillary and Bill--made their appalling attempt to inject race into the democratic primary against Barack Obama. This strategy backfired in South Carolina. It is hoped that this strategy remain unsuccessful as the presidential primaries progress. "Understanding racism as a virus, a disease, an irrational prejudice, as an individual pathology, allows us to de-politicize racism and maintain the fiction that we are a nation of freedom and equality, with an increasingly smaller portion of the population holding bigoted, uneducated thoughts. Such an understanding transforms race and racism into 'a transhistorical, almost metaphysical, status that removes it from all possibility of analysis and understanding.' Our politics, we tell ourselves, our ideology, our governing institutions, our culture, our constitution, and our laws are free of racism; only some of our hearts and minds are not. By this way of thinking, we only need to eliminate racist individuals who dwell within our governing bodies--or outside them...." "By de-politicizing racism, we avoid confronting the ways in which racism is embedded in political institutions. To understand why racism remains so prominent a political feature today, we need to examine these institutions, these houses of power that promote rules and structures which in turn make appeals to racism a politically inviting strategy. Racism is not simply a matter that individuals must address with their therapists; rather, racism develops with a political context, and, as, such it is only through politics and collective struggle that we can confront it and reduce it. In this volume, I address, in particular, the nexus of racial inequality, the labor movement, and the institution of the American state." "Politicians race-bait or, more often, avoid taking about race altogether, especially about lingering inequality, because out institutional rule encourage them to do so....: to win elections, politicians believe they must court NASCAR dads, soccer moms, and 'silent majorities' at the expense of racial equality." Id. at viii (footnotes omitted). Anyway, this short read is worth the time.).

Kurashige, Scott, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (This is a good read. It is, I think, unfortunate that the decision was made to change the title from “Gateway to a New and Better World: How Los Angeles Transformed American Race Relations,” as that title makes it clearer that this book is not about a Black/Japanese American divide but about much more multifaceted race relations in Los Angeles and in America. “The strained political dialogue between Black and Japanese Americans was particularly shaped by the fact that integration meant something quite different to each respective group. The term ‘integration’ had been put into political discourse largely by the racialization of World War II and had rarely been used previously. Its meaning was contested, such that it was less than fully embraced by Black activists. Nevertheless, most African Americans recognized that the nation was debating integration—especially following the publication of Myrdal’s American Dilemma—because white elites had finally begun to admit that the castelike oppression of Blacks comprised the glaring contradiction undermining American democracy and national unity. At least in this regard, the focus on integration was a welcome development in the fight against white supremacy, and African American social democrats struggled for integration on their own terms. By contrast, Japanese Americans resisted ‘integration’ because they felt it was being imposed on them by whites. While these would-be white allies hoped to increase public tolerance of the internees and aid their return to open society, they generally believed their advocacy could succeed only if Japanese Americans assimilated to Eurocentric norms. During the war, white liberals had come to a consensus that the ‘loyal’ Japanese should be separated from the ‘disloyal’ and released from the camps. However, they universally agreed that promoting ‘Americanism’ necessitated tearing apart ethnic communities and breaking down what they viewed as a backward, traditional culture. Carey McWilliams, who became perhaps the most publicly outspoken white critic of the internment, embraced the notion that coercive government actions were beneficial to the degree they disrupted the ‘reactionary, retarding influence’ of Issei family structures. These white liberals thus saw in the internment an opportunity for a grand experiment in social engineering that they regularly described as ‘integration.’ Undoubtedly, many African Americans would have had difficulty identifying with this assimilationist variant of integration.” Id. at 178. “[T]he progressive vision of a multiracial social movement had gripped only a small segment of political actors. The events of the war had set in motion a divergence of experience between Black and Japanese American that would soon prove too wide to reconcile.” Id. at 185.).

Maxwell, William, Early Novels and Stories: Bright Center of Heaven, They Came Like Swallows, The Folded Leaf, Time Will Darken, Stories 1938-1956 edited by Christopher Carduff (New York: Library of America, 2008) (Maxwell is a writer well worth 'rediscovering.' Students of law should find Time Will Darken of particular interest. Here are two passages. "By 1912 the older generation, the great legal actors with their overblown rhetoric, their long white hair and leonine heads, their tricks in cross-examination, their departures from good taste, had one after another died or lapsed into the frailty of old men. There was also, throughout the country, an abrupt change in the legal profession. The older Illinois lawyers were trained on and continued to read assiduously certain books. Their bible was Chitty's Pleadings, which Abraham Lincoln carried in his saddlebags when he went on circuit in the forties and fifties; they also read Blackstone's Commentaries, Kent's Commentaries, and Starkie on Evidence. The broad abstract principles set forth in these books were applied to any single stolen will or perjured testimony, and on these principles the issue was decided. With the establishment of the Harvard Law School case system, the attention of lawyers generally was directed away from statements of principles and toward the facts in the particular case. They preferred more and more to argue before a judge, to let the court decide on the basis of legal precedent, to keep the case away from a jury, and to close the doors of the theater on the audience who hoped to hear about the murder of Agamemnon and see Medea's chariot drawn by dragons. The result was that the Law lost much of its moral and philosophic dignity, and required a different talent of those who practiced it. The younger men regarded themselves as businessmen, and Miss Ewing (never quite respectful, never openly disrespectful) considered them one and all as schoolboys slip-slopping around in the shoes of giants." Id. at 612. "People often ask themselves the right questions. Where they fail is in answering the questions they ask themselves, and even there they do not fail by much. A single avenue of reasoning followed to its logical conclusion would bring them straight home to the truth. But they stop just short of it, over and over again. When they have only to reach out and grasp the idea that would explain everything, they decide that the search is hopeless. The search is never hopeless. There is no haystack so large that the needle in it cannot be found. But it takes time, it takes humility and a serious reason for searching." Id. at 628-629.).

Ross, Alex, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) (This is an exceptional work. “The Rest Is Noise chronicles not only the artists themselves by also the politicians, dictators, millionaire patrons, and CEOs who tried to control what music was written; the intellectuals who attempted to adjudicate style; the writers, painters, dancers, and filmmakers who provided companionship on lonely roads of exploration; the audiences who variously reveled in, reviled, or ignored what composers were doing; the technologies that changed how music was made and heard; and the revolutions, hot and cold wars, waves of emigration, and deeper social transformations that shaped the landscape in which composers worked.” Id. at xii-xiii. For example: “On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as president of the United States. [Aaron] Copeland’s Lincoln Portrait had been scheduled for a preliminary Inaugural Concert by the National Symphony, but two weeks before the event Congressman Fred Busbey denounced Copeland’s work as Communist propaganda and demanded that it be removed from the program. Making the case for Copeland as a ‘fellow traveler,’ Busbey read a long list of Copeland’s affiliations into the Congressional Record, including his appearance at the Waldorf-Astoria conference [i.e., the March 1949 Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York]; his support of Hans Eisler, who had been interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and then deported; and his relationships with such organizations as the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, the Artists’ Front to Win the War, the Citizens Committee for Harry Bridges, the National Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners, the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, and the American Music Alliance of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Busbey warned: ‘As the number of such activities or affiliations increases [sic], any presumption of innocence of such a person must necessarily decrease.’’ Id. at 379-389. Bear in mind that neither being a communist nor being a member of the Communist Party were crimes, thus not things for which no presumption of innocence or guilt should have be called into play.).

January 25, 2008


Taylor, Charles, A Secular Age (Cambridge & London; Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2007) (This is an important book. There are numerous book reviews of it (e.g., NYT, NYRB), so I incorporate them by reference. The basic question raised is this: "why is it so hard to believe in God in (many miliuex of) the modern West, while in 1500 it was virtually impossible not to?" Id. at 539. “[I]ndividualism has come to seem to us just common sense. The mistake of moderns is to take this understanding of the individual so much for granted, that it is taken to be our first-off self-understanding ‘naturally’. Just as, in modern epistemological thinking, a neutral description of things is thought to impinge first on us, and then ‘values’ are ‘added’; so here, we seize ourselves first as individuals, then become aware of others, and of forms of sociality. This makes it easy to understand the emergence of modern individualism by a kind of subtraction story: the old horizons were eroded, burned away, and what emerges is the underlying sense of ourselves as individuals.” “On the contrary, what we propose here is the idea that our first self-understanding was deeply embedded in society. Our essential identity was a father, son, etc., and member of this tribe. Only later did we come to conceive ourselves as free individuals first. This was not just a revolution in our neutral view of ourselves, but involved a profound change in our moral world, as is always the case with identity shifts.” Id. at 157.).

January 23, 2008


Kiernan, Ben, Blood and Soil: A History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2007).

Macdonogh, Giles, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation (New York: Basic Books, 2007) ("This book is about the experience of the Germans in defeat. It is about the occupation imposed on them following the criminal campaigns of Adolph Hitler. To some extent it is a study of resignation, their acceptance of any form of indignity in the knowledge of the great wrongs perpetrated by the National Socialist state. Not all of these Germans were involved in these crimes, by any means, but with few exceptions they recognized that their suffering was an inevitable result of them. I make no excuses for the crimes the Nazis committed, nor do I doubt for one moment the terrible desire for revenge that they aroused." Id. at xi.).

Nemirovsky, Irene, David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair translated from the French by Sandra Smith, with an introduction by Claire Messud (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2008).

Tooze, Adam, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (New York: Viking, 2007) (“My goal is to provide the reader with a deeper and broader understanding of how Hitler established himself in power and mobilized his society for war. I provide a new account of the dynamic that launched Germany into war and explain how this sustained a successful war effort up to 1941 and how it reached its inevitable limit in the Russian snow. Next, the book takes on what is surely still the fundamental interpretative challenge facing historian: explaining the Holocaust. Drawing both on archival material and a generation of brilliant historical research, I emphasize the connections between the war against the Jews and the regime’s wider projects of imperialism, forced labour and deliberate starvation. In the minds of the Nazi leadership, there were, in fact, not one but a number of different economic rationales for genocide. Finally, building on these decisive chapters on 1939-42, I explain the extraordinary coercive effort through which the regime sustained Germany’s war effort for three bitter years, at the heart of which stood Albert Speer.” Id. at xxvi.).

Weitz, Eric D., A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2003)(on a previous list, yet worth mentioning again).

Weitz, Eric D., Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2007).

January 14, 2008


Hirschmann, Nancy J., Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press. 2007) (“[I]ncreasing numbers of political scientists see the relevance of gender to the history of political thought as fairly old hat…. But to many mainstream political theorists, political scientists, and philosophers, gender is still at best an afterthought, a sideline to historical analysis of the ‘major’ themes and issues of the canonical texts. It is not that such theorists are actively hostile to feminism (though some still are), but that they do not see feminism as having anything to do with ‘real’ political theory. It has long been one of the central aims of may academic writing to change such attitudes by demonstrating that feminism is a method , a way of conceptualizing social relations that reveals aspects of social and political life that are otherwise not seen, such as power dynamics in the family, or the ways in which the denial of equal rights to women is a more profound denial of woman’s full humanity. In the present book, I am less directly concerned with methodological issues than I am with a basic argument about substance: gender matters to all political theory. By incorporating gender into the analysis of freedom offered by this book. I demonstrate that gender is an important aspect of the mainstream of political theory, not an aside; and that if the mainstream is to be truly ‘mainstream,’ and not narrowly focused in the experiences and interest of a small group of white men, then it must attend to gender, as well as race and class. Id. at 22.).

Kirshner, Jonathan, Appeasing Bankers: Financial Caution on the Road to War (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press. 2007) (Though definitely not a theme or topic of this book, reading it may cause some to wonder whether the subprime lending crisis, though real and serious, is merely a small part of the larger financial stress caused by the American War in Iraq, etc. It has certainly diverted many consumers’ attention from the war being the source of their financial unease and economic pessimism.).

Marglin, Stephen A., The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 2007) (This is a very interesting book: market thinking erode community. In reading this book I could not help but reflect on whether thinking like a lawyer undermines community. I quote this relatively lengthy passage because it does set the stage and tone of the book so well. “In 1990, a boy with adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency was born into an Amish community. ADA deficiency compromises the body’s immune system so drastically that survival beyond the age of three used to be quite rare…. [F]or the Amish boy a drug was available to compensate for his body’s immune deficiency. Taking this drug, he could hope for a fairly normal life, not unlike the life led by diabetics on insulin. And because the family income was sufficiently low, Medicaid would pay the cost, staggering though these were. The drug alone cost $114,000 per year, and additional costs would bring the annual total up to $190,000.” “Happy ending? Not so fast. On principle, most Amish do not participate in government programs like Medicaid. If this money was to be spent on the boy, it would have to come from the community. But medication was not a short-term fix. The expenditure would go in indefinitely, and there was too little experience with the drug to predict its long-term consequences. Even with the drug, the boy might not make it into adulthood.” “Anguished, his parents consulted the bishop and elders of their congregation. The newspaper reports… are ambiguous, but my reading is that the congregation would provide counsel, and, having done so, would leave the decision to the parents. The alternatives were clear: once Medicaid was eliminated from the menu of options, the choice boiled down to almost certain death for the child or economic stress, maybe even disaster, for the community.” “The couple did not treat their baby. Three months later he was dead.” “A local (non-Amish) physician who was asked by the congregation to evaluate treatment options offered this commentary: ‘What is at stake is the ability to maintain an independent culture.’ When asked why he would not accept Medicaid, the boy’s father put it like this: ‘If we take money from the government, then we are not Amish.’” Id. at 1-2.).

January 10, 2008


Davis, Philip, Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 20007) (Wonderful!)

Hass, Robert, Time and Materials: Poems, 1997-2005 (New York: Ecco, 2007).

Kolakowshi, Leszek, Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions From Great Philosophers translated from the Polish by Agnieszka Kplakowska (New York: Basic Books, 2007).

Novick, Sheldon M., Henry James: The Mature Master (New York: Random House, 2007).

Novick, Sheldon M., Henry James: The Young Master (New York: Random House, 1996).

January 1, 2008


Yet, somehow these do manage to hang together.

Alter, Robert, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (New York: Norton, 2007).

Alter, Robert, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (New York: Norton, 2004) (Reading this less as a 'religious' text and more as epic poem, I am reminded of John Fowles's comment on point. "The bible, I chanced to start reading some of the last Old Testament prophets the other day. A revelation of poetry; superb language and imagery. It is a mistake to imagine that the Bible is the same in all languages. The English translation is a work of great genius; it should be to us what Homer was to the Greeks." John Fowles, The Journals, Volume 1 edited by Charles Drazin (London: Jonathan Cape, 2003), at 140. I, as did Fowles, tend to prefer the King James Version.).

Bird, Kai, and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (New York: Knopf, 2005) ("'What are we to make of a civilization which has always regarded ethics as an essential part of human life [but] which has not been able to talk about the prospect of killing almost everybody except in prudential and game-theoretical terms?'" Id. at xi. "The firing bombings were no secret. Ordinary Americans read about the raids in their newspapers. Thoughtful people understood that strategic bombing of cities raised profound ethical questions. 'I remember Mr. Stimson [the secretary of war] saying to me,' Oppenheimer later remarked, 'that he thought it appalling that there should be no protest over the air raids which we were conducting against Japan, which in the case of Tokyo led to such extraordinarily heavy loss of life. He didn't say that the air strikes shouldn't be carried on, but he did think there was something wrong with a country where no one questioned that. . . .'" Id. at 291.).

Hugo, Victor, Les Miserables translated from the French by Charles E. Wilbour (New York: Modern Library, 1992).

Lakhnavi, Ghalib & Abdullah Bilgrami, The Adventures of Amir Hamza, Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction, a complete and unabridged translation by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Introduction by Hamid Dabashi (New York: Modern Library, 2007).

Vargas Llosa, Mario, The Temptation of the Impossible: Victor Hugo and Les Miserables translated from the Spanish by John King (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2007).

Happy New Year. May all who visit these posting have a glorious year of reading.