August 30, 2009


Slaughter, Thomas P., Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North (New York & Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1991) (“The book looks more broadly at some of the ways that law functions as an expression of culture and how it represents the interests of some groups against perceived threats posed by others. Sometimes the line between politics and law is unclear; the treason trial resulting from the Christina Riot is one such case. Law is always affected by social prejudices that are embodied in legislation and actions of judges and juries. Tolerance for particular kinds of violence, the presence or absence of sympathy for victims, and the degree of identification with perpetrators all play roles in communities’ responses to violent acts.” “The story told here illustrates some of the ways that sufferance of violence responds t broader social patterns. I explore connections between physical brutality toward other humans and the ways we define who really belongs to our community and who does not—“us” and “them”….” Id. at xiii-xiv. “If the two hundredth anniversary of the Christiana Riot calls for an observance in the year 2051, the sponsors and participants should ask themselves why. Why remember a “tragedy”; why not let the past go? One plausible answer, which occurs to me after writing this book, is that we have yet to learn any number of lessons taught by this story. The first commemoration of the riot reconciled whites on both sides; the second “forgave” blacks for resisting the law and killing a slave owner in order to be free. Perhaps we all can someday acknowledge the continuing injustices that lead to such violence. If some child goes hungry, cannot read, or has no reason to hope, we should not be surprised by what happens next. When we define community narrowly to exclude others unlike ourselves in some sense—if we build better schools, housing, and hospitals for “us”—then we share the burden of violence committed by “them.” If we beat our children “for their own good,” kick our dogs when we have a bad day, or perform experiments on animals because they are genetically similar by somehow different from “us,” we forge additional links in the chain that binds us to our violent past.” Id. at 186.).

August 26, 2009


Posner, Eric A., The Perils of Global Legalism (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2009) (“The premise of this book is that law and legal institutions can obtain prestige among the public when they function in a highly effective manner, especially when they function more effectively than political institutions do. The prestige of the law often leads to legalism, which is a view that loses sight of the social function of law and sees it as an end in itself, one that thinks of moral and political problems in legal categories and asks lawyers and judges rather than politicians to solve them. In the United States, legalism has been a powerful way of thinking for almost two hundred years. Legalistic think has favorably disposed Americans to international law where, however, legal institutions have always been extremely weak and unreliable, despite the many efforts (since World War I, led by the United States) to construct and strengthen them.” Id. at xii. “So international law is a peculiar type of law that exists but lacks effective legal institutions to manage it. Legalism has its global counterpart, global legalism, which is a contradictory faith that both acknowledges this problem—in a phrase, the problem of “aw without government”—but also believes that international law can nonetheless carry out its functions and deserves loyalty beyond national interest-base cost-benefit calculations. The reasoning is as follows. True, world government does not exist, and the reason is that nations refuse to yield authority to supranational institutions that they cannot trust. But nations can yield authority that authority to international law that, after all, they have agreed to. If the authority of international law merely rests on nations’ consent, then why shouldn’t a nation withdraw its consent if it believes that it can do better by violating the law? The answer is that if states do that, international law will lose its authority, and thus its ability to constrain nations to ac in the general interest. International law is effective because state defer to it; they defer to it because it is effective.” Id. at xiii. This is a worthwhile read. Eric Posner does very good work, which is not to say that I agree with the analysis, and is well worth any law student investment of time.. Also, see Siebert below for what I think is a contrasting perspective.).

Siebert, Horst, Rules for the Global Economy (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2009) (“In this book, I analyze the institutional arrangement that deal with global economic issues. The principal question to which my study tries to give an answer may be put in the following way. Under which conditions do international rules come into existence? That is to say, under which circumstances do national approaches prove no longer sufficient to solve economic problems, so that sovereign states are prepared to cede part of their sovereignty to international rule systems? And, finally, do international rules contribute to an improvement in the human condition?” Id. at ix. What Siebert does in this book is to layout a transaction-costs approach to answering the two questions raised. Those readers familiar with Coase’s The Problem of Social Cost, will comprehend the basic argument. This is a very worthwhile read for students of international law and those concerned with international trade, international environmental protection, international human rights, that is, just about any issue where you have reached that point to enlightenment where you know that international cooperation is a necessity.).

August 19, 2009


Beha, Christopher R., The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everything Else (New York; Grove Press, 2009).

Caldwell, Christopher, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (New York: Doubleday, 2009) (See Fouad Ajami, "Strangers in the Land," The NYT Book Review, Sunday, August 2, 2009).

Ciorciari, John D. & John B. Taylor, The Road Ahead for the Fed (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2009) (Of course, so many problems, and in so many areas of concern, are caused and compounded by the failure of decision makers to think long. “The effort to think long, to think ahead, to consider future consequences, is especially important at a time of crisis when attention is understandably focused on the immediate. Further, I believe that the effectiveness of immediate measures is substantially improved when people can see that long-term issues are being kept in mind and dealt with sensibly.” From George P. Schultz, “Think Long,” reprinted here at 3.).

MacMillan, Margaret, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History (New York: A Modern Library Chronicles Book/The Modern Library, 2009) (“On the evening of September 11, 2001, the American writer Susan Jacoby overheard two men talking in a New York bar. ‘This is just like Pearl Harbor,’ one said. ‘What is Pearl Harbor?’ the other asked. ‘That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,’ the first man replied. Does it matter that they got it wrong? I would argue that it does, that a citizenry that cannot begin to put the present into a context, that has so little knowledge of the past, can too easily be fed stories by those who claim to speak with the knowledge of history and its lessons. History is called in, as we have seen, to strengthen group solidarity, often at the expense of the individual, to justify treating others badly, and to bolster arguments for particular policies and courses of action. Knowledge of the past helps us to challenge dogmatic statements and sweeping generalizations. It helps us all to think more clearly.” Id. at 165. Also see David M. Kennedy, "What History is Good For," The NYT Book Review, Sunday, July 19, 2009).

Schmidle, Nicholas, To Live or To Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan (New York: Henry Holt, 2009) (See Joshua Kurlantzick, “Eyewitness: Pakistan,” The NYT Book Review, Sunday, July 11, 2009).

Shell, Ellen Ruppel, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009) (Ellen Ruppel Shell may not put it precisely this way, but I will. We may not always get what we pay for when we pay value to get value. Yet we do get what we deserve when we try getting things on the cheap. It doesn’t matter whether it is a car, clothing, food, or even an education. Also see Laura Shapiro, "Nothing for Nothing," The NYT Book Review, Sunday, July 19, 2009).

August 10, 2009


Blom, Phillip, The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 (New York: Basic Books, 2008) (See the book review in The Economist, November 8, 2008).

Brendon, Piers, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 (New York: Knopf, 2008) (see the review, "Little Britain," by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the NYT, Tuesday, November 11, 2008).

Brinkley, Douglas, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (New York: Harper, 2009) (See both Janet Maslin's review, "Mother Nature's Son With Big Stick (and Rifle)," NYT, Wednesday, July 22, 2009; and Jonathan Rosen’s review, “Natural Man,” in The NYT Book Review, Sunday, August 9, 2009).

Fennell, Lee Anne, The Unbound Home: Property Values Beyond Property Lines (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2009) (Even at full price, this book would be a very worthwhile investment for any serious law student.).

Goetzmann, William H., Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism (New York: Basic Books, 2009) (From the “Introduction”: “This book is the story of the search by American intellectuals for cultural self-definition. In some sense it is intended to be a kind of existential epic with those very special people—the intellectuals—as protagonists engaged in the Sisyphean task of forever confronting the new and making it meaningful to society. Intellectuals pursue their tasks--often esoteric and wildly impractical to the common man—because they feel ‘cultural anxiety,’ or a compulsion constantly to redefine the context of reality in which they find themselves. They assume the burden of first sensing, then grappling with, and finally organizing the new, which is of value to civilization itself. More than mere custodians of knowledge, they stand for most of their lives face to face with the terrors and ambiguities of ultimate reality. And as such, in Henry James’s terms, they are the ‘hard core creators of culture.’” In the United States the role of the intellectual currently is not much appreciate. On both the political right and political left, intellectuals are deemed to be ‘elitist.’ They are members of an elite only in the sense that relatively few people have the talent, sensibility, intelligence, and especially the inclination to worry about the culture as a whole. Most Americans prefer to remain caught up in the everyday concerns of living a ‘normal life,’ pursuing limited if special interests, and advocating causes whose origins and meaning they scarcely question.” Id. at xi. Though Professor Goetzmann makes a strong case for the presence of the intellectual tradition in American life, I would argue that the American intellectual tradition and American intellectuals are, and have always been, outnumbered and outgunned by the American anti-intellectual tradition and anti-intellectuals. Though always marching forward, the American intellectual tradition has always been under attack and had to watch it back. Nowhere is this more evident than in American colleges and universities where the “corporatization” is the spirit of the day. Also see Jedediah Purdy’s review, “The Coast of Utopia,” NYT, Sunday, February 19, 2009.).

Linowitz, Sol M. & Martin Mayer, The Betrayed Profession: Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century (New York: Scribner’s, 1994).

Meredith, Martin, Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, The Boers, and The Making of South Africa (New York: PublicAffairs, 2007) (see the review, "A Scramble for Power and Treasure in South Africa," by Janet Maslin in the NYT, Thursday, November 29, 2007).

Vollmann, William T., Imperial (New York: Viking, 2009) (See Lawrence Downes, “Desert Odyssey,” NYT Book Review, Sunday, August 2, 2009. Also see Charles McGrath, “An Author Without Borders,” NYT, Tuesday, July 28, 2009).

Yovel, Yirmiyahu, The Other Within: The Marranos: Split Identity and Emerging Modernity (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2009).