This book is a history of American contract law around the turn of the twentieth century. It details shifts in our conception of contract by juxtaposing scholarly accounts of contract with case-law, showing how the cases exhibit conflicts to which scholarship offered just one of many possible answers. It argues, against conventional wisdom, that our current conception of contract is not the outgrowth of gradual refinements of a centuries-old idea of contract. Rather, contract as we know it was shaped by a revolution in private law undertaken by legal scholars toward the end of the nineteenth century. The revolution in contract thinking is best understood in a frame of reference wider than the rules governing the formation and enforcement of contracts. That frame of reference is a cultural negotiation over the nature of the individual subject and the role of the individual in a society undergoing transformation. The lasting theoretical framework installed by late nineteenth century scholars brought to life the image of an autonomous calculating subject; the case law offered the site for a more complex cultural negotiation of subjectivities, the site of conflict over the shape of individuality. Areas of central concern include the enforceability of promises to make gifts; the relationship of contracts to speculation and gambling; and the problem of incomplete contracts.
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