Monday, July 27, 2009

Prest, William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century

William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century by Wilfrid Prest, recently published by Oxford University Press, is "the first scholarly biography of the most influential figure in the history of English and American law." Unfortunately the book is not priced to sell by OUP, although some discounts can be found on-line. Even if the price takes it out of the coursebook market, this is a book every law library should have a copy of. Here's the book description:

Lawyer, judge, politician, poet, teacher, and architect, William Blackstone was a major figure in eighteenth century public life. Over his varied and brilliant career he made profound contributions to English politics, law, education, and culture through involvements in legal practice, Parliament, and the University of Oxford. Throughout he also remained engaged in his society's literary and spiritual life. Despite the breadth and influence of his work, Blackstone the man remains little known and poorly understood, the lack of engagement with his public and private life standing in stark contrast to the scale of his influence, particularly on the development and teaching of the law.
Blackstone's 'Commentaries on the Laws of England remains the most celebrated and influential text in the Anglo-American common-law tradition. This great book has inevitably overshadowed its author, while the dispersal of his personal and professional papers further complicates the task of understanding the man behind the work. The lack of a thorough account of Blackstone's life has fuelled controversy surrounding his intellectual background and political views. Was he the deeply reactionary conservative painted by Bentham, or rather a committed reformer and early champion of human rights?
The present biography makes full use of a considerable body of new evidence that has emerged in recent years to shed light on the life, work, and times of this neglected figure in English and American history. Exploring Blackstone's family upbringing and private life, his political activities and ideology, his religious outlook and championing of the enlightenment, Prest weaves together the threads of an extraordinary mind and career.
And a blurb:

A splendidly controlled and fascinating story of a major historical figure who has never had anything like such treatment before...richly documented, unwaveringly fair but never constrained by the relative lack of personal sources, and above all judicious, indeed magisterial, albeit with numerous human touches..." Paul Langford, Lincoln College, Oxford