Sunday, December 5, 2010

Legal history, and more, on 2010 top book lists

Legal history makes the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2010:
RATIFICATION: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. By Pauline Maier. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) Maier’s history lays out the major issues, the arguments, the local context, the major and minor players, and lots of political rough stuff.

SUPREME POWER: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court. By Jeff Shesol. (Norton, $27.95.)
LAST CALL: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. By Daniel Okrent. (Scribner, $30.) A remarkably original account of the 14-year orgy of lawbreaking that transformed American social life.

THE FIERY TRIAL: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. By Eric Foner. (Norton, $29.95.)  Contention over Roosevelt’s proposal to transform the court nearly paralyzed his administration for over a year and severely damaged fragile Democratic unity. Foner tackles what would seem an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and sheds new light on it.
Publisher's Weekly's best books, and other lists, include:
The Warmth of Other Suns
Isabel Wilkerson (Random)
Wilkerson's sprawling study of the flight of six million blacks from the humiliation of Jim Crow to uncertain destinies in the American North and West is expansive in scope, pointillist in focus, and a triumph of scholarship and empathy. Anchoring her narrative in the suspenseful stories of three who made the journey, Wilkerson humanizes the migration that reshaped American demographics, art, and politics.

Colonel Roosevelt
Edmund Morris (Random)
Morris's concluding volume in his accomplished biography narrates Roosevelt's postpresidential life with the same insight and style he displayed in his Pulitzer-winning first volume.

Washington: A Life
Ron Chernow (Penguin Press)
Chernow is back with another epic examination of another influential American founder. Thanks to a recent "explosion of research," Chernow produces the most complete and complex portrait of George Washington on record.
The San Francisco Chronicle includes:
The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter (W.W. Norton; 496 pages; $27.95). A fascinating approach to an unusual adjective.

The Guardian (UK) has a list of others' favorite books of the year, including:
Chris Patten
Chancellor of Oxford University

The Rule of Law by the late Tom Bingham (Allen Lane) is the book of the year that I am likely to read again and again. In his beautifully written book the former senior law lord gives a succinct definition, demolishing, for example, the alleged legal case for the Iraq war in a few devastating pages. Every MP who can read should be given it for Christmas. The most gob-smacking book was Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster). Why on earth does administration after administration allow Woodward to tell the inside story of the often gruesome process of decision-making in the White House?
Eric Hobsbawm
The most interesting biography was that of the witty, cosmopolitan and controversial Ernest Gellner (1925-1995), philosopher, anthropologist and all-purpose social thinker – Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography by John A Hall (Verso). Few books have more successfully combined the study of personal life and intellectual development in the turbulent setting of the 20th century. Alessandro Barbero's The Anonymous Novel: Sensing the Future Torments, from a new publisher, Vagabond Voices, situated on the Isle of Lewis, is a vivid novel about Russians coping with the transition from communism to capitalism and combines echoes of Bulgakov with elements of a thriller. Strangely, it was written by a successful medieval historian.
And in book reviews this week,the Washington Post takes up SCORPIONS: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman.  For more new reviews, please visit Ralph Luker at Cliopatria.