Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Q & A with Lawrence Friedman: on essential readings in legal history

Note to readers: This is a part of a series of questions and answers with Lawrence Friedman. If you have a question you've wanted to ask him, please post it in a comment, or email me

Questions from Readers
Would love some legal reading recommendations from Lawrence Friedman. Any books that he thinks are essential for understanding US legal history? Thanks.

I second that comment, and would also ask for his recommendations on English legal history, if he has any.

Answers from Lawrence:   
It's hard to think of "essential" books for American legal history; and of course I don't dare mention any of mine.  I would say, Willard Hurst's Law and the Conditions of Freedom, his 1956 lectures.  In some ways it's dated; and in some ways so well accepted that a reader thinks, of course, what's the big deal; but I think a careful reading still is very worth while and useful. 
Controversial but terribly important:  Robert Gordon's article, "Critical Legal Histories." 
The field doesn't have many general syntheses-- there's mine, and Kermit Hall's-- but it's really rich in excellent books on various subjects.  I always find Stuart Banner's work intriguing and thought provoking; and his latest book, on property law, is especially good.  I could list books I particularly liked but it would be a long list, and people I left out could feel insulted.  The field is in great shape, in many ways.  But very little is "essential" in the sense that I think the question intends.
British legal history:  here I nominate Douglas Hay, Albion's Fatal Tree.  A model of brilliant and insightful history.  And then there's always Pollock and Maitland.