As the dog days of August bring both the threat of thunderstorms and the equally great threat of the start of the semester, I have been thinking about the joys of summer reading, and what to recommend while the pace for most of us is still slower.
This summer, I have very much enjoyed John Witt’s Lincoln’s Code, as have several of my correspondents. He kindly sent me a copy, with a note that called the book “beach reading.” My own reading place of choice is a porch, and I am pleased to report that Lincoln’s Code was great porch reading.
The eclecticism of summer reading for me included revisiting Pauline Maier’s older William and Mary Quarterly article on the revolutionary origins of the American corporation. The piece is still fresh and a good read by porch standards, a wonderful way to remember a great scholar.
Also orthogonal to my own interests generally but deeply productive was James Scott’s Seeing Like a State. Thanks to recommendations from Bill Novak and Karen Tani, I have begun to think much more carefully about the perspective of the “state” in church and state.
For sheer pleasure, the porch and I heartily recommend Catherine Brekus’s new book Sarah Osbone’s World, a wonderfully engaging and intricate look at the eighteenth-century life of a deeply religious woman.
And for the remaining moments of escape reading, I have been amazed at how many of my legal historian friends are fans of detective fiction (one of them is even an author of such novels -- Lawrence Friedman’s detective is lawyer Frank May). Recently, an eminent legal historian suggested that I read Martin Walker, whose detective, Inspector Bruno, works in the Dordogne. (I have the audio edition of the first book, Bruno, Chief of Police (2010), which is terrific.) The most recent is The Devil’s Cave (2013). I have also enjoyed Shirley McKay, whose lawyer detective Hew Cullan practices (reluctantly) in St. Andrew’s, Scotland, in the sixteenth century.
My husband was traveling back from an ASLH meeting with me once, and advised me to hide my detective novel, because legal historians would never respect someone who read such trash. Fortunately, Victoria List was nearby, and piped up, saying that she was reading a mystery that involved not only murder and a detective but crosswords. As I recall, she described the book as “frothy,” in an appreciative tone. (See, e.g., A Puzzle in a Pear Tree.) She had my back, in other words. My husband still reads Granta, and I remain convinced that I have a much more rewarding list for the porch.
Please do let me know your legal history (or detective fiction) recommendations for these final weeks of summer. Tempis fugit, I know, but I can still spend a hot afternoon or two out on the porch.