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Friday, Sep. 13, 2002

In the interest of this back-to-school month, I'm recommending nine great legal books to read, and one excellent legal blog to follow. To avoid being too incestuous, I've omitted many excellent books by FindLaw columnists from my list (but these can be found on their respective bio pages). Also, I should stress that this doesn't purport to be a "top ten" list for legal books - that would have to include many more classics, and it wouldn't have room for some of these works. Instead, this is a list of law-related books that I think are terrific, based on my very subjective preferences.

1. Lenny Bruce, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People

This First Amendment martyr, who became obsessed, later in his life, with his own obscenity trials, shows how destructive the law can be in his autobiographical account. Besides learning about Bruce's unusual - to say the least - life, it's also interesting to read what authorities thought was so scandalous in his comedy routine, as tame as it seems today. The movie with Dustin Hoffman, "Lenny," is also excellent.

2. Alan Dershowitz, The Best Defense

A wonderful book from before Dershowitz became "Dershowitz." It paints a portrait of him as a practitioner, and of the justice system along the way - convincing you he was a damn good lawyer even back in the day.

3. William Kunstler, My Life as a Radical Lawyer

It's fascinating to see how Kunstler thought about the law, and why he staked out his ground as the consummate legal outsider. His tombstone quotes from Leaves of Grass: "stand up for the stupid and crazy." Amen.

Stanford law professor Lessig is one of today's most relevant legal intellectuals - all the more so because he seems more sympathetic to hackers than lawyers lately, going so far as to apologize on behalf of the profession for lawyers' shutting down computer creativity. Code is rough going at points, but its provocative thesis - computer code creates an architecture in cyberspace with power equivalent to the power of law in the real world - and the many examples Lessig marshalls in support of it, make it a more-than-worthwhile read.

5. Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World

Lessig's status as the pre-eminent cyberlaw thinker and activist means I'm compelled to list him again. Here, he takes on the huge question of how much we'll have an intellectual "commons" everyone can share (a la public domain works, Napster, etc.) and how much we are evolving towards intellectual-property-as-solely-private-property, at the behest of a number of powerful media corporations who keep winning legal and lobbying victories to protect their copyrights more and more.

6. Catherine A. MacKinnon, Sex Equality

A comprehensive tome by a legal visionary: love her or hate her, a lawyer should know her work. Many of her "radical" sexual harassment ideas became commonplace; it's interesting to speculate on what other components of so-called MacKinnon radicalism will drift into the mainstream. People often forget what it used to be like for women in the workplace, and still is like in certain sectors; MacKinnon hasn't, and never will.

7. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation

The book that started the modern animal rights movement. Singer himself is a philosopher, but his work has broad legal ramifications for how we treat animals under the law. Now that constitutional scholars are calling for the "great apes" to be counted as persons with rights (gorillas in our midst?), it's interesting to read the book that started it all. I also like Writings on an Ethical Life, a broader collection of Singer's extremely provocative or, depending on your point of view, infuriating writings.

8. James Stewart, The Prosecutors

Stewart is much better-known for Den of Thieves and Blood Sport, of course. In addition, his new September 11 book, The Heart of a Soldier, on Morgan Stanley security guy and all-around fascinating character Rick Rescorla, who very sadly perished in the attacks, looks to be excellent. However, this more obscure book from earlier in Stewart's career, is terrific, too, and perhaps his most closely legal work. It's worth finding at a used bookstore or on e-Bay.

How did one of Washington, D.C.'s pre-eminent lawyers (now deceased) get there? From Thomas's book, we learn that strategy was key - both in and outside the courtroom. Williams' theory of life as a competition meant that he made every moment - and case - count. For instance, Thomas tells the story of Williams practicing over and over, in a tort case early in his career, to get a defective chair to collapse in his hands in court at the right moment. Williams kept apologizing to the court for destroying the chair, but the jury got the point, and his client won. Legal biographies tend towards the turgid, but this one is a lot of fun to read - probably in part because Williams, a genius litigator and a hard partier in his off hours, must have been a lot of fun to be around, and in part because Thomas never tries to pretend he was flawless or superhuman. Working at Williams & Connolly, his old firm, I used to hear a fair amount of Edward Bennett Williams lore, and Thomas's stories more than match it.

10. Eugene and Sasha Volokh, "The Volokh Conspiracy"

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh defines intelligent (if sometimes scary) legal conservatism. I like a lot of the legal blogs, but this blog is probably my favorite. Just when you get tired of Volokh's law obsession, he starts ranting about something else - like Thucydides or why one needs to experience shooting a gun before developing a gun rights position. For legal liberals, Volokh is often the one to beat - or, at least, to respond to.

Julie Hilden, a FindLaw columnist, practiced First Amendment law at the D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly from 1996-99. Currently a freelance writer, she published a memoir, The Bad Daughter, in 1998. Her forthcoming novel Three will be published in the U.S. by Plume Books in June 2003, and in French translation by Actes Sud.

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