Michelle Wilde Anderson, Professor of Law, recommends Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh and the podcast Serial: Season 3
“The short, official description of Heartland is this: “Born a fifth-generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teenage mothers on her maternal side, Smarsh grew up in a family of labourers trapped in a cycle of poverty. She learned about hard work, and also absorbed painful lessons about economic inequality, eventually coming to understand the powerful forces that have blighted the lives of poor and working-class Americans living in the heartland.” That description is fair, but when I read it, it felt like a book about Betty, Arnie, Jeannie, Nick, and Sarah—people who came to life off the page and made me care about them. Rural Kansas came to life too, including a child’s life of tractor rides under a “clear sky full of stars” and the slow rage that accumulates across decades of long-hours manual labor that still can’t pay all the bills, in a state where nearly half the counties reached peak population in 1910. Smarsh’s family’s story teaches a great deal about cycles of domestic violence, divorce, the process of converting blue states to red ones, scraping out a living in an agricultural region, the history of domestic social policy. Vividly personal terms help teach the reality of class divisions, especially through Sarah’s childhood stories and memories about the contempt that society conveyed for her and her family members.
“I strongly recommend Heartland, and even more so, I recommend following it with the Serial: Season 3 podcast series—an incredible, chilling portrayal of ordinary, daily cases in criminal court in Cleveland. Together, the book and the podcast demonstrate how two different corners of American society would converge on deep cynicism about government, low voter turnout, and the intergenerational transfer of poverty,” says Anderson.
Ralph Richard Banks, (BA ’87, MA ’87), Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of Law, recommends The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
“The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a good one. This book has relatable characters who experience the cruelty and unpredictability of life, and form a bond that carries them through.
“And also Einstein’s Dreams, an entrancing meditation on the nature of time and hope and loss,” says Banks.
Barbara Babcock, Judge John Crown Professor of Law, Emerita, recommends First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart, and Two Firsts: Bertha Wilson and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé at the Supreme Court of Canada by Constance Backhouse
This year I enjoyed leading examples of a new genre: biographies of female Supreme Court justices: First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas and second, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart. The reason these the are the first such books is, of course, that they their subjects were first. And notable legal scholars, the main biographers of Justices, do not write about women much anyway.
In fact, neither author is a lawyer; Thomas a journalist and a professor of journalism at Princeton has written most about fighting men and their battles. The first of his non-explicitly war books that attracted me was about Edward Bennett Williams, my first legal employer, and a famous criminal defense lawyer–who was also a warrior in a sense, (1991). DeHart is a distinguished historian at The university of California, in Santa Barbara, specializing in women’s history. Her Ginsburg biography is not authorized but is full of careful research and bears a personal touch based on nine lengthy interviews over several years with the Justice. (An authorized biography, with access to papers and correspondence is in the works.)
There will likely be other biographies of Ginsburg because she has become a great icon. My shelf already has The Notroious RBG, The Life and Times of RBG, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, (one a media broadcaster and the other a recent law graduate, and ‘creator of the RBG tumbler’); it is light-hearted and enjoyable while being informative. Recently I received, The RBG Way, The Secrets of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Success, by Rebecca Gibian. All three books mention me based on a recommendation letter I sent for her to the Attorney General. There’s a lesson here—recommend people who save their letters. Though I’m not mentioned at all, I really enjoyed the book by the Justice’s personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, The RBG Workout.
Finally, two fascinating accounts of Canada’s first women on its’ highest court by Constance Backhouse, Two Firsts: Bertha Wilson and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé at the Supreme Court of Canada. Though her court experiences are surprisingly similar, Dube’s character and personality are very different from her American counterparts and wonderfully portrayed.
Michele Dauber, Frederick I. Richman Professor of Law, recommends Know My Name by Chanel Miller and Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
From the publishers: Chanel Miller’s Know My Name is the courageous account of how sexual assault impacted her life, both during and after the court case People v. Turner.
Catch and Kill recounts the challenges Farrow faced uncovering women’s stories of alleged sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and the case against him. The author believes Weinstein pressured media executives to kill the story that was eventually picked up by The New Yorker, sparking the #MeToo movement.
John Donohue, C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, recommends the podcast In the Dark (Season 2)
About this podcast: Curtis Flowers has been tried six times for the same crime. For 21 years, Flowers has maintained his innocence. He’s won appeal after appeal, but every time, the prosecutor just tries the case again. What does the evidence reveal? And why does the justice system ignore the prosecutor’s record and keep Flowers on death row?
Nora Freeman Engstrom, Professor of Law and Deane F. Johnson Faculty Scholar, recommends Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
“Each family vacation we pick one book to read aloud—and last summer we enjoyed a stunner my husband had remembered fondly from his youth, Alas, Babylon. Part Swiss Family Robinson atomic age survival tale, part Cold War history lesson, part (even) comedy, we loved every page. Full of pluck, daring, and heart, the book is captivating for young and old alike,” says Freeman Engstrom.
Lawrence Friedman, Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law, recommends Rough Crossings by Simon Schama, The Warden, The Way We Live Now, and The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope, as well as The Moonstone and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
“I enjoyed reading Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings, which deals with slaves who fled during the Revolutionary War, first to Canada, then to the (new) colony of Sierra Leone.
“I am a fan of Anthony Trollope, and am now re-reading all of his novels. For those who haven’t tried him yet, I recommend, The Warden, which is short (an early work) but very engaging; also his darkest novel, The Way We Live Now. And, oh yes, The Eustace Diamonds. But all of them are worth reading.
“Two wonderful Victorian women writers less well known than (say) George Eliot or Dickens are Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Oliphant. And if you haven’t yet discovered Wilkie Collins, try either The Moonstone or The Woman in White. You won’t be sorry,” says Friedman.
Ronald Gilson, Meyers Professor of Law and Business, Emeritus, recommends by In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
“Hernan Diaz, In the Distance. This book is a Pulitzer prize finalist as a western. However, it is not like any western you’ve ever read. A short version of the story is a Swedish giant trying to walk from San Francisco to New York to find his brother in the 1850s. But that account is a coat hanger drama over which another, more intimate story hangs. Any better characterization would take a while. The trip alone is worth it,” says Gilson.
Robert Gordon, Professor of Law, recommends Law’s Wars and Law’s Trials by Richard L. Abel, and Bruno by Martin Walker
“Richard L. Abel, the great scholar of legal professions at UCLA, has written two enormous (800 pages each) books on the Bush and Obama Administrations responses to terrorist violence. Law’s Wars deals with detention of suspected terrorists at the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo Bay, interrogation, electronic surveillance, and law of war on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Law’s Trials covers many of the legal proceedings resulting from counter-terrorist measures: criminal prosecutions in ordinary courts, military commissions, and courts-martial (of U.S. personnel), and the various legal challenges to all of the above, such as habeas corpus petitions, civil damages actions, and civil liberties complaints. Together these books provide a comprehensive—and exceedingly critical—account of our government’s anti-terrorism policies, as cruel, damaging to American prestige and alliances, and mostly counterproductive. They are written with crystal clarity and, despite their length, are easy to read. (I wrote a short review of these books for Jotwell—https://legalpro.jotwell.com/lawfare-in-the-war-on-terror/)
“On the (much) lighter side, I’m always on the lookout for new crime thrillers and police procedurals, and have found an exceptionally charming series by Martin Walker, an Englishman and ardent Francophile. His detective is Bruno Courrèges, police chief in an imaginary small town in the Dordogne, whose local knowledge leads him to the solution of a series of bizarre murders, which often have their genesis in France’s tragic past of German occupation and colonial wars. Bruno also loves food and wine, and the series is crammed with delicious cooking. Bruno is the first book in the series; and I’ve read six so far,” says Gordon.
William B. Gould IV, Charles A. Beardsley Professor of Law, Emeritus, recommends Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present And Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse, The Technology Trap: Capitol, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation by Carl Benedikt Frey, A Wicked War by Amy Greenberg, In Hoffa’s Shadow by Jack Goldsmith, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac, and more!
“About four or five books have occupied my attention these past few months First, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present And Future of American Labor, an engaging and lively discussion of the present rather sad state of labor, written by ex-New York Times writer, Steve Greenhouse. I found it so provocative that I reviewed it for the University of San Francisco Law Review.
“Much more dense, hard slogging, and of limited usefulness was The Technology Trap: Capitol, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation by Carl Benedikt Frey.
“I learned a good deal about the Mexican War, the U.S. invasion of Mexico from Amy Greenberg’s engaging A Wicked War. It’s a wide-ranging treatment of not only the battles, but also Polk and Clay, as well as racial attitudes of white Americans. In so doing, it brought to mind much of what my friend, the late Miguel Mendez used to talk to me about, i.e., the marked similarity in white beliefs about Mexicans and black Americans.
“The big hit of recent months though was In Hoffa’s Shadow by Harvard law Professor Jack Goldsmith, whose stepfather was Teamster boss and Hoffa’s gofer—and the FBI’s prime suspect as the man who drove Hoffa to his killers. It is written well, in a style that you wouldn’t expect from a law professor. It’s about Goldsmith‘s relationship with his stepfather, his reconciliation with the man he had rejected as an impediment to his own advancement, and his search for the truth about Hoffa’s disappearance. It’s a book about Hoffa, his hard and violent struggle in the Teamster leadership, his clashes with RFK (whom Goldsmith despises), and his criminal trials. (I now want to re-read Hoffa and the Teamsters by the Jameses, a husband and wife team.) The book gets as close as any to figuring the who-dunnit in Hoffa’s death. The description of the day of his disappearance will have your heart in your mouth.
“I was particularly interested in this book because I’ve lived in Detroit and knew well Father Clement Kern, for whom I did volunteer legal work for indigent workers at Most Holy Trinity (near Tiger stadium in Corktown) once a week. Little did I know of Father Kern’s friendship with Goldsmith‘s stepfather and some of the other Teamsters who make an appearance in this book. (I did, however, know some of the rank and file in Hoffa‘s Teamsters local- but that’s another story.)
“In Hoffa’s Shadow touches me on another personal level too. I had dinner with Hoffa here at Stanford a few months before his disappearance. He seemed so isolated that night, constantly referencing newspaper articles that he had read. (Goldsmith emailed me and told me that Hoffa had only started to read books while in prison.) This is a great read, exciting for me and many.
“New York Times correspondent Mike Isaac’s Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber was also interesting, with useful background to how this company became so dominant and the personalities around it, as was David Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, a towering biography of America’s most prominent black citizen in the 19th century
“I am about a quarter to half of the way through Border Wars: Inside Trump‘s Assault on Immigration by Julie Hirschfeld Davis, the issue likely to get Trump re-elected, a quarter into The Political Culture of the American Whigs by Daniel Howe, and about to dip into The Second Founding: How the Civil War And Reconstruction Remade the Constitution by an old favorite of mine [Eric Foner], having read two or three of his books earlier,” says Gould.
Hank Greely, Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law, recommends Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas by Stephen Budiansky, Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age by Leslie Berlin, and How to Grow a Human by Philip Ball
“No science fiction this time, or fiction at all. This time I’m going with a biography, a (recent and local) history, and a book on human biology.
One of the biographies actually “sounds in” law: Stephen Budiansky, Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Life in War, Law, and Ideas. I’ve read several biographies of Holmes. I particularly like this one for the detail and insight it brings to his life before the U.S. Supreme Court. Especially interesting was his complex relationship with his father, O.W. Holmes, senior, who was much more famous than junior until the latter was over 60. The local history is Leslie Berlin’s Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age. It is actually a history of Silicon Valley’s not earliest but early days, focusing on 1969 to 1976 and on a broad number of important characters, male and female, not just the Valley’s “famous men.” And it is as local as White Plaza and Encina Hall on campus. Finally, I recommend How to Grow a Human: Adventures in Who We Are and How We Are Made by Philip Ball, a British science writer who is more an intellectual historian of science. The book looks mainly at the ways our 35 trillion cells somehow become law school students, alums, faculty, and staff. (And other things.),” says Greely.
Erik Jensen, Professor of the Practice of Law and Director of Rule of Law Program, recommends Ill Winds by Larry Diamond, How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and How to Save a Constitutional Democracy by Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq
Three recent books consider the global democratic and rule of law recession: Larry Diamond’s Ill Winds cleverly highlights an “autocrats twelve step program” to undermine democracy; Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die identify four broad characteristics of would-be authoritarians; and Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq in How to Save a Constitutional Democracy distill five sets of legal and regulatory mechanisms through which autocrats undermine constitutional democracy. “12-4-5,” take your pick.
These books are not holiday escapism fare. But they are eminently worthy books that analyze the troubling times we live in.
Pamela Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, recommends Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley by Cary McClelland, JD ’15, and Working by Robert Caro
“Cary McClelland, Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley. Whether you’re still living in the Bay Area or not, every SLS alum spent at least some time here. So you might think you know the place but Cary’s book will show you things you’ve never seen before in an almost cinematographic way. Funny, heartbreaking, unforgettable.
“Robert Caro, Working. While you wait for the next volume of his magisterial biography of Lyndon Johnson to arrive, this set of almost memoir-like essays will remind you of why you’re waiting,” says Karlan.
Mark Kelman, James C. Gaither Professor of Law and Vice Dean, recommends Normal People by Sally Rooney, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, and $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer
“I thought Sally Rooney’s Normal People was the most interesting literary novel I’ve read in years, maybe since Olive Kitteridge, which now seems to me as though it must have been written roughly an eon ago. In some ways, it seems to run through a host of very familiar twenty first century themes—I suppose you could read it in part as a novel about the insecurities of first gen students and bullying snobs in a privileged world (Irish not American, but still…) or the horrors of hidden private violence, And in some ways I suppose you could read it as a familiar romance, an epic story of a near-love affair that waxes and wanes as the protagonists move from adolescence to young adult life. But I think it’s really a very deep meditation on self-loathing and both performative and disturbing masochism.
“I also re-read, mostly for work reasons, two incredibly interesting detailed journalistic/sociological narratives of the lives of Americans living in poverty. I found both Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, and $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, important, moving, and deeply thought-provoking,” says Kelman.
Janet Martinez, Senior Lecturer in Law, recommends Superminds by Thomas Malone
“This book walks through the potential for synergy between humans and computers,” says Martinez.
Jenny S. Martinez, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School, recommends the podcast Stanford Legal on SiriusXM
About this podcast: Stanford Legal brings together attorneys, scholars, and experts in a range of fields from across Stanford and the country to discuss timely legal issues of the day.
Michael McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law, recommends In Hoffa’s Shadow by Jack Goldsmith and A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe
“In Hoffa’s Shadow, by Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith, is an astonishing and personal tale of Jack’s relationship to his step-father, one of Jimmy Hoffa’s closest associates and the man the FBI long suspected of being complicit in Hoffa’s disappearance/murder.
“I also reread Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full more than 20 years after its publication and my first read. It is a gripping and highly politically-incorrect story of the intersection of the lives of two men, one a failing Atlanta real estate speculator of enormous ego and few ethical constraints, and one a super-ethical and responsible working class fellow whose life goes off the rails through no real fault of his own, throwing him in prison. It contains typically Wolfian descriptions of, among other arenas of life most of us do not get a chance to experience in person: the humiliating “work-out” negotiations between creditors and deadbeat borrowers who owe them hundreds of millions, life on a vanity deep-South plantation with all the racist machismo you can stand, how to survive the racially explosive and violent life in a California state prison, the social status of the divorced first wife of a wealthy tycoon, his unhappy experience of a young second wife, the racial manipulations of black-versus-black candidates for mayor of Atlanta, and—brilliantly, how the conversion of a young prisoner to a new religion, Stoicism, transforms his life,” says McConnell.
Michelle Mello (BA ’93), Professor of Law, recommends the podcast WorkLife
“I like the podcast WorkLife with Adam Grant, in which Wharton School professor and organizational psychologist Adam Grant “takes you inside the minds of some of the world’s most unusual professionals to explore the science of making work not suck.” He takes on topics as diverse as becoming friends with your rivals, building your working memory, and dealing with a**holes,” says Mello.
Curtis Milhaupt, William F. Baxter-Visa International Professor of Law, recommends Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy
“Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, co-authored by Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council expert on Russia who testified in the impeachment hearing, offers fascinating insights into Vladimir Putin’s mindset and worldview,” says Milhaupt.
Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Associate Professor of Law, recommends Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
“At the start of every class I teach, I ask students to fill out an information form to help me get to know them. This fall I added a new question: ‘Recommend an experience to me!’ I received wonderful suggestions, including a number of books I’ve been reading this fall. These are three of my favorites so far: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders,” says Ouellette.
Robert Rabin, A. Calder Mackay Professor of Law, recommends Plains Song by Wright Morris
“Published in 1980, and much praised at the time, this novel is truly singular in its three-generation character study of women from a Nebraska farm family trying to find meaning in their lives,” says Rabin.
Shirin Sinnar, Professor of Law and John A. Wilson Faculty Scholar, recommends Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair by Danielle Sered, Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer Eberhardt, and the podcast Reveal
“Two recent books that resonated with me both relate to criminal justice reform. The first is Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair by Danielle Sered. It makes a powerful appeal to restorative justice, rather than traditional incarceration, including for those who have committed violent crimes. The account is based on the work that Sered’s organization, Common Justice, has led in New York for the last decade. Sered makes a compelling case that restorative justice benefits not just people who have committed violent crimes and obtain an alternative to prison, but also the victims who find greater safety and healing in the process. The second book is Stanford Professor Jennifer Eberhardt’s Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. I expected an insightful and evidence-based account, given Professor Eberhardt’s renowned social psychology research on the nature of bias. This book had everything I expected—but also presented riveting stories from Professor Eberhardt’s personal experience and her work with police officers in Oakland and beyond. It’s a powerful example of a book infused with research but written to affect the world beyond the ivory tower.
“And for a podcast, I’m really enjoying Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Great topics, with particular depth on criminal justice, white nationalism, and inequality. Not exactly the lightest of subjects, but a really engaging host and appealing stories,” says Sinnar.
Deborah Sivas, Luke W. Cole Professor of Environmental Law, recommends We the Corporations by Adam Winkler and the podcast Hidden Brain
“I recommend We the Corporations by UCLA law professor Adam Winkler. In a fascinating legal history that is nonetheless easily accessible by non-lawyers, Winker traces the development of corporate rights from the earliest days of Plymouth Rock to such recent Supreme Court decisions as Citizens United and Hobby Lobby. He convincingly argues that the courts often expanded civil rights jurisprudence to protect corporations, first and foremost, long before using it to protect the “discrete and insular minorities” that were the intended beneficiaries of various constitutional amendments. And by meticulously excavating early judicial decisions, Winkler shows how these expansive corporate rights rested less on the notion of corporate “personhood” and more on the concept of “piercing the corporate veil” to protect the rights of individual shareholders—an odd inversion of how we sometimes apply that concept today to impose legal liability on shareholders. Even for those not deeply interested in the rise of corporate dominance in America, the book is an interesting history lesson that pulls back the curtain and tells a number of entertaining side stories about the quirky personalities and intertwining relationships of the elite lawyers and judges who exclusively controlled and shaped our legal system for more than two hundred years.”
“Each episode explores the science behind human behavior, but does so in a narrative storytelling fashion that engages a non-expert audience, sometimes making me laugh, sometimes making me cry, but always making me think,” says Sivas.
David Studdert, Professor of Medicine (PCOR/CHP) and Professor of Law, recommends the podcast NPR’s Up First
“For me it’s NPR’s Up First. A 15 minute wrap-up of the day’s major stories, covered in a bit more depth than the typical hourly news bulletin,” says Studdert.
Buzz Thompson, Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law, JD/MBA ’76 (BA ’72), recommends Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, The River of Doubt, and Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard, William Howard Taft by Jeffrey Rosen, and The Inspector Rebus Series by Ian Rankin
“I continue to work my way chronologically through the biographies of all of the American presidents. I’m now up to Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States—and yet another lawyer. For those interested in embarking on a similar journey (and I highly recommend it), there’s a great website that gives the pros and cons of the major biographies of each president: https://bestpresidentialbios.com/curriculum/. And there’s also a great series of short biographies, originally edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for those occasional presidents who do not deserve hours and hours of your reading time—the American Presidents’ Series (https://us.macmillan.com/series/theamericanpresidents/).
“Over the last six months, I have found two biographies in particular to be particularly engaging and interesting. The first biography is Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, which focuses on the assassination of James Garfield. While not a traditional biography, it’s a fascinating tale about a president who might well have survived an assassination attempt if doctors had been a bit more competent. (If you have not read any of Millard’s books yet, I also highly recommend her The River of Doubt about Teddy Roosevelt’s trip to the Amazon basin and Hero of the Empire about Winston Churchill’s exploits during the Boer War). Getting back to presidential biographies, the second book that I recommend is Jeffrey Rosen’s biography of William Howard Taft (part of the American Presidents’ Series and proof that a good biography does not need to be long). It’s a great analysis of a president who was a better jurist than a politician and believed strongly that presidential powers were and should be limited (in stark contrast to recent holders of the office). In between presidential biographies, I am reading crime novels for my literary R&R. My major recommendation here is the entire oeuvre of Ian Rankin. If you like Scotland (and Edinburgh in specific), you will love Rankin’s Inspector Rebus,” says Thompson.