Paul Brest, Former Dean and Professor of Law, Emeritus, recommends Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller
“I recommend Lulu Miller’s Why Fish Don’t Exist. At its core, it’s a biography of David Starr Jordan, but it is intertwined with the author’s personal life and explorations in biology and social science. It’s engaging, quirky, and whimsical, and makes one realize just how right Bernie Meyler’s committee was to recommend un-naming Jordan Hall and removing the statue of Agassiz,” says Brest.
Nora Freeman Engstrom, JD ’02, Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law, recommends Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl and The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery by Ross Douthat
“Perhaps influenced by the pandemic, my recommendations this year involve stories of illness and recovery. Smile by Sarah Ruhl is a luminous tale of her diagnosis with, and slow climb back from Bell’s palsy, while Ross Douthat’s Deep Places recounts his brutal and disorienting battle with Lyme Disease. Ultimately, both books offer eminently readable meditations on resilience, persistence, creativity, and courage—even in the face of deep pain and long odds,” says Freeman Engstrom.
Lawrence Friedman, Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law, recommends War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War by John W. Dower, Divorce in China by Xin He, JSD ’04 (JSM ’00), The Way We Live Now and The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope, as well as The Moonstone and No Name by Wilkie Collins
“A startling and disturbing book for World War II junkies is War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War by John W. Dower.
“A second book for the list is by Xin He (our own JSD), Divorce in China: Institutional Constraints and Gendered Outcomes. A superb study that sheds a lot of light on the Chinese legal system.
“And, for fans of Victorian novels, I want to repeat my endorsement of Anthony Trollope, especially The Way We Live Now and The Eustace Diamonds; and Wilkie Collins, especially The Moonstone and No Name,” says Friedman.
Ronald Gilson, Meyers Professor of Law and Business, Emeritus, recommends The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783 by Joseph Ellis
“I suggest a book for the times. Mark Twain is typically credited with something he never said but that was nonetheless deeply insightful: “History doesn’t repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes.” In The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783“, Joseph Ellis makes us hope that the “Twainish” quote is right. Ellis tells the story of the way the Revolution played out over 10 years during which everything that could have gone wrong—a lot—did go wrong. The British should have lost badly, but it was close because we did it badly. Ellis tracks a period in which the colonies were ideologically divided in ways that tracked geography. It feels in his telling that we are now living in a historical rhyme. The book told me things I didn’t know and gave me some hope that things could turn out alright,” says Gilson.
William B. Gould IV, Charles A. Beardsley Professor of Law, Emeritus, recommends Grant by Ron Chernow, Fallen Idols by Alex von Tunzelmann, Wish It Lasted Forever by Dan Shaughnessy, and The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Katie Marton
“Though I’m still on page 702 out of 960 pages, I can say that Ron Chernow’s Grant is a towering magnificent biography and commentary on his times. As I said in my September Dedham remarks [link to remarks on legal ag], I was deeply disturbed by the attack on Grant’s statue in San Francisco. My curiosity about this man, whom my great grandfather called the “invincible Grant,” led me to Chernow. Grant, and particularly his attitude toward Blacks’ participation in the military and his support of a Reconstruction with teeth, grows in stature. Chernow’s description of Andrew Johnson and Grant’s relationship with him, tells much about both men. When I read Blight’s biography of Douglass, I gained new insight into how self-centered and base (truly Trump-like) Johnson was and Chernow paints a vivid picture. While lengthy, the book is a page turner, even though there are quite a few pages to turn.
“Side by side I’ve been reading Fallen Idols by Alex von Tunzelmann, a sparkling series of essays about statues that have been both erected and torn down. An excellent review of anything from George III to Sadam and Robert E. Lee. A good read, though, as a Brit, her understanding of America has its limits—incredibly, she gratuitously compares Bush’s fatuous “mission accomplished” and it’s premature declaration of victory in Iraq to raising the flag over Iwo Jima on the grounds that the island, let alone Japan, had not yet been conquered—even though that flag raising was symbolic of the terrible loss of life and sacrifice involved with establishing the beachhead. Still, on balance the book is carefully researched, valuable in this period of “canceled culture” charges.
“Also a late night easy, breezy reading is outstanding Boston Globe writer, Dan Shaughnessy’s Wish it Lasted Forever, the story of the best starting 5 ever to take the basketball court, the Larry Bird led 1980s Boston Celtics. An insider’s view of a team that I’ve loved since the team’s creation in 1946, it’s great to relive those days, draw comparisons with the dynasties of the 60s and 70s and to dream about a restoration in this decade.
“Finally I’ve just embarked upon The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel. Though a Social Democrat in the German context and an admirer of German codetermination, I’ve been in awe of Mrs. Merkel, her quiet, intelligent leadership and the fact she, with FDR type tenure, has emerged as the leader of Europe in this century. A remarkable achievement for a whole host of reasons,” says Gould.
Hank Greely, Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law, BA ’74, recommends How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand, The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark, The Men Who Lost America by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, and Becoming Trader Joe by Joe Coulombe with Patty Civalleri
“My strongest recommendation goes to How Buildings Learn (1994). This old but wonderful book was written by Stewart Brand, an early Merry Prankster, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, the creator of the Long Now Foundation, and one of the most interesting people I’ve met. It’s an insightful analysis of how buildings change, and are changed, as they age, containing lots of illustrations—and with illuminating insights on almost every page.
“I also quite liked two histories. Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers (2014) is simply the best book written on the causes of World War I, the most important event of the 20th century. That’s not just my amateur opinion on the book; I heard it from a Stanford history professor. Powerful, detailed, compelling—it’s just a masterpiece. The Men Who Lost America, by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy (quite a name), isn’t in that league but it is a fascinating discussion of the British officials—King, ministers, and officers—who made major (inadvertent) contributions to American independence.
“Then, for something completely different—and very out of character for me—I’m going to recommend a “business book”: Becoming Trader Joe, by (the late, great) Joe Coulombe (Stanford grad) with Patti Civalleri (2021). It’s a funny, well-written, and surprisingly hard-to-put-down book about the—well, one—retail grocery business. And if you like Trader Joe’s, you’ll love this book (even though it ends about twenty years ago). Have fun!” says Greely.
Michael Klausner, Nancy and Charles Munger Professor of Business and Professor of Law, recommends The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff and The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
“Two books that encourage broader thought and discussion,” says Klausner.
Mark Lemley, William H. Neukom Professor of Law, BA ’88, recommends A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate, both by Naomi Novik
“Naomi Novik’s Scholomance books (two so far), offer a darkly comedic twist on Harry Potter centered on a dark wizard trying to survive a high school where everything wants to kill her. Clever and well-written,” says Lemley.
Janet Martinez, Senior Lecturer in Law, recommends The Peacemaker’s Code by Deepak Malhotra
“The Peacemaker’s Code by Deepak Malhotra—an excellent negotiation story woven into this historical tale (with a little sci-fi!)” says Martinez.
Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor, recommends The Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris
“I have been reading Robert Harris’s Cicero Trilogy: Imperium, Lustrum, and Dictator. Harris is probably my favorite historical fiction author, and this trilogy is extraordinary. There is a lot of loose talk today about the end of democracy. These three books are an inside account of how a great republic actually fell. Episodes here should make everyone in the United States of 2021—left, right, and center—ask themselves: are my people contributing to the disaster? A fair-minded reader will see parallels to Trump, but also to the urban riots, to government spending designed to win popular acclaim, to economic idiocy, and to the fecklessness of politicians of every stripe,” says McConnell.
David Mills, Professor of the Practice of Law, recommends How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton combines two unlikely genres—literary biography and self-help manual—in the hilarious and unexpectedly practical How Proust Can Change Your Life.
Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Professor of Law and Justin M. Roach, Jr. Faculty Scholar, recommends The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell, and Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
“Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness was an unexpected delight. Montgomery introduces the reader to the distinctive octopuses she got to know at the New England Aquarium and in the ocean, and to the people who love them. Informative, entertaining, and an opportunity to reflect on the world through very different eyes.
“I also recommend Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, which tells the improbable story of Virginia Hall. She served as a British field agent organizing Resistance groups in occupied France during WWII, overcoming the challenges of serving in an old-boys-club network as an American woman with a disability (she used a wooden prosthetic leg).
“Finally, I only recently discovered Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-volume work of historical fiction focused on the life of a Catholic woman in medieval Norway. Undset won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature because of this work, but the novel has only gained popularity in English after Tiina Nunnally’s new translation was completed in 2000. Even with its depictions of medieval Norwegian farm life, the book feels surprisingly modern, from its strong and complicated female lead to the arrival of a deadly pandemic,” says Ouellette.
A. Mitchell Polinsky, Josephine Scott Crocker Professor of Law and Economics, recommends The Force by Don Winslow
“Don Winslow wrote an amazing trilogy of historical fiction about the Mexican drug wars. Totally engrossing. I enjoyed them so much that I started looking for another Winslow read. This book is about corrupt detectives in the New York City Police Department and is very good too,” says Polinsky.
Robert Rabin, A. Calder Mackay Professor of Law, recommends The Promise by Damon Galgut
“A striking family history, by a South African author, premised on the deathbed promise of land by a white family matriarch to a faithful black family caretaker, revealing the conflicting sentiments of her three surviving adult children and the society in which they live. It won the 2021 Booker Prize, deservedly so,” says Rabin.
Shirin Sinnar, Professor of Law and John A. Wilson Faculty Scholar, recommends Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm by Kazu Haga
“I appreciated reading Kazu Haga’s Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm. Haga is a longtime social justice activist and trainer of Nonviolence in the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He offers a philosophical approach interspersed with personal narrative related to dismantling social oppression while attending to individual trauma. He argues that social justice movements often recreate harm within their own ranks, and that aspiring to a vision of what Dr. King called “beloved community” requires the disciplined practice of nonviolence, the recognition that accountability and shaming are not the same thing, and the maintenance of hope and a long view on justice,” says Sinnar.
David Alan Sklansky, Stanley Morrison Professor of Law, recommends Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit and I Live a Life Like Yours by Jan Grue
“Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses. This is a book by one of the best essayists writing in English today about one of the best essayists whoever wrote in English. It’s full of insight about Orwell, about political struggle, about class biases, and about roses. It’s a lot of fun to read, and it leaves you smarter and more inspired.
“Jan Grue’s I Live a Life Like Yours. Grue is a Norwegian writer who has used a wheelchair most of his life. His memoir has lots of sharp and interesting things to say about our relationships with our bodies, our ideas about disability, and living a life that is independent but enmeshed with the lives of others,” says Sklansky.
David M. Studdert, Professor of Medicine (PCOR/CHP) and Professor of Law, recommends Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
“Crossroads is Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, and the first part of the new trilogy. Like many of Franzen’s books, the story focuses on a dysfunctional, mid-Western family—the Hildebrants. Each member has their own chaotic, inner life. A recurring theme is what altruism means, and whether doing good can ever really be separated from naked self-interest. (Spoiler alert: Definitely not for this collection of characters!),” says Studdert.
Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson, Jr., Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law, JD/MBA ’76 (BA ’72), recommends Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell
“Continuing my progress through the American presidents, I’ve made my way to Richard Nixon. John Farrell’s Richard Nixon: The Life is riveting and amazingly objective about the president who, before Donald Trump, was most adept at tapping into the grievances of the “Silent Majority” who felt neglected by mainstream politicians, universities, the press, and other elite institutions—the ‘effete corps of impudent snobs,’ to quote Spiro Agnew,” says Thompson.
Beth Van Schaack, Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights, recommends The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers and Home Fire: A Novel by Kamila Shamsie
“I am really loving The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, an intergenerational story of trauma, identity, and racial consciousness in America. My daughter—a college freshman who is in a “Great Books” course at the moment—and I are also reading Home Fire: A Novel by Kamila Shamsie, a modern adaptation of the Antigone fable,” says Van Schaack.