Stanford Law School’s 2024 Summer Faculty Reading List

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Looking for a good book or two to dig into this summer? Now in its thirteenth year, the Stanford Law School faculty’s Summer Reading List offers up some of our professors’ favorite reads.

Ralph Richard Banks, Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of Law, recommends Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Ghosted by Nancy French, and Becoming Abolitionist by Derecka Purnell

Stanford Law School's 2024 End-of-Year Faculty Reading List

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I’d recommend Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, a book I read on the recommendation of a friend, largely because of the ghostwriter. The ghostwriter also wrote Open, the Andre Agassi autobiography, and also his own memoir Tender Bar. All three included fabulous storytelling and vivid scenes and personalities.

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And two very different books, both memoirs about political dynamics, yet written from different vantage points. Ghosted by Nancy French (who is the wife of my law school classmate, David French), and Becoming Abolitionist by Derecka Purnell. These authors would not agree on much, but they are both deeply concerned about the state of our nation. Derecka Purnell recounts her development as a lawyer and activist focused on the police killings of Black people and the carceral state that enables such horrors. Nancy French describes her career as an extraordinarily successful ghost writer for Republican politicians and public figures, only to break with the party as Donald Trump came to power. Both stories are richly and well told. Their contrasting perspectives provide a reason to read them both.

John J. Donohue, C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, recommends Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond, Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkman, and Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson

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Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, by America is worth reading. While some may be turned off by the somewhat hectoring tone directed purely towards the more affluent, the book still conveys a valuable message that public policy is often more protective of the rich (e.g., the mortgage interest deduction, the carried interest tax loophole, restrictive zoning restrictions) than the poor. Good citizens need to be reminded that some policies that help them individually are not socially beneficial, and that the society as a whole will gain if at times they support measures that are privately costly but that advance the public interest.

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Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkman, is a thought-provoking analysis of the need to mindfully consider how we allocate our time during our roughly 4,000 weeks of life.

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk is quite illuminating of both the strengths and weaknesses of this titan of industry. One gets the sense that his jaw-droppingly awful father and grandfather (much like the father of the Koch Brothers) have inflicted lasting damage—certainly environmentally and perhaps genetically—on the world’s richest man.

Evelyn Douek, Assistant Professor of Law, recommends Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer and Exhalation by Ted Chiang

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Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, starting with Annihilation, currently has me hooked and would make good absorbing summer reading, just in time for a new installation to come out in October. And while I’m on sci-fi recommendations, I’m jealous of anyone that hasn’t read Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, because they get to read Ted Chiang’s Exhalation for the first time!




Henry T. Greely, Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law, recommends The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier, Fighting Traffic by Peter D. Norton, Thunder at Twilight by Frederic Morton, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, and Stanford’s Wallace Sterling: Portrait of a Presidency: 1949-1968 by Roxane Nilan and Cassius Kirk

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First, science fiction (sort of?): Hervé Le Tellier, The Anomaly. This 2021 novel won the Goncourt Prize—and then sold more than one million copies. I can’t say much without spoilers but after a first third introducing us to many characters, something extraordinary happens to them. I’ve read sci-fi and fantasy for over 60 years and have never seen this smart and clever form of this idea.

Second, science, technology, and society: Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age. Yes, it’s an academic book and with some sociological/STS jargon, but I found it fascinating. It’s about how the U.S. invented the rules of the road, traffic signs, stop lights, and more in the 1920s. We are not the first era to have to figure new things out!

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Third, history: Frederic Morton, Thunder at Twilight, Vienna in 1913-1914. What a time, what a place, and how well painted! Trotsky, Hitler, Stalin, Freud, Lenin, the Old Emperor, the start of World War I, and more, beautifully depicted.

Fourth, local history in novel form: Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City. Peak (in some ways) San Francisco in 1976-77. Before AIDS. It was originally serialized in the S.F. Chronicle, where I read it while spending my free time in the area. Sweet, funny, and now nostalgic.

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And, fifth, some very local history: Roxane Nilan and Cassius Kirk, Stanford’s Wallace Sterling: Portrait of a Presidency: 1949-1968. It’s long, it’s expensive, it weighs a lot—and it’s the story of Stanford’s rise from a good regional school to a national, and eventually international, leader, told through the life of the President who played a huge role in that climb. Plus, it has a lot of great Stanford photos. If you really bonded with the Farm, you need to read this!


Robert Gordon, Professor of Law, Emeritus, recommends Freedom’s Dominion by Jefferson Cowie and Antonin Scalia and American Constitutionalism by Edward A. Purcell, Jr.

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Jefferson Cowie, Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power (Basic Books, 2002)

This is a local history, but on a grand scale. Its setting is Barbour County, Alabama and its principal town, Eufaula, on the Chattahoochee River, a major site of cotton plantations, and the birthplace of George Wallace. Cowie traces the county’s history through removal of Creek tribes, the growth of slavery, the Nullification crisis, Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction, the replacement of slavery with convict sharecropping and convict labor, the Civil Rights movement, and the retreat from civil rights in recent decades. The book is a meditation on the many meanings of freedom and compellingly written. It won the Pulitzer Prize in History.

Edward A. Purcell, Jr. Antonin Scalia and American Constitutionalism: The Historical Significance of a Judicial Icon (Oxford University Press, 2020)

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Edward Purcell is a distinguished legal historian, probably best known for his learned histories of the diversity jurisdiction and the Brandeis and the Progressive Constitution: Erie, the Judicial Power, and the Politics of the Federal Courts in Twentieth-Century America doctrine. This book is also deeply learned, but a learned polemic. Purcell has read all of Scalia’s 900+ opinions, read them carefully, and concludes that they are filled with contradictions, and that their reliance on the justice’s signature methods of textualism and originalism are highly selective and display a consistency more ideological than theoretical. Of course this is not at all a new charge, but Purcell’s evidence is so careful and detailed, and his tour of the cases so clearly and interestingly conducted, that it is well worth dipping into, and once your attention is secured, reading in full.

Deborah R. Hensler, Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution, recommends It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

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Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here for obvious reasons.




Pamela Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, recommends Punish Treason, Reward Loyalty by Mark Graber, Vision by David Tatel and The World by Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Mark Graber’s Punish Treason, Reward Loyalty: The Forgotten Goals of Constitutional Reform after the Civil War. In an important way, Graber’s book turns the fourteenth amendment upside down. Instead of the equal protection and due process clauses of section 1 taking center stage, Graber focuses on sections 2, 3, and 4 (only the middle of which is now in the public consciousness, after the events of 2020 and 2021 that culminated in the assault on the Capitol). He argues that the Fourteenth Amendment was primarily designed to ensure that Republicans, committed to legislative supremacy and racial equality, would retain power in the face of southern states’ return to the union.

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David Tatel, Vision: A Memoir of Blindness and Justice. Coming out in June, this book is at the top of my list of things to read this summer. Tatel is a marvelous writer and story teller and one of the greatest judges of his generation. I first met him when I was a summer student at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and he was heading a desegregation practice at Hogan & Hartson and he has remained an inspiration and wise counselor ever since.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, The World: A Family History of Humanity. It’s hard to describe this 1200+ page book. It’s a history of the world filtered through discussions dynasties and families from the House of Ramesses in ancient Egypt through the Medici to the Kenyattas, the Kennedys, the Nehrus, the Bushes, and the Trumps. I pick it up several times a week and just dip into a chapter or so. It’s an amazing work of scholarship.

Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law, recommends Free Speech by Jacob Mchangama and The Wager by David Grann

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Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media, by Jacob Mchangama. This may be the best single book to read if you want to learn about the controversies and concepts of freedom of speech from a global and historical (not just American constitutional) perspective—and it is a lively read, as well.

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Murder, and Mystery, by David Grann. This non-fiction book, based on primary sources (including a written account by Lord Byron’s grandfather), reads like a swashbuckling adventure story—a better read than Mutiny on the Bounty. It recounts in vivid detail the ill-starred voyage of a royal navy vessel named The Wager around Cape Horn in 1741, culminating in mutiny on an uninhabited spot off the coast of Chile.

David Mills, Professor of the Practice of Law, recommends Determined by Robert Sapolsky

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“If you ever thought free will existed, you won’t.”




Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Deane F. Johnson Professor of Law, recommends There There by Tommy Orange, Judgment at Tokyo by Gary Bass, Eve by Cat Bohannon and The Best Minds by Jonathan Rosen

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Tommy Orange’s There There, suggested by two of my students, is one of the best works of fiction I have read in a while. It features an ensemble of contemporary Native characters set in the Bay Area. I eagerly await my turn on the library audiobook waitlist for it’s sequel, Wandering Stars, which was released this spring.

Gary Bass’ Judgment at Tokyo recounts the post-WWII prosecution of Japanese war crimes and their connection to the Cold War and Asian politics. This book reminded me of Philippe Sands’ East West Street, another fascinating read about the development of international human rights law through the Nuremberg trials. Before one of my IP students suggested Judgment at Tokyo, I knew hardly anything about the corresponding Tokyo trials.

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Cat Bohannon’s Eve offers an engrossing examination of evolution from a female-centric perspective. Did you know that only humans and some whales have menopause, or thought about why? If you were listing early hominids’ most important inventions, would you have thought about gynecology?

Finally, Jonathan Rosen’s The Best Minds thoughtfully recounts the story of the author’s childhood best friend, Michael Laudor. Laudor once celebrated for destigmatizing schizophrenia and graduating from Yale Law School (with a movie in progress in which he would be played by Brad Pitt), was institutionalized in 1998 after killing his pregnant fiancée. Rosen uses this story as a lens to examine society’s broader failures in addressing mental illness.

Robert L. Rabin, A. Calder Mackay Professor of Law, recommends Life & Times of Michael K . by J.M. Coetzee

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Robert L. Rabin recommends J.M. Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K., which won the Booker Prize for 1983. Coetzee is not everyone’s cup of tea. He writes evocatively in a pared-down style with his own distinctive sense of humanity. But there is a strangeness to his world view that either feels very compelling or is a turn-off. This novel features a somewhat physically disfigured protagonist, who seeks to fulfill his mother’s last wishes to return before dying to the idyllic farmland home where she was raised. He journeys through a hostile, war-torn environment to a landscape attuned to the small consolations of his solitary personae.


Michael S. Wald, Professor of Law Emeritus, recommends An Unfinished Love Story by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Doris Kearns Goodwin, An Unfinished Love Story, is a portrait of Richard Goodwin, a major figure in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the 1960s, who was an extraordinary person—and Doris Kearns’ husband. It provides fascinating insights into the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson, as well as of Goodwin himself, and an insider’s view of how many of the most important policy decisions were made under Kennedy and Johnson. The material is drawn from a review of almost 300 boxes of Richard Goodwin’s personal files from the 1960s. It also draws from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s close relationship with Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson during the time he was President.