Summer Reading for Law Nerds

Since there is nothing much happening today, law-wise anyway, and since we are now full-blown into summer, I thought I would take advantage of the lull to throw out the names of a couple of really good law-related books I have been reading lately. No, I don't think by any stretch we could call most of them "beach books" but they still are worth checking out for those of you who are interested in all things legal (and you must be, if you are reading this).

"When Courts and Congress Collide" is the well-timed book by Charles Garder Geyh (University of Michigan Press). It is not a light read but it is relevant and interesting, especially in light of the tensions betwen Congress and the Supreme Court this past week in the wake of the Guantanamo Bay ruling last Thursday. Geyh's hypothesis? That there is a "dynamic equilibrium" that keeps a reasonable balance of power between the two branches of government.

"The Most Democratic Branch--How the Courts Serve America" (Oxford) is law professor and legal writer Jeffrey Rosen's latest book. I am a huge fan of his work-- I think he is one of the brightest legal commentators of our time (and he's a great writer, too). While I'm not sure I buy the thesis of the book-- he argues that the Supreme Court had done well for itself by generally hewing to public sentiment, by not getting out too far in front of what the American public is willing to accept. This is a short book, 210 small pages long, and if you really wanted to you could probably crank it out in a day (as long as you don't have your kids around).

"Public Enemies" (Penguin) by Bryan Burroughs is not a new book. I have it in paperback. But it's tale of "America's greatest crime wave and the birth of the FBI, 1933-34" is absolutely precious reading. Anyone interested in true crime, law enforcement, legal history and just about anything associated with gangsters would love this book. And, really, of the five books mentioned here, it is the only one that would NOT get you laughed off a beach.

On the other hand, don't look for "James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights" (Oxford) by Richard Labunski to show up on Oprah's Book Club anytime soon. But this is a good book about how the Bill of Rights came to be and perhaps those first ten amendments to the Constitution may mean in this age of terrorism. This is the sort of book that ends up being cited by politicians on one side of the argument or the other so if you want to be ahead of that game, read it yourself.

Finally, my favorite of the season. "Death in the Haymarket" (Pantheon) by James Green, a vital look at one of the most controversial crimes of the 19th century, the bombing at a labor rally in Chicago that killed seven policement and greatly affected the law, politics and the economics of the time. Several people had recommended the book to me and now I can see why. The subtitle: "A story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America" just about says it all. It's a little dense at times with the inner-working of the socialist movement (even that sentence sounds dense, right?) but it is still worth it. I hope Green wins an award for this work. It deserves it.

Now send me YOUR law-related favorite books and I will compile a list. Take care and have a safe and happy holiday. I will check back with you guys on Wednesday.

By Andrew Cohen |  July 3, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
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According to, the subtitle of the book "The Most Democratic Branch" is actually "How the Courts SERVE America" not how they "Save" America. Freudian slip much?

Posted by: Kate | July 5, 2006 11:27 AM

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