Douglas BairdHarry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law
I am in the midst of the Theodore Dreiser trilogy, The Financier, The Titan, and The Stoic. It is a thinly fictionalized account of the life of Charles Yerkes, a 19th century street-car magnate, creator of the original Chicago Loop, and a major benefactor of the University of Chicago. The story takes place in the 1870s and 1880s and involves insider trading, government loans to banks, and brokers and insurance companies failing and causing financial panic. Just what you need to get away from the headlines of today.
Lisa Bernstein Wilson-Dickinson Professor of Law
House Rules by Jody Picoult. This book tells the fictional story of a single mother whose son has Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autism spectrum disorder) as is accused of a crime in part because he simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in part because of his characteristic autistic traits. The book artfully explores the intersection of autism and the law, a subject that is largely ignored in the legal academic literature. It also highlights the costs when real people as opposed to corporations are forced to encounter the legal system.
For anyone who travelled in Israel in the 1990’s, From a Sealed Room, by Rachel Kadish, is a must read. Wholly apart from the interesting characters and well developed story, the author’s prose captures an era, a mood, and a sense that hangs in the Jerusalem air known to all who frequent the city, but that have heretofore defied description.
Mary Anne CaseArnold I. Shure Professor of Law
Anthony CaseyAssistant Professor of Law
I started reading Anna Karenina simply because it was a classic that I had somehow never read. But as I have gotten deeper into it, I am seeing exactly why it is a classic. It provides a portrait of an entire society and culture—family life, class interaction, political struggles, and economic development and theory at a crucial time in the history of Russia. And it does so from the view of several compelling characters. But far from being a stale classic about a different time and place, the insights that the portrait provides are relevant today in our society reminding the reader that the human experience is not quite as changing as we sometimes believe.
Kenneth DamMax Pam Professor Emeritus of American & Foreign Law and Senior Lecturer
Sylvia Nasar, Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius. This beautifully written book deals with economic thought about macroeconomics since the mid-1800s through the lives of the great economists. The book also includes noneconomists such as Beatrice Potter Webb, who is generally regarded as the inventor of the British welfare state (with encouragement from a then-young politician named Winston Churchill). I particularly liked the book because I learned a great deal about two University of Chicago faculty members whom I came to know well as a young law professor, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. By the way, I found it interesting that Friedman was regarded as a Keynesian when he worked in FDR's Treasury Department in the 1930s. (And incidentally the life and role of John Maynard Keynes is treated brilliantly in Nasar's book.) Many of our graduates will have seen the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, which is based on the life of the mathematical economist John Forbes Nash (a Nobel Prize winner known for the Nash Equilibrium); that film was based on a book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, the author of the book I am recommending here. Become a fan of Prof. Dam on GoodReads.
Rosalind DixonAssistant Professor of Law
I have recently been reading The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes (winner of the Man Booker Prize). This is an exquisitely crafted novel about a man’s reckoning with his past—for me it is really about two things: first, whether it is better to live a peaceful but unexamined life, or a more challenging and unsettled life, based on deep searching and reflection (at Chicago, of course, there can be little doubt on which of these two is better!); and second, about how small choices can have large and unpredictable consequences, and the difficult questions of moral responsibility this can raise. The book has been described as “very English,” but the Australian and American in me still greatly enjoyed it…both for its prose and its narrative. It is also a nice short read, for those of us who are busy! Become a fan of Prof. Dixon on GoodReads.
Craig FuttermanClinical Professor of Law
Dave Eggers, What is the What: An Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. A novel/autiobiography depicting the journey of one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” from war-torn Sudan to Ethiopia and ultimately to the United States. I still don’t know how I feel about this beautifully written narrative from which I learned a good deal about Sudanese and African history. But I do know that it made me examine my own humanity in ways that I hadn’t before and that it was well worth a read.
Tom GinsburgLeo Spitz Professor of International Law and Professor of Political Science
Keith Richards’ Life is a fun read, at least for the first 2/3. The Steel Wheels tour didn’t interest me much. But in general I was struck by the Richards’ insights into music as a collective enterprise. And the ability of Jagger and Richards to maintain a partnership over many decades, despite the way in which they grew far apart.
I am now into Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. It’s a book that fits the way I teach the Comparative Legal Institutions course at Chicago: law across all time and space.
Bernard HarcourtJulius Kreeger Professor of Law & Criminology and Chair and Professor of Political Science
I’m reading Renata Salecl’s new book, Choice, which is a fascinating critique—so well-written and entertaining—of our contemporary culture of choice and the anxiety that surrounds these times. Salecl discusses the self-help industry that has burgeoned to help us deal with choosing, and all the ways in which we subvert choice in order to get it over with. Here is a delicious passage that opens the book at page 8: “Today’s advice culture presents the search for a spouse as not all that different from the search for a car: first we need to weigh up all the advantages and disadvantages, then we need to secure a prenuptial agreement, mend things if they go wrong and eventually trade in the old model for a new one, before getting tired of all the hassle of commitment and deciding to go for a temporary lease agreement.” Happy readings!
Richard HelmholzRuth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law
My current bedtime reading is: Rob Gifford, China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power (2007). It is an entertaining way for the ignorant (like me) to learn more about what has happened in China since the Cultural Revolution ended.
William Hubbard Assistant Professor of Law
The Hutchinson Atlas of Battle Plans. This is a collection of short essays, just the right length for reading over breakfast, about some of the more famous battles in history. Each essay’s goal is to illuminate the central ploy or critical error that turned the battle. As such, the Atlas provides both tidbits from the history of warfare and interesting studies of human decision making.
A. A. Milne, The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh. I try to avoid the term “children’s literature.” I read Animal Farm for the first time when I was eight years old, and, thanks to a very insistent four-year-old, I read Winnie-The-Pooh for the first time at thirty-five. I would say that was just about right.
Aziz Huq Assistant Professor of Law
The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War, by Graham Robb, persuasively challenged my preconception of France as a historically centralized state. With a picaresque take on history, Robb turns the dry tale of the French state’s surprisingly late geographic extension into an absorbing read. Robb, famous before for his Flaubert biography, also writes elegantly. By coincidence, I’ve just begun another book about state-building: Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall. Mantel tells the story of King Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell with a sympathetic eye. It is a corrective to Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons. Wolf Hall has no trace of antiquarianism. As a stylist, Mantel writes with a shocking and visceral immediacy that is contemporary, even startling. Almost as an afterthought, she paints the story of how the Tudor state developed. Become a fan of Prof. Huq on GoodReads.
Dennis Hutchinson Senior Lecturer in Law
I am re-reading, for the third or fourth time, Lord Charnwood's wonderful biography of Abraham Lincoln. Charnwood was a member of parliament in the late nineteenth century, and he was fascinated with Lincoln as politician and statesman. The book, published in 1917, is still in print, a tribute to its acute portrayal of principal figures in Lincoln's political world, and his knowing assessment of the politics of the day—even from his remove.
Alison LaCroix Professor of Law
My nonfiction recommendation is Pauline Maier’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. It’s a highly readable state-by-state narrative of a strangely understudied period in American political and constitutional history. Maier paints a vivid picture of the many uncertainties surrounding the ratification process: would there have to be a second constitutional convention to consider amendments proposed in the states? Were local assemblies and town meetings authorized to debate the merits of the Constitution? What difference did the sequence in which the state conventions met have for the way the debates unfolded? Maier’s story breathes life and speech into the familiar but amorphous concept of “we the people.” For fiction, I recently read and continue to be haunted by Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet, which interweaves several centuries of English history with the story of a mid-twentieth-century teenage girl, to exhilarating and dizzying effect.
Brian LeiterKarl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence
David Livingstone Smith, Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others. Smith is a philosopher with a strong interest in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. His book offers a gripping history of the horrific ways in which human beings have turned other humans into “sub-humans” and “beasts in human form,” from American rhetoric rationalizing African slavery, to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, to the justifications offered for the genocide in Rwanda. He identifies a key thematic in all these campaigns of dehumanization: namely, convincing the persecutors that, when it comes to the persecuted, there is a difference between being essentially human and merely appearing human. He then speculates (not always plausibly, but provocatively nonetheless) that the propensity to draw an essence/appearance distinction is a legacy of natural selection itself. One need not find the evolutionary speculation convincing to nonetheless find his synthesis of the ways in which the essence/appearance distinction figures in the rhetoric of hatred and genocide throughout history insightful and memorable.
Saul LevmoreWilliam B. Graham Distinguished Service Professor of Law
I am reading—well, listening to—Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard, an engaging book about President Garfield and his assassin, which turns out, in part, to be about Alexander Graham Bell as well as about ignorant doctors. I am also reading The Net Delusion for my Greenberg Seminar. It's a book to read when thinking about how tethered our children are to the internet, and how optimistic we might be about that irrepressible medium and the rise of democracy. But my best recommendation is Peter the Great by Peter K. Massie, which I found myself talking about with total strangers on airplanes.
Jonathan MasurAssistant Professor of Law and Herbert and Marjorie Fried Teaching Scholar
I’ve been reading Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, by David Simon. Simon spent a year embedded with the homicide division of the Baltimore Police Department, following a squad of detectives as they dealt with cases both mundane and bizarre. The book is fascinating in large part because it describes the often conflicting forces that pull on police detectives as they go about their jobs. Their superiors within the police department demand that cases be “cleared,” meaning that the police have decided who has committed a murder regardless of whether that person is ever charged; prosecutors need admissible evidence that can be used to obtain convictions or plea bargains; and the detectives themselves are often torn between their sense of duty to the police force and to the city, their desire for overtime pay, and their preference for time off. Simon depicts the colorful characters of the homicide division and their struggles with these issues in engrossing detail.
Beth Milnikel Director of The Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship and Lecturer in Law
I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall this summer (on Professor Alison LaCroix’s recommendation). I was in Europe on my choir’s concert tour, and it was particularly fascinating to imagine how the medieval cathedrals I was touring were the only Biblical “text” available for ordinary churchgoers at the time in which the book is set, when it was illegal to distribute the scriptures in the people’s native tongue. The book is a fictionalized biography (or biographized fiction?) about Thomas Cromwell, who is depicted as a lawyer’s lawyer. His ability to understand his clients better than they understand themselves and negotiate for their—and his—advancement is astounding. He is well-rounded and insightful. But there are always questions lurking about whether he has lost his own integrity in pursuing his work. I highly recommend it.
Joan NealLecturer in Law
I’ve been reading a lot of foreign fiction in translation recently. So I guess I’m not sure if I loved these books because the author is good, because the translator is good, or (more likely) both….
The first is Embers by Sandor Marai, a Hungarian writer who wrote primarily about the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This book was published in the 1940s, but recently rediscovered and translated. (Sadly, Marai’s work was suppressed in Hungary by the Communists, and only republished there after his death.) It is a very short book that recounts a conversation that occurs during one evening between two estranged old friends who have not spoken to one another in 40 years following a specific incident of betrayal (no spoilers here). Actually, it is almost a monologue, as one of the men narrates the course of their friendship, what happened and how he figured it out, while the other man primarily listens and validates the events. Although the book simply recounts a conversation between two old men, it is a page-turner, and the simple and beautiful language perfectly describe a particular time and place, as well as the complicated friendship between the two men. This is one of the best books I have read in the past year, and I intend to seek out other books by Marai now.
I also really liked To the End of the Land by David Grossman, an Israeli writer. On the eve of a planned mother-son hiking trip after the son’s completion of his military duty, the son instead voluntarily re-enlists for a new military offensive, cancelling the trip. The mother (recently separated from her husband and now again from her son) somewhat impulsively decides to go on the hike with an old friend instead. Essentially, in her mind, if she is not home to receive any “news” from the army about her son, nothing bad can happen to him—so the hike and her extended retelling of her son’s life during the course of the hike become her talisman protecting him. The language also beautifully describes the land in the Galilee through which they are hiking. The story is all the more poignant because the author’s son was killed in the Israel-Lebanon conflict while he was in the middle of writing the book.
Martha NussbaumErnst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics:
I'm currently rereading Dickens's David Copperfield, for about the fifth or sixth time. Actually, I'm listening to it as an audiobook, read by a gifted and hilarous reader, and today as I ran I reached the wonderful part where Mr. Micawber denounces Uriah Heep. I practically skipped around the track. I've been smiling so much as I run these days, both because of the book's humor and because of its generous humanity.
Dickens is childlike, compared to the sophistication of Trollope and the intellectual penetration of George Eliot. But this also means that he has access to the child in himself, to what David the narrator describes as the fresh delight in the world that children have and that a few adults manage to retain. He also has a child's sense of evil. His bad characters are nightmare figures, and grotesque in the way that dreams are grotesque. One should not forget, however, how real they also are:
I've seen the school where "Wackford Squeers" of Nicholas Nickleby tortured unwanted children; and in David Copperfield we see a range of examples of all-too-real domestic cruelty, from Mr. Murdstone, who slithers into the Copperfield household and destroys David's trusting mother, to the minor character of the gypsy woman David meets on the road, bearing telltale bruises from her abusive husband. (One thing I realized this time through is that Amy Chua's "tiger mother" view of education is neither new nor particularly Asian: it is exactly the Murdstone doctrine of "firmness.") The child's view of evil is uncompromising and unapologetic. Like the fresh delight of childhood, we lose it at our peril. But the child also understands that love can overcome evil, and the novel's most memorable characters are those who, though abused, do not succumb to bitterness or revenge: Betsey Trotwood, Daniel Peggotty, David himself. For all these reasons, reconnecting with the novel is a way of reconnecting with parts of ourselves that are fragile in a world of uncertainty.
Eric Posner Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law and Aaron Director Research Scholar
I am reading Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Rüdiger Safranski, which was recommended by Brian Leiter. The book is an ideal blend of biography, philosophy, and cultural history.
Adam SamahaProfessor of Law
Recently I finished Melville's Moby Dick (audio book), which I started during a 70-hour round-trip expedition to Tel Aviv to present an article. The subject matter seemed fitting. The reader for my version of the book, by the way, has stage-actor skills; he makes Ahab sound like a stereotypical pirate from a children's television cartoon. Amusing. Also, I am now close to finishing Augustus by Anthony Everitt (audio book), which is an easy entry into a part of world history that I knew next to nothing about. Others might find this offputting, but I appreciate the recognition of irreducible uncertainty surrounding relatively straightforward events. We might have confidence in our ability to identify significant military encounters, shifts in formal law, and major changes in societal power structures, but so much of interest remains in the fog. I recently started reading Confidence Men by Ron Suskind (Kindle), which covers important current events with glimpses of behind-the-scenes conversations between living participants, but the book is hardly the best economics primer and has a poor man's Bob Woodward quality to it. I am also starting Courtroom 302 by Steve Bogira (hardcover). This is a journalist's rendering of criminal proceedings here on the South Side of Chicago based on, more or less, hanging around a building and paying attention. It seems that this kind of reporting is increasingly rare in newspaper form, whether or not online, and the practice might have to shift into book form, whether or not electronic. In any event, the detail is gripping, illuminating, and more local and poignant than life on a whaling ship. Finally, there is a good chance that in the near future I will be rereading The Little Engine that Could (hardcover), which, when you account for the repetition within the book, creates a feeling a bit like what I imagine life is like on that whaling ship. At least the facts are fairly clear.
Michael SchillDean and Harry N. Wyatt Professor of Law
In recent months, I have read three very different books that I can recommend. Each coincidentally is related to the University of Chicago. First, is Fit to Serve by our alumnus and former Dean of Students Jim Hormel, ‘58. Jim’s book is a very interesting personal memoir of his life culminating in the controversy surrounding his appointment as the first openly gay American ambassador to a foreign nation. A second book is Information and Exclusion, by Lior Strahilevitz, Sidley Austin Professor of Law at our Law School. In the volume, Lior applies a theory of information to shed new light on a variety of laws and practices primarily but not exclusively in the areas of housing, property, and discrimination law. The third book is Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser, a graduate of our Economics Department and currently a professor of economics at Harvard University. The book argues convincingly that cities have a comparative advantage with respect to economic productivity and human flourishing. As part of his analysis Glaeser argues for policies that favor market-based development and high levels of education. Become a fan of Dean Schill on GoodReads.
Geoffrey StoneEdward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor
I just finished reading Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin. Like Larson's earlier work, Devil in the White City, In the Garden of the Beast is a great read. Also like Devil in the White City, it grows out of Hyde Park. It tells the true story of University of Chicago history professor William Dodd and his family in Nazi Germany. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt tapped Dodd to serve as the United States ambassador to Germany shortly after Hitler's rise to power. In the Garden of Beasts offers a first-hand account of Berlin at this critical moment. I recommend it highly for light but informative and engaging reading.
Laura WeinribAssistant Professor of Law
I’ve just finished reading Jamrach’s Menagerie, a novel by Carol Birch, which richly details life in the slums of nineteenth-century London and, more fanstastically, aboard a whaling ship in that industry’s waning days. At the risk of revealing too much plot, I’ll say that the book was most resonant for me in capturing the seafaring culture behind that horribly fascinating staple of criminal law casebooks: the custom of the sea.
Maria Woltjen Director of the Immigrant Child Advocacy Project and Lecturer in Law
I’m reading In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar. His book tells the story of a family living under Gaddafi in the 60’s and 70’s, from the perspective of a young boy. The boy’s father falls under suspicion and Matar’s book describes the tale of what unfolds in the neighborhood, the mistrust and betrayal amongst adults that filters down to the child. It’s an amazing book to read now, given all that’s happening in Libya.