Lat's Legal Library (01.2022): Murder Most Foul
Three novels about deaths and disappearances, two children's books by legal celebrities, and one HLS grad's bestselling memoir.
Welcome to Original Jurisdiction, the latest legal publication by me, David Lat. You can learn more about Original Jurisdiction by reading its About page, you can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can subscribe by clicking on the button below.
I’m guessing that you, like me, didn’t manage to purchase any items from the auction of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personal library. The auction wound up netting $2.4 million, some 3,800 times the presale low estimate of $60,000, and the bidding was… intense. The most expensive item, Justice Ginsburg’s annotated copy of the 1957-58 Harvard Law Review, sold for $100,312.50.
Fortunately, there are many wonderful, affordable, law-related books out in the world, just waiting to be purchased. I recently recommended two such books, Just Pursuit by Laura Coates and The Rage of Innocence by Professor Kristin Henning, which I reviewed for a cover story in the New York Times Book Review. Just Pursuit made the Times bestseller list this week, so congratulations to Coates on that achievement.
And now, here are the ten titles for the latest edition of Lat’s Legal Library, a recurring feature in which I spotlight noteworthy new books about or related to the law. They’re a diverse group—novels, academic works, a biography, a memoir, children’s books—and I hope you find at least some of them worth buying and reading.
Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy, by Jamie Raskin. Barack Obama isn’t the only Harvard Law School alum to pen a bestselling memoir. Currently #4 on the Times bestseller list, Unthinkable is by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the HLS grad turned constitutional law professor turned congressman. On December 31, 2020, Raskin lost his son Tommy to suicide. One week later, when Raskin returned to Congress to help certify the 2020 election results, violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, in an effort to give President Donald Trump four more years in office. In Unthinkable, Raskin tells the extraordinary story of how he led the second impeachment effort against President Trump while still grappling with the grief from the loss of his son. The book is, according to Professor Laurence Tribe, “a masterpiece.”
The Final Case, by David Guterson. In Guterson’s first courtroom drama since the award-winning, bestselling Snow Falling on Cedars, a father and son take up the defense of a woman accused of murdering the daughter she adopted from Ethiopia. Reviewing The Final Case in the New York Times, lawyer turned novelist Scott Turow writes that “[e]very sentence has a graceful weight and meter and is illumined by a subtle intelligence that makes his descriptions arresting but never showy,” giving rise to “a tender, closely observed, and often surprising novel.”
The Ambulance Chaser, by Brian Cuban. A murder also lies at the center of this legal thriller by Cuban, an attorney and author whose previous book, The Addicted Lawyer, explored his personal battle with alcoholism and drug addiction. The protagonist of The Ambulance Chaser, Jason Feldman, bears some similarities to Cuban, as a Pittsburgh lawyer fighting personal demons. Lisa Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, praises Cuban’s novel as “a sharp, smart legal thriller that delves into worlds lurking below the surface of the legal profession.”
Find Me, by Alafair Burke. In the latest thriller in Burke’s Ellie Hatcher series, homicide detective Hatcher joins forces with Manhattan defense lawyer Lindsay Kelly to try and find Kelly’s best friend, a young woman named Hope Miller, who has gone missing without a trace. Publishers Weekly declares that with this book, Burke “reinforces her place in the top rank of suspense writers.”
The Defense Lawyer: The Barry Slotnick Story, by James Patterson and Benjamin Wallace. Like Alafair Burke, James Patterson is the author of multiple bestselling thrillers. But in this book, co-authored with journalist Benjamin Wallace, he makes a foray into non-fiction, chronicling the colorful career of legendary defense lawyer Barry Slotnick.
Why Privacy Matters, by Neil Richards. Professor Richards, a longtime faculty member at the Washington University School of Law, is one of the world’s leading experts on privacy law. In Why Privacy Matters, he argues that reports of privacy’s death are greatly exaggerated, then offers proposals for how to protect privacy in an age when it’s certainly under attack. Professor Daniel Solove, another privacy-law guru, lauds Richards’s book as “essential reading for anyone concerned about individual identity and freedom in a world where digital technologies are spinning out of control.”
The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment: Its Letter and Spirit, by Randy Barnett and Evan Bernick. The Fourteenth Amendment is one of the Constitution’s most important yet most misunderstood provisions. Professor Randy Barnett of Georgetown Law, a leading libertarian legal scholar, and Professor Evan Bernick of NIU Law, a self-described “libertarian of the left,” want to change that. Reviewing the book in the Wall Street Journal, Judge Raymond Kethledge (6th Cir.) writes that the book’s “impressive array of historical materials makes an important contribution to our understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The First Fifteen: How Asian American Women Became Federal Judges, by Susan Oki Mollway. As President Biden prepares to announce the first Black woman nominee to the Supreme Court, diversity on the federal bench—or the lack thereof—is at the center of our national discourse. In The First Fifteen, Judge Mollway (D. Haw.), the first Asian-American woman ever appointed as an Article III judge, provides valuable historical context, telling the stories of the first 15 Asian-American women to take the federal bench. In the words of civil rights leader Karen Narasaki, “The history and stories captured by Susan Oki Mollway not only preserve an important history of Asian American women in the federal judiciary, but also hopefully encourage more Asian American and other women to put themselves forward for nomination.”
Just Help! How to Build a Better World, by Sonia Sotomayor. Speaking of pioneering female judges, Justice Sotomayor has a new children’s book out. And like Just Ask!, her last children’s book, Just Help! is already a bestseller. Per Publishers Weekly, “Generosity proves contagious in this personal portrait of community service by Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor.” (It’s not an explicitly legal book, but the theme of service is very relevant to lawyers.)
Stacey’s Extraordinary Words, by Stacey Abrams. Justice Sotomayor isn’t the only famous Yale Law School alumna with a children’s book on the bestseller lists. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is #3 on the Times bestseller list with Stacey’s Extraordinary Words, which Kirkus Reviews commends to readers as an “engaging, edifying, delightfully nerdy childhood retrospective, from one of today’s inspirational leaders.” (Again, it’s not an obviously law-related book—but lawyers, as people who spend their careers working with words, will appreciate it.)
In this age of streaming, I hope there’s still a place for reading. Please consider supporting some of the authors mentioned above by buying and reading their books.
I’m now accepting nominations for the next installment of Lat’s Legal Library, which will appear near the end of March. Your nomination should be a new book, i.e., a book published since the last installment of LLL, but also a book already available for ordering, i.e., not a forthcoming book to be pre-ordered. Thanks!
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Disclosure: As usual, the links to the books above are Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you buy one of these books after clicking on one of these links, I receive a small percentage of the revenue from the sale.
I don't know whether the book I recommend will fit your criteria - but regardless .... I nominate "The law of the sea" by Dave Gerard (aka Dov Preminger). It was published in August 2021 (hence my questioning whether it fit your criteria) but I just found out about it recently.
The story centers around the mysterious death of a deep sea diver who found a centuries old shipwreck and the courtroom drama that ensues as to owns the found. It's a great read!