Lat's Legal Library (07.2021): Heroes And Villains

A first-class legal thriller, a superb judicial biography, and other notable new books about the law.

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, and you can register to receive updates on this signup page.

Welcome to the latest edition of Lat’s Legal Library (LLL), a recurring feature here at Original Jurisdiction in which I highlight noteworthy new books about or related to the law. As explained in the inaugural installment, LLL represents my attempt to help law-related books find an audience (which I’ve been doing for years, through both author interviews and book reviews in print publications).

The lazy days of summer offer a great time to catch up on your reading, and a book makes for excellent company if you’re hanging out by the beach or the pool. So here are eight buzz-generating books for your consideration:

  • While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams. Is there anything that Stacey Abrams can’t do? If she can make Georgia vote blue in a presidential election, surely she can pen a New York Times #1 bestseller—which is what While Justice Sleeps became, shortly after its publication in May. Television rights have already been sold, as have two additional novels by Abrams featuring Avery Keene, the protagonist of While Justice Sleeps. No less an authority than Scott Turow praises the novel as “a first-class legal thriller, favorably compared to many of the best, starting with The Pelican Brief, which it brings to mind. It’s fast-paced and full of surprises—a terrific read."

  • The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America's Judicial Hero, by Peter S. Canellos. Justice Harlan is one of the great figures of Supreme Court and really American history—there’s a reason our son is named Harlan1—and Canellos, who previously wrote a bestselling book about Ted Kennedy, has now written the definitive biography of this iconic jurist. The reviews have been rapturous: “superb” (The Guardian), “riveting” (Kirkus), and “masterful” (Publishers Weekly). As Jennifer Szalai writes in the New York Times, “Solidly accessible and thoroughly researched, it makes a persuasive case for Harlan’s significance and sometimes reads like a mystery.” (For more about the The Great Dissenter, listen to this interview of Canellos by David French and Sarah Isgur of the Advisory Opinions podcast, who both have nothing but praise for the book.)

  • Kennedy's Avenger: Assassination, Conspiracy, and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby, by Dan Abrams and David Fisher. The authors of multiple bestsellers about historic courtroom battles with political implications—most recently John Adams Under Fire (2020), about the Boston Massacre murder trial—this time Abrams and Fisher chronicle the 1964 trial of Jack Ruby for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Reviewing the book for NPR, Gabino Iglesias commends its “clear, straightforward writing” and “superb research,” which make for a “riveting courtroom drama that feels as alive as it did it 1964—and that reminds readers that there was a second shot heard, and seen, around the world.”

  • Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department, by Elie Honig. Attorney General Bill Barr was one of the most controversial members of the Trump cabinet, with numerous detractors and defenders. If you count yourself among the former, consider checking out Honig’s book, which Dan Abrams describes as “a fresh, devastating, yet easily understandable case against the former attorney general.” According to Preet Bharara—Honig’s former boss, during his time in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York—Hatchet Man is “endlessly readable and entertaining…. With a mixture of humor, analysis, and expert storytelling, Elie has written much more than a compelling takedown of an unfit attorney general; he also offers a blueprint for how impartial and apolitical justice should be administered in America.”

  • Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story, by Julie K. Brown. As an investigative journalist with the Miami Herald, Brown published an exposé of Epstein that rocked the nation, gave rise to a new prosecution of the notorious sexual predator (who subsequently may or may not have killed himself), and led to the resignation of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta (who authorized Epstein’s original, much-criticized plea agreement). In Perversion of Justice, which Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times describes as “a gripping journalistic procedural, sort of Spotlight meets Erin Brockovich,” Goldberg gives us the story behind the story.

  • Lakefront: Public Trust and Private Rights in Chicago, by Joseph D. Kearney and Thomas W. Merrill. Why does Chicago have such a magnificent public waterfront? As it turns out, the law—specifically, the modern public trust doctrine—deserves some (but far from all) of the credit, as the two eminent legal scholars explain. My former property professor, Robert Ellickson, heralds Kearney and Merrill—the Dean of Marquette University Law School and the Charles Evans Hughes Professor of Law at Columbia, respectively—as “role models for work in urban history,” based on their “[c]onsistently painstaking, judicious, and readable” book. (For more about Lakefront, listen to this interview of Kearney and Merrill by Lee Rawles for the Modern Law Library podcast.)

  • The Engagement: America's Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage, by Sasha Issenberg. Law also played an important role in the fight for marriage equality—which was a political and even financial battle as well, as Issenberg details in what Eric Cervini in the New York Times lauds as '“a lively, encyclopedic survey of the struggle for marriage equality.”

  • Dissent: The Radicalization of the Republican Party and Its Capture of the Court, by Jackie Calmes. As you can tell from her title, Calmes approaches the Supreme Court with a very strong point of view. If you happen to share that view, then this book, by a veteran journalist who has covered politics for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times, might be right up your alley.

Fall is a big season in publishing, so I have high hopes for the coming months. If you have a suggestion for a book for me to feature in a future edition of Lat’s Legal Library, please email me at 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!

Disclosure: 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, Jeff Bezos sends me some chunk of change from the sale.


I consider our son to be named after both Justices Harlan, but Zach focuses more on the second Justice Harlan.

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