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Lat's Legal Library (10.2023): Under Threat
Important new books identify dangers posed by the Supreme Court, right-wing extremism, left-wing wokeness, cancel culture, and Big Tech.
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It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is just a month away—and then it’s time for holiday shopping. Books make great gifts, so here’s an overdue installment of Lat’s Legal Library (LLL), in which I highlight noteworthy new books about or related to the law. This time around, I use the term “new” advisedly; the titles featured here were published after the last LLL, but since that came out in late February, some of these books have been around for a bit.
Given how much time has passed, I’m making this a double edition and highlighting 20 titles instead of the usual ten. I have winnowed this list down from books brought to my attention through media coverage, reader recommendations, or pitches by publicists and authors—and I had to do quite a bit of winnowing, since there were far more than 20 books worth mentioning. As usual with LLL, I have read some but not all of them. Here they are:
The Exchange: After The Firm, by John Grisham. There’s just one fiction title on this list, but it’s a big one. More than 30 years after The Firm (1991), which launched his literary career and put legal thrillers on the map, Grisham is out with a sequel starring Mitch McDeere, now a Biglaw partner in Manhattan—and confronting a sinister plot with international implications.
Nine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Court's Drive to the Right and Its Historic Consequences, by Joan Biskupic. If you’re trying, like many of us, to figure out which way SCOTUS is headed, pick up what Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times praises as an “informative, briskly paced, and gracefully written book,” by a veteran Supreme Court correspondent and biographer of multiple justices with unparalleled access to inside sources.
The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic, by Stephen Vladeck. It’s not common for books about the Supreme Court to hit the Times bestseller list. But few such books are, as expert SCOTUS watcher Linda Greenhouse puts it, “essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how today’s Court really works.” Vladeck argues that the Court’s use of the emergency aka shadow docket is a threat to transparency, accountability, and ultimately the rule of law.
The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America, by Michael Waldman. The longtime leader of the Brennan Center for Justice takes a deep dive into the Court’s contentious and consequential 2021-2022 Term, producing what Jeffrey Toobin calls “a compelling historical, political, and legal case against the current Supreme Court,” focused on conservative justices who “have already damaged the lives of countless Americans and are poised to wreak more havoc.”
Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, by Jeffrey Toobin. In his own book about the perils of extremism, the legal correspondent turned bestselling author “draws a straight line from McVeigh, whose crime has been understood sometimes as an isolated act of lunatic savagery, to the right-wing extremists who imperil us today”—according to Scott Turow, who hails Homegrown as Toobin’s “finest work.”
The Court at War: FDR, His Justices, and the World They Made, by Cliff Sloan. In the words of Professor Robert Tsai, “At a time when the constitutional order feels archaic, and the Supreme Court is once again firmly in the hands of appointees from a single party, many observers are mining past periods of consensus and progress for understanding—and perhaps inspiration. [Sloan’s book] is a highly readable contribution to this trend.” Sloan contends that the successes and failures of what he calls the “War Court” provide “important lessons today, in a time of convulsive change at the Supreme Court.”
Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer's Pursuit of Equal Justice for All, by Robert L. Tsai. In his own important new book, Professor Tsai uses four landmark SCOTUS cases to explore the legal legacy of Stephen Bright, a leading opponent of capital punishment and racial inequality in the criminal justice system. According to Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Demand the Impossible is a “beautifully written,” “compelling account of how Stephen Bright fought for justice.”
Scalia: Rise to Greatness, 1936 to 1986, by James Rosen. The story of the Court is also the story of individual women and men—and few loom larger than the late Justice Antonin Scalia, with several current justices claiming his mantle. This first volume of a planned two-part biography by reporter and historian James Rosen is, as Professor Benjamin Waterhouse puts it, “an unapologetic ode to the man behind the doctrine,” as well as “an intriguing dissection of the conservative legal mind and the world in which it incubated.”
Judgment and Mercy: The Turbulent Life and Times of the Judge Who Condemned the Rosenbergs, by Martin J. Siegel. Turning to the lower federal courts, Siegel’s bio of his former boss, S.D.N.Y. and Second Circuit Judge Irving Kaufman, is what Floyd Abrams describes as a “scrupulously fair and continually fascinating” of a jurist who deserves to be known for more than just the Rosenberg case.
Baby Ninth Amendments: How Americans Embraced Unenumerated Rights and Why It Matters, by Anthony B. Sanders. Turning to the states, did you know that two-thirds of state constitutions have their own versions of the U.S. Constitution’s Ninth Amendment, which protect unenumerated rights? Sanders, a longtime lawyer at the Institute for Justice, “takes us through the architecture, theory, and ideology of these ‘baby ninth amendments’ to reveal a truly new way of thinking about the scope of governmental power,” according to Professor Dan Rodriguez.
After Misogyny: How the Law Fails Women and What to Do about It, by Julie Suk. Per Publishers Weekly, “In this intriguing scholarly treatise, [Suk] documents how the law protects men’s ‘overentitlement’ and ‘overempowerment’ and examines efforts to correct the problem through constitutional reform…. a well-informed and actionable diagnosis of one of society’s most persistent ills.”
Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice, by Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow. The founders of the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU Law have written what Kirkus Reviews praises as “a must-read for anyone seeking guidance on how to foster positive communication about identity” in these fraught times.
The Origins of Woke: Civil Rights Law, Corporate America, and the Triumph of Identity Politics, by Richard Hanania. For those who feel that society’s focus on identity has gone too far, Hanania has penned what Professor Tyler Cowen lauds as “a pathbreaking analysis of how law has helped to create the culture wars of recent times,” as well as “one of the most important books of this year.”
The Canceling of the American Mind: Cancel Culture Undermines Trust and Threatens Us All―But There Is a Solution, by Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott. Wokeness on the left and censoriousness on the right have given rise to the scourge that is cancel culture. Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and Schlott, a columnist at the New York Post, have written a “riveting book [that] presents compelling stories about cancel culture and its devastating impact on a wide range of Americans,” according to former ACLU president Nadine Strossen.
The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology, by Nita Farahany. It’s not just freedom of speech that’s under threat; freedom of thought is as well, thanks to neurotechnological tools full of both promise and peril. A law professor who’s also an expert in neuroscience, Farahany has written what Ronald Bailey of Reason commends as “a superb introduction to how rapidly advancing neurotech can either enhance or undermine free minds.”
Unwired: Gaining Control over Addictive Technologies, by Gaia Bernstein. Staying on the theme of the threats posed by emerging technologies, Bernstein’s book is a “trenchant clarion call” about technology addiction that “rings loud and clear,” according to Publishers Weekly.
The Legal Tech Ecosystem: Innovation, Advancement & the Future of Law Practice, by Colin S. Levy. If you’ll allow me to quote my own blurb, “A leading voice in the world of legal technology, Levy has written a thoughtful, wide-ranging, and invaluable guide to the increasingly important field of legal tech.”
Bizarro: The Surreal Saga of America’s Secret War on Synthetic Drugs and the Florida Kingpins It Captured, by Jordan S. Rubin. Returning to the theme of addiction, former narcotics prosecutor Rubin has written a page-turner about “how Congress, the Justice Department, and some judges threw aside some of America’s most treasured legal principles in the effort to shut down the market for new drugs,” per former House Judiciary Committee lawyer Eric Sterling.
The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Cross-Examination, by Samuel A. Stern. A former federal and state prosecutor, Stern offers what former Roscoe C. Howard Jr., former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, dubs “a master class in cross-examination.”
Your Invisible Network: How to Create, Maintain, and Leverage the Relationships That Will Transform Your Career, by Michael Urtuzuástegui Melcher. The more time I spend following in the legal profession, the more I realize the importance of not just what you know, but whom you know. A Stanford Law grad turned executive coach and leadership expert, Melcher offers readers “immediate practical steps for achieving your career potential” in a book that’s also “a fascinating, engaging, entertaining read,” per George Stephanopoulos.
I hope you’ve appreciated this quick survey of the legal literary landscape. Authors put untold amounts of time and effort into their books, so I hope you’ll support them by buying and reading their wonderful work.
The next installment of LLL will probably appear in the new year. As always, I welcome nominations, but please note the timeframe: the book should ideally have been published after this roundup but before the next one. I maintain this temporal limitation because the number of law-related books I could possibly recommend would be overwhelming otherwise. To suggest a book, you can email me or post in the comments—where I also welcome recommendations of law-related books from any time period. Thanks!
Disclosures: First, I received review copies of a few of these books. Second, if you click on the title of any book, it will take you to a Google Doc containing affiliate links, which you can click on to purchase the book in question from Amazon (and I might receive a small commission).
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