Sunday, July 29, 2012

Books I've Been Reading Lately

Inspired by my IU colleague (from the McKinney Law School in Indianapolis) Gerard Magliocca, I just finished reading Merlo J. Pusey's Pulitzer Prize-winning, two-volume biography of Charles Evans Hughes, though one of the outstanding figures of the twentieth century, is hardly known today outside of constitutional law circles. He was, first, a brilliant lawyer before becoming Governor of New York, then an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. He stepped down from that office to become Secretary of State in the administration of Warren G. Harding, only later to be reappointed as Chief Justice of the United States by President Hoover (following a brief stint as judge on the World Court). Pusey's biography is rather brilliant, but borders on hagiography; he portrays Hughes as the sum of all perfections. A great man he surely was, but I prefer my biographical portrayals with warts and all.

Speaking of my colleague, Gerard Magliocca, I have just started reading, in manuscript, his very fine biography of John Bingham, the Republican congressman who, among his other notable achievements, drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which as Gerard quite rightly notes, is the single "most important sentence in the Constitution." 
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Gerard's book will be published later this year by New York University Press. 

Sandra F. Joireman, Where There Is No Government: Enforcing Property Rights in Common Law Africa (Oxford 2011). An interesting exploration of comparative enforcement of formal (common) law rules v. customary law in Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana. Joireman observes that informal, customary norms are not always superior to formal legal rules imposed from the outside; in some cases they may be predatory and reinforce inequitable power relations. A very interesting study based on high-quality analysis.

In addition to these books, I've been reading various classic works of political theory with a Workshop reading group, including various works by John Adams and, currently, Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. I've also been reading Vincent Ostrom's collected works, which I'll report on separately in later post.

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