What makes a good lawyer's library? What books—what 40 books, say—should every attorney read before he goes to that great big law library in the sky? What constitutes the JD canon?
To answer these questions, we compiled a list of more than a hundred law-related books in half a dozen categories—from Classic Literature (Shakespeare, Melville) to Legal Theory (Tribe, Holmes).
Are our final choices debatable? No. Everyone knows lists of this sort are utterly objective and beyond question. These are the books you must read. The essentials. Bar none. Unless, of course, you know of any other good ones, in which case, let us know. We're always on the lookout for a good read.
The Merchant of Venice
William Shakespeare (c. 1594)
One of the master's most performed plays is at its core a contract dispute over a loan—with the merchant's life hanging in the balance. The heroine, Portia, disguises herself as a lawyer and saves her client on a technicality. But it is her eloquent speech about the "quality of mercy" that we remember. Portia argues that when justice is seasoned by mercy, it transcends earthly power and takes on a force more like God's.
Charles Dickens (1852-53)
Dickens goes after the English legal system—pretty much all of it—in what some call his finest work, a sad story about two innocent children who grow old as the settlement of their inheritance grinds through the courts. Just how rotten is the system? By the time the matter is resolved, legal fees have eaten up the children's fortune—and their lives.
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