American Legal History Top Ten Booklist

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America's Constitution: A Biography

These are our Top Ten legal history books. Why do we like these books? Besides being awesome, we believe that these are some of the most exciting legal history books we have read. These books helped us think about legal history in new ways. Excitement and legal history are terms that are rarely used together, but after you read these books we hope you feel the same way as we do. As with any of our booklists, we have included some caveats and explanations for our selections.

First, Camille Walsh, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington - Bothell, ably assisted us in developing this booklist. We can safely say that the best selections on this list are hers. If you are reading any of the books on this list and say to yourself "WOW!!" please thank Camille because she probably picked it.

Second, we have not included any books by Lawrence M. Friedman and Morton J. Horowitz. Yes, this is a travesty of epic proportions. They are not on our list because they show up on every single legal history booklist. Their books are the Citizen Kanes of legal history: they are important and worth reading, but there is a good chance you already know about them. Several of Friedman's legal history books are classics (American Law in the Twentieth Century, A History of American Law, and Crime and Punishment in American History). Friedman is incredibly prolific, and he has also published another twenty books on law and legal history. In fact, there is a very good chance that he wrote and published another book while you were reading this paragraph.

On the other hand, Morton J. Horowitz wrote the important and controversial two volume series The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 and 1870-1960. Both of these books are recognized classics. The first book in the series was published in 1977 and won the Bancroft Prize. Both of the books are essential, but you probably already knew that.

Third, these books are in no particularly order. We do not think that number 1 is any better than number 10.

  1. Barbara Young Welke, Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920 (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  2. Akhil Reed Amar, America's Constitution: A Biography (Turtleback Books, 2006)
  3. William J. Novak, The People's Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press, 1996)
  4. James Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro (Vintage, 1995)
  5. Kermit L. Hall, The Magic Mirror: Law in American History (2nd Ed. Oxford University Press, 2008)
  6. Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2011)
  7. Ariela Gross, What Blood Won't Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (Harvard University Press, 2008)
  8. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  9. Michael J. Klarman, Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2007)
  10. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press, 2012)