Harvard Law faculty summer book recommendations

Looking for something to add to your summer book list? Ten HLS faculty members share what they’re reading.


I. Glenn Cohen ’03

In fiction, I just read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and have just started Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven.” In non-fiction, I just finished Jia Tolentino’s “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion,” and I am about to start Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.”


Jack Goldsmith

I’m reading a lot about the mid-second-century Christian heretic, Marcion of Sinope, and his influence on the formation of the Christian canon. Marcion believed that the Hebrew Bible God and God the father of Jesus were different deities, and he stitched together a Bible (based largely on an edited version of Paul’s letters) that de-emphasized Hebrew Bible references and influence. The Christian canon came together over several centuries as a result of many forces, but one was the early Church’s perceived need to establish canonical scripture in response to Marcion. Books I’ve read or am about to read include F.F. Bruce, “The Canon of Scripture,” Bruce Metzger, “The Canon of the New Testament,” Judith Lieu, “Marcion and the Making of a Heretic,” Tertullian, “The Five Books Against Marcion,” and Adolf von Harnack, “Marcion: The Gospel of an Alien God.”


Elizabeth Papp Kamali ’07

On my nightstand today is Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day,” the choice of which was inspired by a recent summer reading list issued by HBS. Birthday gifts and my recent tenure promotion have inspired some of my other summer reading. My teenage son gifted me Gregory Hay’s translation of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” which can be read in bits and pieces. Sometimes Marcus’s pithy suggestions are strikingly relevant when facing down procrastination (“Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you…”) or existential reflection (“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”). My son also gave his younger sister a timely birthday gift, Angie Thomas’s powerful coming-of-age story, “The Hate U Give,” and I have been listening to an audiobook copy of it (sometimes alternating with George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda”) on my early morning walks.

My promotion to tenure earlier this summer has reinvigorated my desire to read more about the history of my scholarly home. For example, I recently read Erwin Griswold’s “Ould Fields, New Corne,” finding some comfort in learning how HLS weathered the crisis of World War II, when many students left HLS to join the armed services after the attack on Pearl Harbor (Griswold estimates that about one fourth of HLS students departed in the spring of 1942!). I look forward to reading Dan Coquillette and Bruce Kimball’s second volume on the history of HLS, “The Intellectual Sword,” hopefully before the summer is out.

Much of my pedagogically oriented reading has been in the shape of articles and web blogs, primarily to think about strategies for online teaching and how to engage students on issues of race in the classroom. Most recently, I listened to a webinar hosted by the Medieval Academy of America on Race, Racism, and Teaching the Middle Ages. Although I am not a free will skeptic (at least not yet!), I am reading this summer more broadly in this area, particularly as it relates to criminal responsibility. My reading list here is informed by my friend and mentor from the University of Michigan, Tom Green, and will likely inspire some changes to my syllabus when I next teach my seminar on Mind and Criminal Responsibility. As a starting point, I am working my way through Derk Pereboom’s “Living Without Free Will,” Bruce Waller’s “The Stubborn System of Moral Responsibility,” and the collected volume edited by Elizabeth Shaw, et al., “Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society.” In the area of medieval history, I am enjoying Miri Rubin’s “Cities of Strangers” and the pathbreaking work of my generation of scholars in the field of English legal history, most notably Tom McSweeney’s “Priests of the Law,” Bronach Kane’s “Popular Memory and Gender in Medieval England,” and Tom Johnson’s “Law in Common.”

Interruptions to library access this summer have made me all the more keenly aware of the great gift we have in our public and institutional libraries and librarians. As I see September approaching more swiftly than I care to admit (and more swiftly than I can get through all the books I aspire to read this summer), I remember fondly the long lists of finished books I used to turn in at the circulation desk at Yonkers’ Will Library in exchange for a small prize during my childhood. Thank goodness for libraries!


Kenneth W. Mack ’91

I just finished Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” which argues that caste rather than race is our fundamental problem, and Eddie Glaude Jr.’s “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Lessons for Our Own,” both of which I reviewed for the Washington Post (“Begin Again” review, “Caste” review). I also re-read Baldwin’s “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and his “Collected Essays,” edited by Toni Morrison.

This summer I’m also reading my usual assortment of nonfiction, mainly historical, including Jefferson Cowie’s “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class,” on the decline of working class politics, and Rick Perlstein’s “Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” the second volume of his Reagan trilogy. Next on my list is Zachary Carter’s “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy and the Life of John Maynard Keynes.” I’ve also found myself drifting back into science fiction and fantasy, which I haven’t read in many years, prompted by N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo Ward-winning Broken Earth trilogy, which provokes one’s imagination about our own troubled world.

Fanned out colorful books forming abstract circle pattern.

Credit: iStock/blackred

Toby Merrill ’11

When I’m not reading about online course and clinic design—or classics like “Whose Toes Are Those?” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”—I’ve been reading “Far From the Tree,” by Andrew Solomon. It’s an amazingly detailed account of human difference in the world and especially within families. I would recommend it to anyone interested in humans and humanity. I’m also about halfway through “Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray,” by Rosalind Rosenberg. Pauli Murray lived so many lives, and I’m learning history from scratch by seeing her era through her experiences.


Martha Minow

It’s really something to have the combination of staying-at-home and many reasons to try to understand our times, so I’ve been reading:

Stephen L. Carter, “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster.” Biography of a tireless, brave, and smart lawyer—the author’s grandmother—who fought social and personal obstacles to pursue justice.

Zachary D. Carter, “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes.” The life and ideas of the architect of modern liberal economics—that he meant to secure global peace, social and economic equality, and human and artistic flourishing—and what happened to distort or undermine his ideas in the past several decades.

Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, eds., “Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases.” Essays by novelists and other writers.

Nancy F. Cott, “Fighting Words: The Bold American Journalists Who Brought the World Home Between the Wars.” A portrait of four American journalists who reported on rising European fascism in the 1930s.

Alain Desroisiéres, “The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning.” Tracing the path of probabilistic reasoning through scientific/mathematical tool building and administrative/political developments.

Charles B. Dew, “The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade.” Memoir tracing how a leading American historian inherited racist views and shifted to become a critical scholar of America’s past.

Nicholas Diakopoulos, “Automating the News: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Media.” Examines the increasing uses of bots, algorithms, computations, and automation within journalism.

Bertram Fields, “Summing Up: A Professional Memoir.” Cases and professional career of a Renaissance man, an HLS alum (class of ‘52), and one of the leading entertainment lawyers/negotiators ever.

Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, “Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in America.” Essays unearthing meanings of “race” (doctrine of natural and ranked differences among groups of people); “racism” (ideas and practices applying double standards based on ancestry predicated on “race”); and “racecraft” (socially and culturally produced reasoning and predicates for action governing how people must deal with one another and look at oneself and others).

Gish Jen, “The Resisters.” A hopeful dystopic novel, will be the basis for a fall 1L discussion group on Resistance and Resisters.

Sally Kohn, “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity.” Journalist explores roots of incivility and hatred and efforts to combat hatreds and harassment.

Noson S. Yanofsky, “The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us.” Examines paradoxes and conundrums in human understandings of physical, practical, nameable, and knowable realities.


Alexandra Natapoff

I picked up Sarah Lewis’s book, “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery,” this summer as way to grapple with some of the constraints of the legal mindset. In law school, we can get overly invested in the right answer, in proven paths to success, and in winning. This book, by contrast, celebrates the power of trying and failure and experience. Legal scholarship has at best an equivocal relationship to authorial voice; neutral tones and the passive voice are preferred. She reminds us that intellectual insight is personal: we are the artists of our own ideas. Lewis is a professor at Harvard in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and the Department of African and African American Studies, and she writes about race, contemporary art, and culture. I especially loved her chapter called “Beauty, Error, and Justice,” where she connects up the mind-altering capacities of the aesthetic with the quest for justice and better worlds that exist mainly in our imaginations. As Lewis tells it, the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass believed that music and art were among the most powerful agents of legal and social change. “Give me the making of a nation’s ballads,” he said, “and I care not who has the making of its Laws.”


Cass Sunstein

I am almost done with “Those Who Forget,” by Geraldine Schwartz. It’s about Germany and France, and fascism, and Hitler, and memory. But it’s also about living with things that are not good, or are worse than that, and living with yourself, during and after. It’s riveting and somehow uplifting. I just finished Liel Leibovitz’s  “Stan Lee: A Life in Comics,” all about the inventor (in collaboration with amazing friends) of Spiderman, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Black Panther, Iron Man, and lots more. And a highlight of the summer, so far, is “Survival of the Friendliest,” by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, which focuses on what dogs, bonobos, and human beings have in common, and on why homo sapiens, of all human species, survived. (Hint: We’re the friendliest. Despite appearances.)


Dehlia Umunna

I just finished “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement” by John Lewis with Michael D’Orso. So far, I have wept in awe of the courage, bravery, and resolve of those who refused to let hate and racism prevail. Its vivid and poignant imagery leaps off the pages and grabs at your soul! Read this book if you would like to become a better ally in the quest for equality and inclusion. Additionally, I have just finished “Say It Louder!” by the brilliant and sassy Tiffany Cross. Smart, thought-provoking, and in-your-face, this book delivers a masterclass on the critical role African Americans have played in shaping our democracy. Finally, a must-read for anyone seeking inspiration during such uncertainty and unpredictability, is a book I am reading for a second time this summer, “God is Able,” by one of my favorite authors, Priscilla Shirer. “God is Able” cuts through life’s clutter and renders a read that is comforting, uplifting, and refreshingly reassuring.


Adrian Vermeule

We have a new puppy who needs a lot of walks, so this is the summer of audiobooks. I’m re-listening to all of Plutarch’s “Roman Lives,” in the versions read by A. Giordani— the Italian accent works nicely in the context. Next in the queue is “Emperor” by Geoffrey Parker, about the great 16th-century Habsburg ruler Charles V. On the lighter side is the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian about naval life in the Napoleonic era, starting with “Master and Commander.”