Summer 2022 beach reads

Harvard Law faculty and staff share their reading lists for beachside, poolside, or inside with the AC

Sharon Block, professor of practice and executive director of the Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School

I have three books so far on my list for the summer:

I started my summer with my first trip to Oxford [England] and fell in love with the city. The trip inspired me to reread “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. I had the fun of staying in Hertford College during my visit, which is where Charles Ryder, the Brideshead protagonist, is a student and where much of the book’s action takes place.

Also in the category of recreational reading, I am anxious to pick up David Sedaris’ new collection, “Happy Go Lucky.” Sedaris’ writing is never boring. He alternatively can make me laugh, cry or cringe — but never yawn. I try never to miss the opportunity to hear his unique take on life.

Finally, I just ordered the “Cambridge Handbook of Labor and Democracy,” edited by Angela Cornell and Mark Barenberg. It is a collection of pieces on the relationship between workplace and political democracy. In the midst of the political crisis in the U.S., I am convinced that a renewal of the labor movement could save both our economy and democracy. I look forward to reading how the colleagues who contributed to this volume make that same argument.


Stephen L. Ball ’10, dean of students

This summer I’m working on the yard: “Deer-Resistant Native Plants for the Northeast,” by Ruth Rogers Clausen and Gregory D. Tepper.


Elizabeth Papp Kamali ’07, deputy dean and Austin Wakeman Scott Professor of Law

In recent days, I’ve been reading Charles Rosenberg’s “Trial of the Assassin Guiteau” about the aftermath of the 1881 assassination of President Garfield. The book is heavy on expert witness testimony, providing direct evidence of understandings of insanity and criminal responsibility a few decades after the famous M’Naghten decision.

My summer list this year is light on fiction, and I hope my colleagues’ lists will inspire some further possibilities!

Elizabeth Papp Kamali

Next in my nonfiction lineup is Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s “Black Mass,” an account of organized crime in Boston, focused on the “devil’s deal” between James “Whitey” Bulger and his childhood friend, FBI agent John Connolly. With a local reading group, I have been stepping slowly through Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s “All the Agents and Saints,” tracing stories of Mohawk and Tejano life in the New York-Canada and Texas-Mexico borderlands, respectively. And, summer permitting (fall, please don’t come too soon!), I also hope to read Ada Ferrer’s acclaimed “Cuba: An American History.”

Within the field of medieval law, some books I have been eager to find time to read include Elizabeth Allen’s “Uncertain Refuge,” on depictions of medieval English sanctuary practice within literary texts, and Atria Larson’s Master of Penance, a masterful companion to Larson’s edition (with English translation) of “Gratian’s Tractatus de Penitentia,” widely recognized as key to the development of canon law but also part of a broader penitential genre that influenced the English common law of felony. I recently began a close reading of “Peter Abelard’s Ethics” (also available in an affordable student edition) finding the 11th century philosopher surprisingly relevant while pondering the relationship between consent and criminal intent, although Abelard’s focus was understandably centered more squarely on sin than crime.

In terms of fiction, having recently finished “The Land of Spices” by Kate O’Brien, an author whose writings were banned in mid-20th century Ireland, I plan to turn to her “Mary Lavelle” next, and perhaps to read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago,” a film favorite I have yet to read. That said, my summer list this year is light on fiction, and I hope my colleagues’ lists will inspire some further possibilities!


Kenneth W. Mack ’91, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History, Harvard University

I’m looking forward to reading two new, provocative books among the growing corpus of works reconsidering what we now call neoliberalism: David Gelles’ “The Man Who Broke Capitalism,” on the onetime corporate guru Jack Welch, and Elizabeth Popp Berman’s critique of economic policymaking: “Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy.” I’m also going to dig into Gayl Jones’ sprawling, haunting novel of race, resistance and enslavement in Brazil, “Palmares.” Right now, I’m making my way through Mike Davis and Jon Wiener’s revisionist history of social movements, and segregationist entrenchment, in Los Angeles during the 1960s, “Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties.”


Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University

More than ever, there seem so many profound mysteries to try to understand.

Martha Minow

More than ever, there seem so many profound mysteries to try to understand. So I am reading Michelle Wilde Anderson, “The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America;” David W. Blight, “Frederick Douglas: Prophet or Freedom;”  David Deutsch, “The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World;” Natalia Ginzburg, “The Little Virtues;” Jamie Raskin, “Unthinkable: Trauma: Truth, And the Trials of American Democracy;” Tzvetan Todorov, “The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria’s Jews Survived The Holocaust;” and “The Dance of Life: The New Science of How a Single Cell Becomes a Human Being,” by Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and Roger Highfield.


Stephen Sachs, Antonin Scalia Professor of Law

I’ve been enjoying “The Rest Is History,” an entertaining podcast by British historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook. This summer, if other things don’t get in the way, I’m hoping to read through some of Holland’s historical work. I’m already partway through “Dominion,” his extraordinary survey of Christianity’s cultural influence, and I’ll turn next to “Rubicon,” his retelling of the fall of the Roman Republic. My nine-year-old daughter has also loved two of Sandbrook’s “Adventures in Time” series, “Alexander the Great,” and “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.”

As the summer goes on, I hope to finish Christopher de Hamel’s “Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts,” which is a remarkable book. Elegant writing, beautiful plates, historical research as exciting as any detective story (especially the chapter on the Codex Amiatinus). Just a delight.

A nine year old girl reading in a pool on a lifesaver.

Credit: Getty Images/Maica