Stanford law opens its bookshelves to reveal faculty recommendations for Christmas

As the year comes to a close, Stanford Law faculty members reveal their favourite reads of the year that they recommend for holidays and general knowledge-uppence.
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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

by Matthew Desmond

About the book:  New York Times BestsellerFrom Harvard sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America  In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.


Notes:  I’d recommend Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It’s interesting, important, and a page-turner. - Jacob Goldin, Assistant Professor of Law

I am finally reading this after no fewer than five SLS colleagues recommended it. Indeed, this beautifully written ethnographic portrait of families struggling with housing in Milwaukee is provocative and heart-rending. I am struggling to understand the solutions, but this book has already succeeded in raising my consciousness. - Shirin Sinnar, Associate Professor of Law

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The Sellout

by Paul Beatty

About the book:  Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction Named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times Book Review and the Wall Street Journal A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant. Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.


Notes:  The Sellout won the 2016 Man Booker Prize for fiction - David Mills, Professor of the Practice of Law and Senior Lecturer in Law

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The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough

About the book:  On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot. Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did? David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly human story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, who encouraged their studying. As individuals they had differing skill sets and passions but as a team they excelled in any given task . That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no patron to open doors to their desires, never stopped them in their goal to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed, or, at the very least, maimed. In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers' story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.


Notes:  McCullough’s book about the Wright Brothers. Really good reading. - Lawrence M. Friedman, Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

About the book:  Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love. From the Trade Paperback edition.


Notes:  For anyone who wishes to reconnect with an America of vibrant cultural diversity, I would highly recommend The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. I did not get around to reading it when it came out in 2008, but reading it now strikes me as just right. - Michelle Wilde Anderson, Professor of Law

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The Silk Roads

by Peter Frankopan

About the book:  A major reassessment of world history in light of the economic and political renaissance in the re-emerging east - and a fascinating rediscovery of the seductive cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Isfahan and Constantinople.


Notes:  As I sit with helicopters flying overhead in Kabul, Afghanistan today, flanked by Iran on the western border, Pakistan on the eastern border, and the rest of the “stans” to the north, it is hard to fathom the conclusion of Peter Frankopan’s sometimes-brilliant book, Silk Roads: A New History of the World — that “new silk roads are rising again.” As with law exams, however, Frankopan’s conclusion is not where he scores his points. This ambitious book is an antidote to JM Roberts’ Euro-centric 1976 Penguin History of the World. Frankopan boldly shifts the vortex of world history to Iran, the “stans” of Central Asia, and Afghanistan. The book is well-written and well-researched. I learned a lot up to 1490 when the book shifts to Columbus and more Western colonial history. The Silk Road was never a single road, but a network of roads that stretched from China to the Mediterranean. Frankopan’s focus on trade along this network as a key to great civilizations, including the Persian Empire, is fascinating. Don’t let the inevitable weaknesses of a book of such scope discourage as you tour through fascinating chapters from The Road of Faiths to The Road of Gold to the Road to Hell. - Erik G. Jensen, Professor of the Practice of Law and Director of the Rule of Law Program

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When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

About the book:  #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both. Praise for When Breath Becomes Air “I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times “An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post “Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”—The Boston Globe “Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today “It’s [Kalanithi’s] unsentimental approach that makes When Breath Becomes Air so original—and so devastating. . . . Its only fault is that the book, like his life, ends much too early.”—Entertainment Weekly “Split my head open with its beauty.”—Cheryl Strayed


Notes:  When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. This memoir, by a young Stanford Medical School professor, writing about his life and the cancer that killed him, is beautifully written and hauntingly sad and hopeful at the same time. - Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law

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The Girls

by Emma Cline

About the book:  NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong—this stunning first novel is perfect for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence. Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction. Praise for The Girls “Spellbinding . . . A seductive and arresting coming-of-age story hinged on Charles Manson, told in sentences at times so finely wrought they could almost be worn as jewelry . . . [Emma] Cline gorgeously maps the topography of one loneliness-ravaged adolescent heart. She gives us the fictional truth of a girl chasing danger beyond her comprehension, in a Summer of Longing and Loss.”—The New York Times Book Review “[The Girls reimagines] the American novel . . . Like Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica or Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, The Girls captures a defining friendship in its full humanity with a touch of rock-memoir, tell-it-like-it-really-was attitude.”—Vogue “Debut novels like this are rare, indeed. . . . The most remarkable quality of this novel is Cline’s ability to articulate the anxieties of adolescence in language that’s gorgeously poetic without mangling the authenticity of a teenager’s consciousness. The adult’s melancholy reflection and the girl’s swelling impetuousness are flawlessly braided together. . . . For a story that traffics in the lurid notoriety of the Manson murders, The Girls is an extraordinary act of restraint. With the maturity of a writer twice her age, Cline has written a wise novel that’s never showy: a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror.”—The Washington Post “Emma Cline has an unparalleled eye for the intricacies of girlhood, turning the stuff of myth into something altogether more intimate. She reminds us that behind so many of our culture’s fables exists a girl: unseen, unheard, angry. This book will break your heart and blow your mind.”—Lena Dunham “Emma Cline’s first novel positively hums with fresh, startling, luminous prose. The Girls announces the arrival of a thrilling new voice in American fiction.”—Jennifer Egan “I don’t know which is more amazing, Emma Cline’s understanding of human beings or her mastery of language.”—Mark Haddon, New York Times bestselling author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


Notes:  So I was pretty sure that I was going to find The Girls too formulaic, too much a product of a novelist with a target audience and a better sense of what’s stylish and marketable than a sense of integrity. But I actually adored it and think it would be a great quick vacation read. It struck me as chilling and insightful: about what draws people to cults, about adolescent yearning, about the profound differences between (at least young) men and women… - Mark Kelman, James C. Gaither Professor of Law and Vice Dean

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Carry Me Ohio

by Matt Eich

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Smiley's People

by John le Carré

About the book:  The classic Cold War novel. Into a shadowy, violent and intricate world steeped in moral ambivalences steps George Smiley – tubby, perceptive and morally perplexed as ever – sometime acting Chief of the Circus, as the Secret Service is known. A Russian émigré woman is accosted in Paris in broad daylight by a Soviet intelligence officer. A scared Estonian boy plays courier in Hamburg. In London at the dead of night, George Smiley is summoned from his lonely bed by news of the murder of an ex-agent. His brief is to bury the crime, not solve it. His dilemma is the number of ghosts from the past who clamour to him from the shadows. Through scenes of mounting revelation, and a cast of superbly drawn characters, through Switzerland, Hamburg, Paris and the fens of Schleswig-Holstein, le Carré rallies us irresistibly to the chase, till we find ourselves at Smiley’s very side on the Berlin border, where Smiley’s people – the ‘no-men of no-man’s land’ – conduct their grimy commerce.


Notes:  John le Carré’s, Smiley’s People. Elegantly written and suspenseful if you like espionage fiction. I’ve just reread this old favorite and enjoyed it just as much as the first read many years ago. - Michael Asimow, Visiting Professor of Law

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The Collected Stories

by Eudora Welty

About the book:  The Collected Stories - a stunning volume of William Trevor's unforgettable short stories William Trevor is one of the most renowned figures in contemporary literature, described as 'the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language' by the New Yorker and acclaimed for his haunting and profound insights into the human heart. Here is a collection of his short fiction, with dozens of tales spanning his career and ranging from the moving to the macabre, the humorous to the haunting. From the penetrating 'Memories of Youghal' to the bittersweet 'Bodily Secrets' and the elegiac 'Two More Gallants', here are masterpieces of insight, depth, drama and humanity, acutely rendered by a modern master. 'A textbook for anyone who ever wanted to write a story, and a treasure for anyone who loves to read them' Madison Smartt Bell 'Extraordinary... Mr. Trevor's sheer intensity of entry into the lives of his people...proceeds to uncover new layers of yearning and pain, new angles of vision and credible thought' The New York Times Book Review


Notes:  Readers of the late William Trevor divide between those who think he was one of the greatest short story writers ever and those who think he was simply one of the greatest contemporary writers in English. I’m now re-reading The Collected Stories, some set in Ireland, others in England, but all characterized by a precise, quiet, and even plain, prose style that instantly transports the reader to the stories’ intimately realized settings and personal relationships. There is a good deal of wit here, much of it bittersweet, and an abundance of humanity but, above all, storytelling that grips and doesn’t let go. And for those interested in such things, Trevor’s stories offer a master class in prose technique. - Paul Goldstein, Stella W. and Ira S. Lillick Professor of Law

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Black Water

by Louise Doughty

About the book:  Harper wakes every night, terrified of the sounds outside his hut halfway up a mountain in Bali. He is afraid that his past as a mercenary has caught up with him - and that his life may now been in danger. As he waits to discover his fate, he meets Rita, a woman with her own past tragedy, and begins a passionate affair. Their relationship makes Harper realise that exile comes in many forms - but can Rita and Harper save each other while they are putting each other very much at risk? Moving between Indonesia, the Netherlands and California, from the 1960s to the 1990s, Black Water turns around the 1965 Indonesian massacres, one of the great untold tragedies of the twentieth century.


Notes:  My recommendation this holiday season would be Black Water by Louise Doughty, a masterful story about moral complexity set in the political turmoil of last 20th century Indonesia. The book is a political thriller that makes you think and is likely to leave you at the end feeling very unsettled. - Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson, Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law

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The Motel Life

by Willy Vlautin

About the book:  With "echoes of Of Mice and Men"(The Bookseller, UK), The Motel Life explores the frustrations and failed dreams of two Nevada brothers—on the run after a hit-and-run accident—who, forgotten by society, and short on luck and hope, desperately cling to the edge of modern life.


Notes:  I stumbled on Vlautin through his music (he’s the lead singer of a fine band called Richmond Fontaine). Then a friend told me he’s also a writer. The Motel Life was his first novel; he’s gone on to write several others. Set in the American West, mostly around Reno, this is a story of two brothers down on their luck. The characters and their situations are quite depressing, But the narrative has a gritty, spare quality that pulls you along. Think Steinbeck and Carver. And since there’s a road trip in the middle, throw in a touch of Kerouac. - David M. Studdert, Professor of Law and Medicine

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Private Empire

by Steve Coll

About the book:  Steve Coll's Private Empire is winner of the FT/GOLDMAN SACHS BUSINESS BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD 2012. In this prize-winning book, the author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens investigates the notoriously mysterious ExxonMobil Corporation and the secrets of the oil industry In many of the nations where it operates, ExxonMobil has a greater sway than that of the US embassy, its annual revenues are larger than the total economic activity in most countries and in Washington it spends more on lobbying than any other corporation. Yet despite its outsized influence, it is to outsiders a black box. Private Empire begins with the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989 and closes with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Steve Coll's narrative spans the globe, taking readers to Moscow, impoverished African capitals, Indonesia and elsewhere as ExxonMobil carries out its activities against a backdrop of blackmail threats, kidnapping, civil wars, and high-stakes struggles at the Kremlin. In the US, Coll goes inside ExxonMobil's ruthless Washington lobbying offices and its corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas, where top executives oversee a bizarre corporate culture of discipline and secrecy. Private Empire is the masterful result of Steve Coll's indefatigable reporting, from the halls of Congress to the oil-laden swamps of the Niger Delta; previously classified U.S. documents; heretofore unexamined court records; and many other sources.


Notes:  I have just started reading Private Empire by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Steve Coll. It is fascinating look inside ExxonMobil, which behaves like an independent sovereign whose actions often clash with American foreign policy even as it lobbies relentlessly for domestic tax breaks and is a leading funder of junk climate science in a crusade to mislead the public and avoid any limits on carbon emissions – very much akin to the tactics used by the tobacco industry in decades past. The book is thoroughly researched and particularly timely in light of current political events here and abroad, including the very recent news that the presidential transition team is now considering both the present and the former ExxonMobil CEOs for Secretary of State. - Deborah A. Sivas, Luke W. Cole Professor of Environmental Law

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The Emperor's Soul

by Brandon Sanderson

About the book:  From the bestselling author of the Mistborn Trilogy and co-author of the final three books of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series comes the tale of a heretic thief who may be an Empire's only hope for survival. Shai is a Forger: a foreigner who can flawlessly re-create any item by rewriting its history using skillful magic . . . although she's currently condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor's sceptre, she has one last opportunity to save herself. The emperor has barely survived an assassination attempt, he needs a new soul and, despite viewing her skill as a Forger an abomination, her captors have turned to Shai for help. Skillfully deducing her captors plans, Shai know the first thing she needs is a perfect escape plan. but in the meantime, her fate and that of the empire lies in completing an impossible task: is it possible to create a forgery so convincing that it's better than the soul itself?


Notes:  I have a (slightly old) favorite but recommend it because it is a short read (a novella) and perfect for those who’ve never really liked or had a chance to read sci-fi/fantasy fiction. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson is an award winning novella and the perfect short read for those that already appreciate fantasy/sci-fi but even better for those that are, perhaps, skeptical of the genre. - F. Daniel Siciliano, Professor of the Practice of Law and Associate Dean for Executive Education and Special Programs

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Bright, Precious Days

by Jay McInerney

About the book:  From the best-selling author of Bright Lights, Big City: a sexy, vibrant, cross-generational New York story--a literary and commercial triumph of the highest order. Even decades after their arrival, Corrine and Russell Calloway still feel as if they’re living the dream that drew them to New York City in the first place: book parties or art openings one night and high-society events the next; jobs they care about (and in fact love); twin children whose birth was truly miraculous; a loft in TriBeCa and summers in the Hamptons. But all of this comes at a fiendish cost. Russell, an independent publisher, has superb cultural credentials yet minimal cash flow; as he navigates a business that requires, beyond astute literary judgment, constant financial improvisation, he encounters an audacious, potentially game-changing—or ruinous—opportunity. Meanwhile, instead of chasing personal gain in this incredibly wealthy city, Corrine devotes herself to helping feed its hungry poor, and she and her husband soon discover they’re being priced out of the newly fashionable neighborhood they’ve called home for most of their adult lives, with their son and daughter caught in the balance. Then Corrine’s world is turned upside down when the man with whom she’d had an ill-fated affair in the wake of 9/11 suddenly reappears. As the novel unfolds across a period of stupendous change—including Obama’s historic election and the global economic collapse he inherited—the Calloways will find themselves and their marriage tested more severely than they ever could have imagined. From the Hardcover edition.


Notes:  Jay McInerney’s Bright, Precious Days (Knopf, 2016) received well deserved praise for his novel about New Yorkers following 9/11. It’s beautifully written and offers some searing insights about the fragility of relationships and social activism. - Deborah L. Rhode, Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law

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The River of Doubt

by Candice Millard

About the book:  At once an incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth. The River of Doubt—it is a black, uncharted tributary of the Amazon that snakes through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunt its shadows; piranhas glide through its waters; boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a roiling cauldron. After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many at the time refused to believe it. In the process, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever. Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived. From the soaring beauty of the Amazon rain forest to the darkest night of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, here is Candice Millard’s dazzling debut. From the Trade Paperback edition.


Notes:  River of Doubt by Candice Millard (2006). The true story of Teddy Roosevelt’s harrowing first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon, following his humiliating election defeat in 1912. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a journey so improbable that many at the time refused to believe it—and in the process redrew the map of the western hemisphere. - Dan Reicher, Professor of the Practice of Law

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Countdown to Pearl Harbor

by Steve Twomey

About the book:  A fascinating look at the twelve days leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—the warnings, clues and missteps—by a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter. In Washington, DC, in late November 1941, admirals compose the most ominous message in Navy history to warn Hawaii of possible danger, but they write it too vaguely. They think precautions are being taken, but never check to see if they are. A key intelligence officer wants more warnings sent, but he is on the losing end of a bureaucratic battle and can’t get the message out. American sleuths have pierced Japan’s most vital diplomatic code, and Washington believes it has a window on the enemy’s soul—but it does not. In a small office at Pearl Harbor, overlooking the battleships at the heart of America’s seafaring power, the Commander of the Pacific Fleet tries to figure out how much danger he really faces. His intelligence unit has lost track of Japan’s biggest aircraft carriers, but assumes they are resting in a port far away. The admiral thinks Pearl is too shallow for torpedoes, so he never puts up a barrier. As he frets, a Japanese spy is counting the warships in the harbor and reporting to Tokyo. There were false assumptions, and racist ones: The Japanese aren’t very good aviators and they don’t have the nerve or the skill to attempt a strike so far from their home. There were misunderstandings, conflicting desires, painful choices. And there was a naval officer who, on his very first mission as captain of his very first ship, did exactly the right thing. His warning could have averted disaster, but his superiors reacted too leisurely. Japanese planes arrived moments later. Twomey’s telescoping of the twelve days leading to the attack unravels the crucial characters and moments, and produces an edge-of-your seat drama with fascinating details about America at this moment in its history. By the end, the reader understands how assumption is the root of disaster, and how sometimes a gamble pays off.


Notes:  Steve Twomey, “Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack.” Perfectly timed to help commemorate the 75th anniversary of this horrific page out of US (and world) history. A revealing account of the striking military and political failures to anticipate this disastrous event. - Robert L. Rabin, A. Calder Mackay Professor of Law

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The Patrick Melrose Novels

by Edward St. Aubyn

About the book:  NATIONAL BESTSELLER An Atlantic Magazine Best Book of the Year A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year “The Melrose Novels are a masterwork for the twenty-first century, written by one of the great prose stylists in England.” —Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones For more than twenty years, acclaimed author Edward St. Aubyn has chronicled the life of Patrick Melrose, painting an extraordinary portrait of the beleaguered and self-loathing world of privilege. This single volume collects the first four novels—Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk, a Man Booker finalist—to coincide with the publication of At Last, the final installment of this unique novel cycle. By turns harrowing and hilarious, these beautifully written novels dissect the English upper class as we follow Patrick Melrose’s story from child abuse to heroin addiction and recovery. Never Mind, the first novel, unfolds over a day and an evening at the family’s chateaux in the south of France, where the sadistic and terrifying figure of David Melrose dominates the lives of his five-year-old son, Patrick, and his rich and unhappy American mother, Eleanor. From abuse to addiction, the second novel, Bad News opens as the twenty-two-year-old Patrick sets off to collect his father’s ashes from New York, where he will spend a drug-crazed twenty-four hours. And back in England, the third novel, Some Hope, offers a sober and clean Patrick the possibility of recovery. The fourth novel, the Booker-shortlisted Mother’s Milk, returns to the family chateau, where Patrick, now married and a father himself, struggles with child rearing, adultery, his mother’s desire for assisted suicide, and the loss of the family home to a New Age foundation. Edward St. Aubyn offers a window into a world of utter decadence, amorality, greed, snobbery, and cruelty—welcome to the declining British aristocracy.


Notes:  Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels. Brilliantly written fiction about Patrick Melrose from the time when he was a young boy sexually abused by his father, through his teens and twenties when he becomes a drug addict, to his forties when he is unhappily married with two young sons. Not happy reading, but incredible writing. - A. Mitchell Polinsky, Josephine Scott Crocker Professor of Law and Economics

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The Children Act

by Ian McEwan

About the book:  Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis. At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—an encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.


Notes:  The Children Act, by Ian McEwan. Here we meet the very model of a modern British judge: eminently rational, kind, learned. We observe the care with which she crafts her opinions and experience her efforts to understand and help the juveniles who fall within her jurisdiction on the family court. We also watch as her marriage dissolves into unhappiness for no very rational reason, and as her inability to comprehend the religious dimension of existence produces catastrophe in the life of a young man she tries to help. A sad, compelling book, written for and about people like us. - Michael W. McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law

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Fire and Ashes

by John N. Maclean

About the book:  In 2005 Michael Ignatieff left Harvard to lead Canada's Liberal Party and by 2008 was poised to become Prime Minister. It never happened. He describes what he learned from his bruising defeat about compromise and the necessity of bridging differences in a pluralist society. A reflective, compelling account of modern politics as it really is.


Notes:  Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics. Ignatieff returns to Canada to become a politician. It’s rare to have an insider discuss the process with such introspection. - Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law

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