Law and Literature syllabus 2014

The first class is today!  Here is my reading list:

The New English Bible, Oxford Study Edition

Glaspell’s Trifles, available on-line.

Billy Budd and Other Tales, by Hermann Melville.

The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka, edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel.

In the Belly of the Beast, by Jack Henry Abbott.

Conrad Black, A Matter of Principle.

Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, volume 1.

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov.

Moby Dick, by Hermann Melville, excerpts, chapters 89 and 90, available on-line.

Year’s Best SF 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman.

The Pledge, Friedrich Durrenmatt.

Haruki Murakami, Underground.

Honore de Balzac, Colonel Chabert.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.

M.E. Thomas, Confessions of a Sociopath.

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta.

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl.

Some additions to this list will be made as we proceed.  We also will view a few movies on legal themes, I will be back in touch on these.

I am likely to use A Separation and Memories of Murder as two of the movies, along with a new release depending on schedule.


No Faust, with Goethe's wonderful explication of how all the wealth buried underground can be used for a ruler's benefit by just assuming it exists?

Sounds perfect for our age, actually.

I thought Posner wrote the book on this? (I'm joking..)

I recall there was a scholarly journal called Law and Literature. Don't know if it is still in publication.

Posner did write a book on the subject - fairly critical.

I used the movie Breaker Morant to teach the Law of Land Warfare and Ethics of Warfare. How about To Kill a Mockingbird?

QB VII by Leon Uris.

How could I forget 12 Angry Men. Although only tangentially about law, it is a stunning albeit contrived look at group dynamics in jury deliberations. Both versions are excellent.

I still want to reach through the TV screen and choke Jimmy Stewart/Jack Lemon every time he asks if "it's possible" something happened. That runs astray of reasonable doubt and is an enduring headache for prosecutors.

Tyler, can you comment on why you chose this particular Bible translation?

seems the translators took some unique liberties not seen in other English versions, and rearranged text and applied novel exegesis liberally. (

Perhaps you were deliberately seeking one with wording that students wouldn't be familiar with?

Well, assuming I recall correctly from my book selling days, this is the edition that talks about God's concern that if Adam/Eve eat from the tree of life, they would 'become one of us.' There is no question that such textual pantheism is not a common discussion regarding Genesis in the U.S.

It certainly is a very aesthetically unpleasant translation, but maybe he wants to have really tedious textual arguments with the one or two students who actually are familiar with more theologically mainstream scripture.

I remember taking a class where that happened. The professor deserved it, but the syllabus was completely hijacked by the two dissenting students. Considering it was the Koran we probably learned more from this than we would have from the instructor about the topic.

Again, as I did last year, I wonder how humanities majors deal with such large lists of literature for courses. As a science major, I used to buy a quantum mechanics book and use the same (and only that) book on two different full-semester courses. Here we have a list of 18 books the students should read during one course. And probably the students are taking multiple courses, all of which have reading lists of similar length. Also when I read for fun, it takes me regularly around a month to finish any fiction novel.

Speed read, and keep in mind for the amount of work you do to get a literature degree, you could have learned law or science or medicine and become a higher income earning professional. English Lit is hard, which is why the English Lit majors do so well in law school--they are used to debating subtle fine points (and why I, with a science background, flunked out of law).

I knew a GMU English professor that could have handled this fairly superficial list in a couple of days. But then, she did go from her BA to her PhD in two years, no Masters required (ah, the old GMU - I'm sure that Prof. Cowen would be the first to say that back then, it was an age of faculty prodigies).

I tend to keep her in mind when being skeptical about what is posted here as being read. Not that something like 'in my pile' means anything except Amazon links associated with the intention to read the books in the future.

The 21 book list I had for an English 204 GMU survey course ca. 1982 (Njal's Saga alone was worth it, though Gilgamesh and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman were equally enjoyable - along with a translation of Doctor Faust that included the five acts of the second part of the tragedy) makes this graduate reading list look a bit watered down, to be honest.

And what happened to William Gibson's Neuromancer?

Though considering how much the list corresponds to this - - I guess surprises aren't really to be expected.

And trying to confirm that Law and Literature is actually a graduate course, the link was worthless - apparently, GMU students have no actual access to this course - which is strange. But then, it has been decades since I needed to care about the catalog in any sense. Book orders? - well, one hopes that Prof. Cowen was timely in that area, even if the catalog has no seeming record of his course.

Oops - could this be is a law school class? Why yes, a two hour writing course on Weds. Nothing like GMU for having an Econ professor do a literature survey at the law school. But tenure is also conditioned on actual teaching - regardless of how far astray it might seem to be.

Law students are doing a tremendous amount of reading already for their other classes.

I took his class a couple years ago and each week we would be assigned a book or perhaps a couple of shorter selections. We didn't cover the entire syllabus and few of the books are long. It was not terribly difficult to keep up.

Ha, they're all boy books. So, literature tends to be self defining that way, but would it be interesting to have a bit less gender bias? Would The Law be different if women had a say? P
Perhaps Frankenstein might make the list or even children's books like Silent to the Bone.

Did you miss Gone Girl? Also, M.E. Thomas is a woman and the SF collection was edited by a woman and contains several pieces by female authors.

"Would SOMEONE please think of the women and children?!"

The entire Bible?

How many texts did you have in college where you only read about a hundred pages? I sure had a lot, and I can't think of a text more suited to abstracting than a religious one.

Tyler, Interesting list. I notice that economics is not in the title of the course. Will there be an underlying economic way of thinking in it or is this a course that somehow who knows law and literature only could teach?

According to his BusinessWeek profile, Tyler started this course because nobody else was teaching it rather than to bring in an economic prospective. Isn't GMU's law school already pretty strong in economics?

Very little economics in the course...they don't have to read all of each book, and there are plenty of female authors on the syllabus.

Trial of God? one of my favorites!

Do you have a link to the complete syllabus? I'm curious how you structure the readings.

I'm also curious about what the connection of Lot 49 to law is. Trusts and Estates?

I would suggest Njal's Saga, Bleak House, and The Shadow of the Torturer

No Dickens (Bleak House; Great Expectations) ?
...John Mortimer (Rumpole of the Bailey) ?
...2000 AD ?

Also Corruption in the Palace of Justice, by Ugo Betti

I second the recommendation for Dickens' Bleak House with its unforgettable portrait of the Chancery court. Billy Budd is tepid stuff by comparison.

Late comment but, I assume Underground is in there due to the interesting variation in witness statements that Murakami collected.

This reminds me of Spinning Hearts by Donal Ryan. It's essentially a book about the limits of empathy - what we can and can't figure out about what's going on in someone elses' head. Perhaps not strictly related to a Law and Literature reading list, but follows a similar theme.

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