Category: Book Reviews


C-SPAN Interview on The Future of Reputation

CSPAN2.jpgApologies for the self-promotion, but I can’t resist mentioning for interested readers that I’m currently appearing on C-SPAN and C-SPAN-2 in a 30-minute interview about my book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet.

The interview was broadcast on C-SPAN last night, and it will be rebroadcast on C-SPAN-2 at 8 AM and again at 8 PM this Monday, February 4th.

You can also view the interview online here, but note that the C-SPAN Video Player version currently doesn’t work. So try the Windows Media Player version, which is the bottom orange icon. You can also watch the video on YouTube. (See below for the embedded video).

For Solove junkies, you can also watch a lecture I gave about the book here, and listen to a radio interview (the Kojo Nnamdi show on NPR) here.

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Michael Abramowicz’s Predictocracy

book-predictocracy.jpgProfessor Michael Abramowicz, my colleague at GW Law School, has just published a new book, Predictocracy: Market Mechanisms for Public and Private Decision Making (Yale University Press 2008). From the book jacket:

Predicting the future is serious business for virtually all public and private institutions, for they must often make important decisions based on such predictions. This visionary book explores how institutions from legislatures to corporations might improve their predictions and arrive at better decisions by means of prediction markets, a promising new tool with virtually unlimited potential applications.

Michael Abramowicz explains how prediction markets work; why they accurately forecast elections, sports contests, and other events; and how they may even advance the ideals of our system of republican government. He also explores the ways in which prediction markets address common problems related to institutional decision making. Throughout the book the author extends current thinking about prediction markets and offers imaginative proposals for their use in an array of settings and situations.

Michael guest blogged here last year, and his work is always interesting and thought-provoking. Professor Ian Ayres (Yale Law School) writes about Michael’s Predictocracy:

Will Hillary or Arnold ever be elected? Will Die Hard VIII be a hit? Will the HP merger go through? Will Sanjaya be voted off this week? Our best evidence on all these questions increasingly comes from prediction markets. We already live in a world where orange juice future prices can usefully supplement the best government weather predictions. But Predictocracy shows that we’re just scratching the surface of what can be done with this powerful tool. Abramowicz’s inventive mind shows new ways to design prediction markets and radically new domains to predict. In this new world, peer reviewed journals, legal restatements, even deliberative democracy may ultimately be guided by the force of predictive bets.

Anything Michael writes is well-worth reading, and I predict that this book will be too (pardon the pun). It is a book I’ll definitely be adding to my shelf.


Book Review: Harold Schechter’s The Devil’s Gentleman

devils-gentleman.gifHarold Schechter, The Devil’s Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial that Ushered in the Twentieth Century

Ballantine Books (October 2007)

Harold Schechter, an American literature professor at CUNY, has written a gripping account of the criminal trial and appeal of Roland Molineux, a case that grabbed headlines throughout the late 1890s. His book, The Devil’s Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial that Ushered in the Twentieth Century (2007) is a page-turner, and it reads almost like a novel.

Roland Molineux, the son of a revered Civil War general, was accused of an elaborate scheme of sending medicines and potions containing cyanide in order to kill two men. One was his friend whom Molineux wanted out of the picture because he was having an affair with the woman Molineux had his sights on marrying. The other was the director of an athletic club to which Molineux belonged and whom Molineux hated. The result was two murders, one of which involved an unintended victim. Oddly, anonymously sending potions or food laced with poison in the mail was an effective way to kill at that time. People apparently thought nothing of ingesting things that were sent to them anonymously. Poison was a popular murder instrument at the time, and people viewed poisoning as an especially sinister and “unmanly” way to kill. And one could readily be poisoned not through any nefarious scheme, but by the medicines at the time, some of which contained cyanide and arsenic. The cure was often more deadly than the disease.

The book focuses considerably on the role that the media played in the justice system. The media in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century was rabidly sensationalistic. The rise of “Yellow Journalism” was one of the factors that prompted Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis to write their famous article, The Right to Privacy in 1890. Yellow Journalism emerged as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst transformed the newspaper business, from small circulations and weak profits (sometimes even losses), to a booming success. In two years, for example, Pulitzer increased the circulation of the New York World from under 12,000 a day to 150,000 a day:

The very look of the paper underwent a radical alternation. Headlines now stretched over several columns or were splashed across the entire top of the page. And there were cartoons, caricatures, lurid illustrations, and other voyeuristic visual aids. Not only were grisly murders reported in graphic detail; they were diagrammed so that readers could picture the horrors more clearly. (p. 98)

The newspapers conducted their own investigations into criminal cases, interviewing witnesses, tracing leads, shadowing the police. In one instance, a newspaper even funded an investigation. The police needed to go through 50,000 sales slips at a pharmacy, and “they would have had an impossible time of it, since orders were full of Latin medical terms and abbreviations. Only people with pharmaceutical training could accomplish the task.” The pharmaceutical supply company “couldn’t afford to loan [its clerks with the requisite training] out for an indefinite period of time.” Enter the media:

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Book Review: Lawrence Friedman’s Guarding Life’s Dark Secrets

friedman-guarding-secrets.jpgProfessor Lawrence M. Friedman (Stanford Law School)

Guarding Life’s Dark Secrets: Legal and Social Controls over Reputation, Propriety, and Privacy

(Stanford University Press, November 2007)

ISBN: 978-0-8047-5739-3

Professor Lawrence Friedman‘s Guarding Life’s Dark Secrets: Legal and Social Controls over Reputation, Propriety, and Privacy is a wonderful and accessible history of the norms and law that shaped reputation over the past two centuries. Friedman’s book builds on some of his earlier work on norms and law in the Victorian era which I found immensely useful as I wrote my book, The Future of Reputation. Whereas my book mostly explores the present and future challenges to protecting reputation, Friedman’s explores the past. His book is written in a lively and engaging style, and it is fascinating.

Friedman focuses much of his book on the Victorian era of the nineteenth century. The key phenomenon in his book is what Friedman terms the “Victorian compromise.” The Victorian era is famous for its staunch moral code and sense of propriety. Throughout history, Western society has had periods of licentiousness and reticence, and the Victorian era is the symbol for being buttoned-up and prudish. In England and America, this was a period of strong laws against countless forms of disfavored sex, from adultery to sodomy. But Friedman notes that a lot of vice was, in fact, tolerated during this period. According to the Victorian compromise:

Vice at least was tolerable, although only in small amounts and only if discreet and under a good deal of control. Hence a kind of double standard evolved. A prime example was the so-called red-light zone or district. These zones flourished in city after city. Houses of prostitution, gambling dens, and all sorts of vice were rampant in these districts. The law–and the police–winked at them and accepted them as part of urban life. . . . This double standard was the essence of the Victorian compromise. It stands in sharp contrast to the attitude and behavior in (say) Puritan Massachusetts Bay, in the colonial period, with its policy of zero tolerance toward vice and illegal sex. (p. 67)

Friedman further notes that public discussion of sex during Victorian times was strictly taboo, and “[s]ex was meant for the privacy of the home.” (p. 72). There was a large double standard when it came to the sexual behavior of men and women. For women, all sex outside of marriage was adultery. “But a married man was criminally liable only if he had sex with a married woman. In other words, for a man sex with a prostitute–or a single woman–was not criminal adultery at all.” (p. 73)

In a chapter on blackmail, Friedman observes that the blackmail laws fit with the Victorian compromise — they were designed to help elites protect their public reputations, to help prevent them from being threatened and extorted by the often poorer individuals who were blackmailing them (their illicit lovers or servants). He notes that “the blackmail statutes began to appear roughly about the same time and with the same underlying ethos as the other laws that made up the Victorian compromise.” (p. 99). A similar point is made in Angus McLaren’s book-length account of blackmail, Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History (2002). McLaren observes that courts would ignore the truth or falsity of the blackmailer’s accusations, which, if true, would often mean that the blackmail victim had engaged in serious criminal conduct (sodomy, for example).

Thus, the Victorian compromise operated to maintain a facade of respectability in public while sin occurred in the dark recesses of the private sphere. It’s ok to do it, the ethos of the age said, just be sure to hide it. The Victorian compromise “depended on privacy and secrecy.” (p. 215)

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Law Talk: George R. R. Martin

gm-lochness-t.jpgIn today’s episode of Law Talk, we hear from George R. R. Martin, the prolific author of the “high fantasy” series The Song of Ice and Fire. George has also been a screenwriter and Hollywood producer, an editor, a chess tournament director, a union leader, and a volunteer media director for the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation. As I’ve previously written, George is a leader in the movement to bring a degree of realism to fantasy, and he has been dubbed (by Time Magazine) “The American Tolkien.”

George and I talked for almost an hour, on topics ranging from the role of law in fantasy books (starting 3.5 minutes in); the limits of magic as a plot device (20 minutes in); law professor Robert Cover (22 minutes in, brought up by me, to my shame); why most fantasy novels seem to be set in merry olde england (28 minutes in); fan fiction and copyright infringement (31minutes in); how writing sci-fi is like selling music, and whether he likes Radiohead’s distribution model (35 minutes in); how to keep control over your work when it is transformed into another medium (39 minutes in); and inheritance law (toward the end).

George is a fantastically interesting, well-read, thoughtful guy, and I think you will enjoy this interview quite a bit. (If you aren’t a fan of the books, ignore my constant, irritating, references to characters you have never heard of.) Finally, if you want to learn more about George, visit his blog (which he says isn’t one) and join the hordes of folks waiting for the next installment of the series, A Dance With Dragons, to ship.

Missed the link? Here’s the interview again. Warning: it’s a big file!

You can subscribe to “Law Talk” using iTunes or Feedburner. You can also visit the “Law Talk” page at the iTunes store. For previous episodes of Law Talk at Co-Op click here.

For other posts in the “Law and Hard Fantasy” Interview Series, see:


Responses to Blog Reviews of The Future of Reputation: Part III

Cover 4 120 x 176.jpgIn this post, I’ll be responding to a few more reviews of The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. This is the third installment (for more responses to reviews, see Part I and Part II).

1. Ethan Ackerman at Technology & Marketing Law Blog

Ethan Ackerman, an attorney and former legislative and technology counsel in the US Senate, has reviewed the book as a guest blogger on Professor Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law Blog. He writes:

It is this aspect of Solove’s book – the deep AND wide thinking about an individual’s interaction with the modern Internet – that moves the book out of the one-point-rigorous-analysis of an academic article and the semi-random anecdotal topicality of a blog post and into the category of critical (in the must-read sense) literature. Where Solove’s previous work tackled the pressing but somewhat solvable problems that arose from individuals losing control of their personal information to government and commercial entities, this book tackles individuals’ loss of access and control of their information at the hands of other individuals – and, increasingly, by their own hand on blogs, social networking and image sharing sites of their own.

One of the things that enticed me to write about the issues in my book was the fact that they are so difficult to solve. In the end, there’s no good solution, just ways to cope. Ethan understands and sympathizes with my struggle, and he writes:

I’d have to agree with what I think Solove’s ultimate aim is here – informing people and getting them to think more about privacy themselves. To put words in Solove’s mouth, if everyone is more informed and thinks about these issues themselves, not only will any ultimate solutions probably be better, but they will also perhaps be moot, as more people will have chosen the non-problematic action in the first place.

The most effective solutions encourage norm change, and that occurs not just through the law but through making people more aware of the consequences of their online speech. Currently, I see both in the law and in the discourse an exaltation of speech over privacy, a strong sentiment that people should be able to say whatever they want with impunity. Shaping these norms to a more even balance between free speech and privacy is key if we are going to make any headway in addressing these problems.

2. Jon Garfunkel at Civilities

Software architect Jon Garfunkel has posted a review of the book at his blog Civilities. He writes:

The book was a delight to read, intensely footnoted and calmly presented. While there is no shortage of rhetoric extolling the virtues of new media, Solove takes that as obvious enough, and presents instead the dark side of cyberspace.

Jon agrees with my criticism of the CDA § 230, which provides immunity for ISPs and blogs for content posted by others, but he notes that I should do more to lay out the contours of an alternative rule:

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New Books About Law and Related Topics (Fall 2007)

Here is a list of new books on law and law-related topics published by some major academic presses in the fall of 2007.


book-god-gavel.jpgGod vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law

Marci A. Hamilton

The Milošević Trial: Lessons for the Conduct of Complex International Criminal Proceedings

Gideon Boas

The Constitution as Treaty: The International Legal Constructionalist Approach to the U.S. Constitution

Francisco Forrest Martin

International Tax as International Law: An Analysis of the International Tax Regime

Reuven Avi-Yonah


book-yackle.jpgRegulatory Rights: Supreme Court Activism, the Public Interest, and the Making of Constitutional Law

Larry Yackle

Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Trillion-Dollar Construction Industry

Barry B. LePatner

Unequal under Law: Race in the War on Drugs

Doris Marie Provine

book-privacy-at-risk.jpgPrivacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment

Christopher Slobogin

The Complete Anti-Federalist

Herbert J. Storing

mass-torts.jpgMass Torts in a World of Settlement

Richard A. Nagareda

Women and Muslim Family Laws in Arab States: A Comparative Overview of Textual Development and Advocacy.

Lynn Welchman

Rethinking Expertise

Harry Collins and Robert Evans


book-mackinnon.jpgAre Women Human?

Catharine A. MacKinnon

Possessing the Pacific: Land, Settlers, and Indigenous People from Australia to Alaska

Stuart Banner

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Great Name But Is It a Great Product? Thoughts on Amazon’s Kindle

library 2.JPGJeff Bezos is an impressive manager. The recent Harvard Business Review interview with him, The Institutional Yes: The HBR Interview with Jeff Bezos, (payment required) shows someone offering real insight about how innovation functions at his company. So when I saw that Newsweek had an article detailing Bezos’s latest take on books, I had to read it. The product is called the Kindle, and it is supposed to be the latest reason to think digital books will replace analog ones. One possibility of the new technology is that books will continually evolve as authors change their mind or update a text. This idea brings images of revisionist Greedo shootings; more on that later. Now back to the Kindle.

First Kindle is a great name. It evokes images of fire and light which seem to travel with thought and creativity (the Newsweek article suggests that was the idea behind the name). Plus for me it reminds me of spindle which has several different practical and quite useful contexts. Second, as opposed to Sony’s eReader, the Kindle seems more useful. Both use E Ink but the Kindle does much more than the eReader. One thing that stopped me from buying the eReader was that one could not mark the text. In addition, the Kindle allows one to change font size and search within the book. The search within the text feature could be great. Sometimes when I want to find a cite or know a passage exists but not its exact location Amazon’s search the book feature is most useful. Having the same ability for my library would be even better. Perhaps the most revolutionary idea is the wireless aspect of the Kindle. Now one can read a book and enjoy what Amazon calls its service. The upside of this service could be finding related information or having easy ways to look up a definition while reading. One option was that one might even annotate a book highlighting both accurate or inaccurate aspects of it (the article notes the idea of a Coulter book annotated for misstatements). As Gizmodo points out, however, the Kindle poses some problems as far as format and cost go (apparently the Kindle does not easily support pdf, doc, rtf, etc.).

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