Category: Book Reviews

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Max Olson Helps Berkshire Hathaway with Letter Compilation

Max Olson, Compiler (700 pp.) $24.50

BRK Letters & Compilations

Berkshire Hathaway used to compile bound volumes of Warren Buffett’s letters to its shareholders but stopped that practice years ago.  Only collectors could put their hands on such a thing.  Until now. A young fan of the man and company has published a full compilation and put it on sale for $24.50 plus shipping.  It is a good service and I am grateful to the fan, Max Olson, for sending me a comp copy (pictured at right; he sent them because I published The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America).

Berkshire annual reports of the late 1980s and early 1990s (some pictured at left), all stated that compilations of letters from earlier annual reports, dating to 1977 (also pictured), were available on request from the company without charge.  By the mid-1990s demand had begun to rise, prompting a new policy: continuing to offer the historical compilations to shareholders for free, but charging non-shareholders $15 (for production and shipping).

Beginning with the 1997 report, the letters, again dating to 1977, were made freely available on the internet (and they still are there).  The two-volume historical compilation remained available, but now at a charge of $30, payable by non-shareholders and shareholders alike (shipping included).  In 1999, the printed set became a three-volume issue and the charge was raised to $35 for all.

Those printed volumes have not been available for several years (and I feel lucky to have some in my library). That’s been a relief to staff at Berkshire’s famously minimalist headquarters, a handful of people with no time to process payments and stuff envelopes.  It is this lacuna that Max Olson’s alternative fills, a good job, especially at the price of $24.50 (plus shipping). Read More

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 60, Discourse

Volume 60, Discourse
Discourse

Reflections on Sexual Liberty and Equality: “Through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” Nan D. Hunter 172
Framing (In)Equality for Same-Sex Couples Douglas NeJaime 184
The Uncertain Relationship Between Open Data and Accountability: A Response to Yu and Robinson’s The New Ambiguity of “Open Government” Tiago Peixoto 200
Self-Congratulation and Scholarship Paul Campos 214
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Faculty and staff

The proximate cause of Danielle’s inviting me to guest-blog at Concurring Opinions was a celebration we had at Fordham of my colleague Robert Kaczorowski‘s publication of “Fordham University School of Law: A History,” the publication of which she had blogged here. The  first half the book analyzes decanal administrations prior to those of Dean John Feerick, who remains an illustrious and beloved member of the Fordham faculty. This section of the book is remarkable for being the very opposite of “law porn“: it tells the story of several decades of a law school’s decline. This decline, Kaczorowski convincingly argues, was driven largely by the insatiable voraciousness with which the central university plundered the law school’s revenues (read student tuition) for its own, non-law purposes. Today, we call that plundering the “central services charge.” At many universities, not just my own, central charges are a major driver of law school costs.

The central services charge is related to the explosive growth of the administrative sector within universities. Read More

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The school of the future: request for input

This post is a nerd crowdsourcing request. As a guest blogger I don’t know my audience as well as I might, but I am heartened by the presence of “science fiction” among the options my hosts give me for categorizing my posts; and my teenager assures me that “nerd” is a compliment.

As several of my earlier posts suggest, I am interested in the impact of virtual technology upon K-12 schooling; and one thing I have been doing in my spare time is looking at literary accounts, highbrow and low, of what schooling in the future might look like. A colleague gave me Ernest Kline’s recent Ready Player One, which imagines school in a fully virtualized world that looks a lot like the school I went to, complete with hallways, bullies, and truant teachers – but the software allows the students to mute their fellows and censors student obscenity before it reaches the teachers’ interfaces. Another colleague reminded me of Asimov’s 1951 The Fun They Had, where the teacher is mechanical but the students still wiggly and apathetic. On the back of a public swapshelf, I found the Julian May 1987 Galactic Milieu series, which imagines brilliant children, all alone on  faraway planets, logging on with singleminded seriousness to do their schoolwork all by their lonesomes. And my daughter gave me Orson Scott Card’s famous Ender’s Game, where the bullying is more educative than the mathematics, and scripted by the adults much more carefully.

That seems like an extensive list but really it’s not, and I was never a serious sci-fi person. If anyone is willing to post in the comments any striking literary accounts of schooling in the future, I’d be grateful.

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Bad Book Reviews by Bad Reviewers

The disease of critics who write book reviews without first reading the subject book is spreading.

The illness [bad book reviews by bad reviewers] erupted in January when amateurs attacked Randall Sullivan’s biography of Michael Jackson with a campaign of negative 1-star reviews on amazon.  It spread to the professional class last month with illiterate attacks on Sheryl Sanbderg’s book “Lean In”  run in Forbes and the New Republic.  Amid the epidemic, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum now denigrates books after reading reviews written by non-readers.

Bad book reviews thus must be taken with a grain of salt these days.   Especially for books addressing controversial topics, “reviewers” reflect what they believe about the topic. They do not engage with the substance of the book author’s argument or the content of her book.

It is easy to spot some such faux reviews, broadcast by inane headlines favored by the 1-star posters at amazon.   But the more sophisticated versions are harder to detect.  Writers make references to the book, giving a summary of its arc or stating the broad thesis. Yet they leave clues.  Look for a snarky tone, particularly strident language, straw men, and hyperbole.  Be especially skeptical of any review that cannot find one redeeming point to make about a book.

Helpful also are crowd-sourcing techniques.  As one example, reviewers on amazon are rated by other customers.  Seek out those having earned a great number of “helpful” votes.  Amazon even has designations such as “hall of fame” and “top 1oo reviewer” for such people.  Read those reviews and you will invariably find reliable information and analysis.  (My own favorite is Robert Morris, a top reviewer who has reviewed two of my books in a constructive, and favorable, manner.)

In the old days, literati cocktail party-goers would joke about not having read a book but having read its reviews.  It was a bit of a dodge but you could at least count on the reviewer having read the book.  Pity those days are gone.

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The Essays of Warren Buffett: Third Edition

It’s a pleasure to report that this weekend marks the release of the third edition of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America.  Originally published as the centerpiece of a symposium sponsored by Cardozo Law Review in 1997 at which Warren Buffett debated 20-some law professors (listed after the jump) on every important issue facing corporate America, this book is a thematic arrangement of Buffett’s annual letters to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway from 1977 to the present.

As I explain in my Introduction,  the central theme uniting Buffett’s essays is that the principles of fundamental business analysis, first formulated by his teachers Ben Graham and David Dodd, should guide investment practice. Linked to that theme are management principles that define the proper role of corporate managers as the stewards of invested capital, and the proper role of shareholders as the suppliers and owners of capital. Radiating from these main themes are practical and sensible lessons on the entire range of important business issues, from accounting to mergers to valuation.

The book has particular significance for devotees of behavioral economics who are skeptical of strong claims about market efficiency, as the book provides both the philosophical architecture of value investing and the intellectual defense of that practice, which distinguishes sharply between price and value.
UPDATE:  Read More

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Review of Abner S. Greene, Against Obligation: The Multiple Sources of Authority in a Liberal Democracy

Abner S. Greene, Against Obligation: The Multiple Sources of Authority in a Liberal Democracy (Harvard University Press 2012)

Don’t be alarmed by his book’s sweeping title: Abner Greene isn’t suggesting that we chuck Contracts from the law school syllabus. Rather, he has three particular sorts of supposed obligations in his crosshairs: a moral obligation always to obey the law (also known as political obligation), an obligation to defer to “the past” – be it “original meaning” or simply judicial precedent – in constitutional jurisprudence, and an obligation by public officials to be bound by the Supreme Court’s reading of the Constitution. A surprising number of theories propose the existence of such obligations in “content-independent” form – and Greene refutes them methodically, even relentlessly, one after another. One of the achievements of this book is that he manages to sound more reasonable than radical while doing so.

But while the book’s subtitle, “The Multiple Sources of Authority in a Liberal Democracy,” suggests a broader viewpoint, this book is embedded within an entirely American discourse. A reader outside the US, or even one of a comparativist bent within it, might well wonder whether Greene’s arguments are as airtight as they seem, whether they’re as controversial as he may think they are, or even what sort of philosophy this kind of book is really about.

Read More

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New Titles from NYU Press

Here are some recent titles from NYU Press:

Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge

Marjorie Heins

 

Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

 

Up Against a Wall: Rape Reform and the Failure of Success

Rose Corrigan

 

What Is Parenthood? Contemporary Debates about the Family

Edited by Linda C. McClain and Daniel Cere

 

The New Kinship: Constructing Donor-Conceived Families

Naomi R. Cahn

 

Lawless Capitalism: The Subprime Crisis and the Case for an Economic Rule of Law

Steven A. Ramirez


Neoconservative Politics and the Supreme Court: Law, Power, and Democracy

Stephen M. Feldman

 

Punishing Immigrants: Policy, Politics, and Injustice

Edited by Charis E. Kubrin, Marjorie S. Zatz and Ramiro Martínez, Jr.

Please check out the above books. You can propose a review of one of these books or another recent title not on the list. We’re aiming for reviews between 500 – 1500 words, ideally about 1000 words. Please email your proposals to me.

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Book Review: A Brief History of Judging – From the Big Bang to Cosmic Constitutional Theory

J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, Cosmic Constitutional Theory (2012)

Opining on Justice Stephen Breyer’s book, Active Liberty, Judge Richard Posner wrote that “a Supreme Court Justice writing about constitutional theory is like a dog walking on his hind legs; the wonder is not that it is done well but that it is done at all.” Much the same could be said about Cosmic Constitutional Theory by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, the latest jurist to write about his own constitutional theory—or in Judge Wilkinson’s case, a self-professed lack of a constitutional theory.

Judge Wilkinson views all theories of constitutional laws as “cosmic” in the metaphyhsical sense. “[T]he search for cosmic theory has caused us to forget some mundane and humdrum truths, and that future generations will not look kindly on the usurpations that pursuits of unattainable ends have brought about.” Living constitutionalism, the hallmark of the Warren Court, is “activism unleashed.” Originalism—in many respects a moderating-jurisprudence born in reaction to living constitutionalism—to Judge Wilkinson is merely “activism masquerading as restraint.” Pragmatism—the approach endorsed most prominently by Judge Posner—is “activism through antitheory.” Constitutional theories are activist all the way down, to borrow another cosmic image. So, if living constitutionalism, originalism, and pragmatism are out, what is the best judicial philosophy? To Judge Wilkinson, that is the wrong question. In his view, the ideal jurisprudence is none at all. “So what is my theory?” he asks, rhetorically. “The answer is I have no theory.”

But it is not quite that simple. The sine qua non of Judge Wilkinson’s view of the judicial power is to permit the people, through self-determination and the democratic process, to rule for themselves. This very rejection of a constitutional theory is, in essence, a theory in and of itself. His anti-theory, one could call it, fails to address a number of curious constitutional counterfactuals the book raises, but does not resolve. What if other judges, applying Judge Wilkinson’s non-philosophy, had to decide divisive cases, where the will of the people was at odds with individual liberty? Think of cases involving segregation, eugenics, disenfranchisement, or criminal rights.

Elsewhere, Judge Wilkinson has written that “[w]hen a constitutional question is so close, when conventional interpretive methods do not begin to decisively resolve the issue, the tie for many reasons should go to the side of deference to democratic processes.” Judge Wilkinson punts on these important questions quite unconvincingly: outlier “[d]ecisions like BrownGideon, and Miranda represent success stories because they vindicated foundational principles essential to the functioning of our nation. But I doubt there are now Browns and Gideons waiting to be born.”

To simply shoo away any future constitutional conflicts by saying the Supreme Court has already decided the important cases is short-sighted, and as Gerard Magliocca put it, somewhat reminiscent of the 19th Century Patent Commissioner who purportedly boasted that “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” This is not the case with respect to inventions, and it is certainly not the case with respect to future unexpected constitutional crises. Further, this position does nothing to address whether a Judge Wilkinson sitting on the Fourth Circuit or the Supreme Court decades earlier would have decided cases any differently. Unexpected changes in our society—disputed presidential elections, a war on terror, broccoli mandates, and other constitutional black swans—will happen, and the Supreme Court will confront them.

More pressing, is from what, or more precisely, from where Judge Wilkinson would derive these “foundational principles essential to the functioning of our nation.” Indeed, it is quite debatable what the foundational principles of our nation are, and what makes them essential to the functioning of our nation. Originalists would say that the foundation of our nation is the Constitution as understood by the founding generation. Living Constitutionalists would say that the foundation of our nation is evolving principles that reflect present circumstances.

And what are these principles to Judge Wilkinson? Addressed almost in passing, he notes that “[o]ne foundational premise of the American experiment is that self-determination is a valuable good.” Judge Wilkinson assumes—almost as if it is incontrovertible—that the foundational principle that separates a bad (read activist) opinion from a good (read restrained) opinion is one that promotes self-governance. But he does not show why this is so, nor does he prove why this is Article III’s ideal explication of “the judicial power.”

Cosmic Constitutional Theory serves as a worthy embodiment of Judge Wilkinson’s quarter-century of minimalist jurisprudence on the Fourth Circuit, and offers salient and vigorous critiques of today’s most popular schools of constitutional thought. However, where the book falters is by failing to come to grips with the foundation of Judge Wilkinson’s own anti-jurisprudence.

Josh Blackman, Assistant Professor, South Texas College of Law

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New Titles from Oxford University Press

OUPHere are some new titles from Oxford University Press. If you’re interested in reviewing a book, please let me know and tell me a bit about your background. If I select you as a reviewer for the book, Oxford University Press will send you a free review copy.

 

Louis Michael Seidman, On Constitutional Disobedience

 

Michael J. Klarman, From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage

 

Ganesh Sitaramanm The Counterinsurgent’s Constitution: Law in the Age of Small Wars

 

J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance  

 

Sanford Levinson, Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance   

 

Stephen J. Schulhofer, More Essential than Ever: The Fourth Amendment in the Twenty First Century

 

Daniel Kanstroom, Aftermath: Deportation Law and the New American Diaspora

 

G. Edward White, Law in American History: Volume 1: From the Colonial Years Through the Civil War

 

Gary Rosen, Unfair to Genius: The Strange and Litigious Career of Ira B. Arnstein

 

George Fletcher’s Essays on Criminal Law (Edited by Russell Christopher)

 

Albert W. Dzur, Punishment, Participatory Democracy, and the Jury