Pedigree and Sales Rankings of Contracts Casebooks

Preparing a chapter on the digital casebook for a new book, I’ve become aware of the current rich state of offerings in the field of Contracts.  Never before have there been so many choices.  Today, you have more than 20 books to choose from, all rich, up-to-date, teeming with wonderful old cases common across the bactch, plus newer favorites and novelties.  The books are replete with notes, questions and comments, scholarly excerpts, problems, statutory and restatement selections, interdisciplinary perspectives and more. 

Those published in recent years and leading the country in amazon sales of the latest edition appear below.  What’s stunning about this summary is just how impressive every one of these volumes is, how many tens of thousands of hours of high-wattage brain power has gone into creating these repositories of knowledge and stimulus of analytic development.   It’s really hard to go wrong choosing a Contracts teaching book these days.   From 1870 to 1940, there were from 1 to 10 choices and the variation across them far less than the variation available today: Langdell, Keener, Williston, Corbin, Costigan.      

Variety began to sprout after the war, with very interesting books by Fuller (still available today thanks to Mel Eisenberg keeping it current); Patterson (still available today under the late Allan Farnsworth’s leadership); and Kessler and Sharp, and later Gilmore (maintained for a few years by Tony Kronman but not updated since 1986).  Today’s other venerable books, offering surprising innovation and variation, enjoy impressive provenance too: 1959 (Dawson), 1970 (Speidel), 1976 (Knapp), 1978 (Calamari), 1987 (Summers & Hillman).  Others are of more recent vintage. 

Today’s editors all owe debts to earlier editors, but it would be a mistake to think that the greatest debts are to Langdell, father of the casebook, or even Williston or Corbin, who picked the best cases of the period, still taught today.  The greatest debt really goes to Fuller, who should be seen as the father of today’s modern casebook, in contracts and other subjects.   He added extensive notes, perfected the use of the squib cases, offered interdiscipinary and comparative insights, understood the importance of statutory and regulatory law alongside the common law, stressed the teaching of skills in addition to the study of doctrine and did nearly everything else that contemporary legal pedagogy endorses.  And yet in the lore of casebooks, he’s most famous for putting remedies first in the contracts sequence.

Besides the 17 listed below published in the last few years, many other wonderful books with earlier publication dates remain in-print and available, though adoptions and sales tend to decline with age.  Though teachers love the classic cases, students clamor for the latest.  They want to know how hoary principles matter today, how to apply traditional knowledge to the latest breached promise they’ve heard  about.  

Rank Author Year Edition Publisher Motif
1. Farnsworth  2008    7th Foundation  Traditional,    Economics
2. Knapp  2007    6th Aspen Traditional, Problem
3. Summers & Hillman  2010    6th West Traditional, Lawyering
4. Dawson   2008     9th Foundation  Traditional, Historical
5. Ayres & Speidel   2008    7th Foundation  Traditional
6. Blum & Bushaw   2008    2nd Aspen Traditional, Problem 
7. Barnett   2008    8th Aspen Traditional, Intent Based
8. Crandall & Whaley   2008    4th Aspen Traditional, Problem
9. Fuller & Eisenberg   2006    8th West Traditional, Interdisciplinary
 10. Kunz & Chomsky   2010    1st  West Traditional, Interactive
 11. Burton  2006     3rd West Traditional
 12. Scott & Kraus   2007    4th  Lexis Traditional, Economics
 13. Macauley   2010    3rd   Lexis Law in Action
 14. Calamari  2004     4th     West Traditional, Economics
 15. Kuney & Lloyd  2008    2nd   West Traditional, Transactional
 16. Hilsman  2006     4th   Carolina  Traditional, Literary/Narrative
 17.  Schwartz & Riebe    2009     1st   Carolina Traditional, Contextual


(Obviously, the ranking data are inconclusive since the amazon ranking does not include sales elsewhere, such as at school bookstores, or rentals from the publishers.  Amazon is the largest buyer of law books and largest seller, however, and the spreads between most titles sufficiently wide that it seems a reasonable proxy for adoption levels and popularity among teachers.)

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