Larry Cunningham’s provocative account of contract law in his new book Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why they Matter is remarkable. First, it provides a clear and easily cognizable overview of many topics including the leading cases covered in most first-year contracts courses. Rather than providing readers with a treatise, he quickly gets to the essence of various topics including formation, unenforceable bargains, excuses, remedies, unjust enrichment, interpretation, modification, conditions, and third party beneficiaries.
The clarity with which Cunningham explains convoluted principles deeply embedded in contract doctrine makes it easy for general readers and particularly first-year students to understand. Remarkably Cunningham is able to write with a flair and without legalese, while still preserving scholarly sophistication and retaining legal detail. His book is therefore enlightening not only for general readers or law school students but also for academics, practitioners or anyone interested in contract law.
Second, Cunningham demonstrates classic contract law’s capacity to resolve popular contemporary problems. He closely examines cases which seemingly only fascinate some of us as students or academics in such areas as mistake and frustration deriving from a fertile cow, a cancelled coronation, and the blockade of the Suez Canal. He then applies these old chestnut cases to recent disputes involving overstated investments due to the Madoff ponzi scheme and Donald Trump’s delayed payments on his loans due to the Great Recession. This approach teaches students that cases with even archaic facts can significantly impact contemporary legal disputes.
This book is a great supplement to traditional contracts casebooks as it puts the issues from century old cases into modern contexts. In fact, I recommended this book to my students as a supplement to the Dawson, Harvey, Henderson, Baird casebook and have received only favorable feedback on the selection. Students have found Cunningham’s approach helpful in conceptualizing how various topics in contract law fit together. The book will not only enlighten students, but will also fascinate general readers, academics and practitioners.
Susan Schwab Heyman is an Associate Professor of Law at Roger Williams University. Some of her scholarship can be found here on the SSRN. Full disclosure: she was once Cunningham’s student in Contracts.