A History of American Law: Third Edition

By in Legal History on February 9, 2013

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In this brilliant and immensely readable book, Lawrence M. Friedman tells the whole fascinating story of American law from its beginnings in the colonies to the present day. By showing how close the life of the law is to the economic and political life of the country, he makes a complex subject understandable and engrossing. A History of American Law presents the achievements and failures of the American legal system in the context of America’s commercial and working world, family practices, and attitudes toward property, government, crime, and justice.

Now completely revised and updated, this groundbreaking work incorporates new material regarding slavery, criminal justice, and twentieth-century law. For laymen and students alike, this remains the only comprehensive authoritative history of American law.

3 thoughts on “A History of American Law: Third Edition

  1. Jeffrey W. Wehner
    23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    History – To The EXTREME, February 6, 2006
    Jeffrey W. Wehner (Cincinnati, OH) –

    This review is from: A History of American Law: Third Edition (Paperback)

    My first reaction after finishing the book, was to ask myself how anyone could have enough time to put so much information together. As the cover states, this “book touches every conceivable aspect of law…it is a stupendous achievement.” The author takes an insurmountable task and first breaks it up into four sections, Part 1: American Law in the colonial Period, Part 2: Revolution to the Middle of the 19th century, Part 3: Close of the 19th century, Part 4: The 20th century. Within each part he segments chapters into readable legal topics. (i.e. Corporations, Crime and Punishment, etc). In that way, the reader gets an understanding of the period and how it effects all sorts of law, before going onto another time period and seeing how other areas of the law grew and affected other areas.

    Although the republic split from England, the author reviews how attached the our legal system continued to be and all the reasons why this was so. (All the legal treatises and cases were only printed about English law for quite some time). He also discusses why certain areas of the law, nonetheless, quickly grew away. (i.e. the are lots of navigable seaways in America, not so many in England). This is just a small sampling of a tremendous source of information.

    The study of law present a tremendous number of apparent inconsistencies, non-sequitors, and just beyond the reasonable conundrums. The author tremendous dedication to this work really sorts out these issues buy showing the development and goals through the history of the Union. (And why the Socratic method is everywhere, much to the consternations of L1s everywhere)

    Of course such a treaties requires a good effort to read, assimilate, and remember. Should you decide to read it in a bar on say, a lunch break, you get lots of curious questions, puzzled looks, and few invitations to dates, so be warned. Nonetheless, highly recommended for the all the people in this country that are interested in US history and legal history; yes, I recommend it to both of us.

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  2. William J. Romanos "Bill Romanos, III"
    5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Best overall history of the American legal system, June 18, 2008
    William J. Romanos “Bill Romanos, III” (Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA) –

    I am an attorney. I was fortunate enough to read this book well after law school. Although I signed up for a class on the History of American Law when I was in law school – the class was cancelled – presumably for lack of interest (i.e., lack of other students interested in taking the course). I recall a previous edition of this book was going to be assigned as the core textbook.

    This is simply the best overall history of the American legal system. It is long and some readers may be discouraged by this. However its length is necessary due to the details it provides and the nature of the subject matter and the time span it covers – basically since inception of the U.S.

    The length of the book should not discourage a potential reader. If you read this book, you will have an excellent understanding on how U.S. legal institutions (basically the state and federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court) have operated over time and the evolution of American law including core legal doctrines and their evolution over time.

    I highly recommend this to anyone interested in a thorough and comprehensive overview and history of the U.S. legal system.

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  3. John M. Ford "johnDC"
    3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    History of Law That’s Accessible to Non-Lawyers, May 2, 2009
    John M. Ford “johnDC” (near DC, MD USA) –
    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)

    I am neither a lawyer nor a law student, but a researcher who occasionally ingests advice from lawyers about employment law. I have found this book useful as general background in legal issues so I can bring some perspective to these discussions. In particular, it has helped me follow some of my colleagues’ references to legal precedents and how recent decisions fit into the historical mosaic of American law.

    Four primary sections of the book organize the development of American law into the Colonial Period, the Revolution to the Middle of the Nineteenth Century, then to the Close of the Nineteenth Century, and through the end of the Twentieth Century. Individual chapters within these sections–27 of them–cover broad legal topics such as Administrative Law and Regulation of Business, Crime and Punishment, and the Law of Corporations. I’ll recommend as most interesting the Growth of the Law chapter in the Twentieth Century section. It outlines evolution of the law in employment, civil liberties, discrimination and religion. Whether or not you agree with the development of the law in these areas, you will leave this chapter well informed. The author seems to have done his homework, and communicates his findings effectively.

    I cannot vouch directly for the legal accuracy of Lawrence Friedman’s book. I can say that whenever one of my attorney colleagues has pounced on a flaw in my grasp of American law, it has very clearly been my error rather than the book’s. I plan to keep referring to it.

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