14 Great Books About Law, Lawyers and Justice
The life of an attorney can be greatly intriguing. We experience satisfaction, frustration, victory and loss. At times we need to contend with competition, politics and drama. Interaction with varying personalities is done on the daily between clients, staff, judges, insurance adjusters, big business and other attorneys. There is never a dull moment. If you’re interested in the law and lawyers and love to read, here are, in no particular order, some great stories with which to start, along with publisher’s descriptions.
- Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville:M.S. Avenger is headed into battle against the French fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, and the dark shadow of two recent mutinies in the English fleet concern Captain Vere. He relies on his cruel and often sadistic Master-at-Arms John Claggert to maintain what he believes to be tenuous order and discipline aboard the ship. When a new seaman, Billy Budd, is pressed into service from a passing merchantman, his innocent, happy-go-lucky attitude quickly endears him to both his messmates as well as the ship’s officers. However, his charismatic naivete seems to bother Claggert, whose perverse depravity makes him resent Billy’s good-natured purity, especially after the teenager’s promotion to fore-top captain. The mean-spirited Claggert unfairly plots to put him on report and ultimately perjures himself when he accuses Billy of conspiring to mutiny.
- Snow Falling On Cedars by David Gutersonn : San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man’s guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries–memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo’s wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense– one that leaves us shaken and changed.
“Haunting…. A whodunit complete with courtroom maneuvering and surprising turns of evidence and at the same time a mystery, something altogether richer and deeper.” – Los Angeles Times
“Compelling…heartstopping. Finely wrought, flawlessly written.” – The New York Times Book Review
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel—a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man’s struggle for justice—but the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
“Marvelous . . . Miss Lee’s original characters are people to cherish in this winning first novel.” – The New York Times”
“A novel of great sweetness, humor, compassion, and of mystery carefully sustained.” – Harper’s Magazine”
- Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver: A gripping legal thriller, Anatomy of a Murder is based on a true the story of the sensational trial of a young soldier accused of murdering a town’s well-known tavern owner. In the novel, fictional defense attorney Paul Biegler agrees to defend Frederick Manion—a seemingly impossible task: Manion admits to the killing and there is no shortage of eye-witnesses willing to testify against him.
The story becomes Biegler’s as underdog in a tough contest against a high-powered prosecutorial team. Biegler must find a way to legally justify the act in such a way as to overcome the natural sympathies and consciences of the jury. It seems an insurmountable challenge—until Biegler begins to dig beneath the surface and uncovers startling facts have not yet come to light. The truth is far more complex than anyone imagined.
“…it held me as few books have, I couldn’t put it down. The style is simple, colloquial English, beautifully adapted to its task, and often pungently effective.” – New York Times
- Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow: Rusty Sabich, Kindle County’s longtime chief deputy prosecutor, has been asked to investigate the rape and murder of one of his colleagues. Carolyn Polhernus was strong, sensuous, and magnetic; she was also clearly ambitious and quite possibly unscrupulous. Her murder has been an embarrassment to Rusty’s boss, Raymond Horgan, who is facing a serious challenge in the upcoming election and who looks to Rusty for a fast solution to the case that will help save him politically. What Horgan doesn’t know is that, only a few months before she was murdered, Carolyn Polhemus and Rusty Sabich were lovers.
Rusty is a passionate, brooding, fundamentally lonely man. As he nears forty, both his marriage and his career seem to be stagnating. His feelings are focused on his love for his son, Nat, and his desperate, enduring fantasies about Carolyn, who had abruptly ended their affair six months ago. Rusty’s investigation allows him to indulge relentlessly in his obsession, but he apparently makes little progress in finding the killer. Then, when Horgan loses the election, Rusty suddenly, incredibly, finds himself accused of Carolyn’s murder.
“Spellbinding…The suspense is relentless…Surprise follows surprise…The work of a profoundly gifted writer” – The New York Times
“Turow’s ability to forge the reader’s identification with the protagonist, his insightful characterizations of Sabich’s legal colleagues and the overwhelming sense he conveys of being present in the courtroom are his most brilliant and satisfying contributions to what may become a literary crime classic.” – Publisher’s Weekly
- The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice is an intriguing drama of love, greed, and revenge. At its heart, the play contrasts the characters of the maddened and vengeful Shylock, a Venetian moneylender, with the gracious, level-headed Portia, a wealthy young woman besieged by suitors. At the play’s climax, Shylock insists on the enforcement of a binding contract that will cost the life of the merchant Antonio — inciting Portia to mount a memorable defense.
In this richly plotted drama, Shylock, whom Shakespeare endowed with all of the depth and vitality of his greatest characters, is not alone in his villainy. In scene after scene, a large cast of ambitious and scheming characters demonstrates that honesty is a quality often strained where matters of love and money are concerned.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” With these famous words, Charles Dickens plunges the reader into one of history’s most explosive eras—the French Revolution. From the storming of the Bastille to the relentless drop of the guillotine, Dickens vividly captures the terror and upheaval of that tumultuous period. At the center is the novel’s hero, Sydney Carton, a lazy, alcoholic attorney who, inspired by a woman, makes the supreme sacrifice on the bloodstained streets of Paris.
- A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr: In this true story of an epic courtroom showdown, two of the nation’s largest corporations stand accused of causing the deaths of children. Representing the bereaved parents, the unlikeliest of heroes emerges: a young, flamboyant Porsche-driving lawyer who hopes to win millions of dollars and ends up nearly losing everything, including his sanity.
“A page-turner. Rich and vivid. . . eventful and gripping.” – The New York Times
“Once you start A Civil Action, you probably will not be able to put it down.” – Washington Post Book
- Old Filth by Jane Gardam: Sir Edward Feathers has had a brilliant career, from his early days as a lawyer in Southeast Asia, where he earned the nickname Old Filth (FILTH being an acronym for Failed In London Try Hong Kong) to his final working days as a respected judge at the English bar. Yet through it all he has carried with him the wounds of a difficult and emotionally hollow childhood. Now an eighty-year-old widower living in comfortable seclusion in Dorset, Feathers is finally free from the regimen of work and the sentimental scaffolding that has sustained him throughout his life. He slips back into the past with ever mounting frequency and intensity, and on the tide of these vivid, lyrical musings, Feathers approaches a reckoning with his own history. Not all the old filth, it seems, can be cleaned away.
“… [Old Filth] will bring immense pleasure to readers who treasure fiction that is intelligent, witty, sophisticated and — a quality encountered all too rarely in contemporary culture — adult.” – The Washington Post
“Gardam’s novel is an anthology of such bittersweet scenes, rendered by a novelist at the very top of her form. She may have taken the name of her hero’s Hong Kong rival, Veneering, from an unattractive social climber in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, but a reading of her new novel seems convincing proof that the name Old Filth also belongs in the Dickensian pantheon of memorable characters.” — The New York Times
- The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe: Sherman McCoy, known to himself as a “Master of the Universe”, is a millionaire bond trader at Wall Street’s Pierce and Pierce, where the roar of the trading floor “resonate[s] with his very gizzard”. His mastery is punctured, however, when, with his mistress at the wheel, his Mercedes hits and fatally injures a young black man in the Bronx. The story of McCoy’s subsequent downfall is told alongside those of three other men, all characterised by their raging ambition and vanity: an alcoholic tabloid journalist desperate for a scoop; a power-hungry pastor; and a district attorney keen to impress one of his former jury members, the brown-lipsticked Miss Shelly Thomas.
“A big, bitter, funny, craftily plotted book that grabs you by the lapels and won’t let you go.” – New York Times
“The Bonfire of the Vanities chronicles the collapse of a Wall Street bond trader, and examines a world in which fortunes are made and lost at the blink of a computer screen. . . . Wolfe’s subject couldn’t be more topical: New Yorkers’ relentless pursuit and flaunting of wealth, and the fury it evokes in the have-nots.” – USA Today
- The Fall by Albert Camus: Jean-Baptiste Clamence is a soul in turmoil. Over several drunken nights he regales a chance acquaintance with his story. From this successful former lawyer and seemingly model citizen a compelling, self-loathing catalogue of guilt, hypocrisy and alienation pours forth. “The Fall” (1956) is a brilliant portrayal of a man who has glimpsed the hollowness of his existence. But beyond depicting one man’s disillusionment, Camus’s novel exposes the universal human condition and its absurdities – and our innocence that, once lost, can never be recaptured.
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders alone through the slums of St. Petersburg, deliriously imagining himself above society’s laws. But when he commits a random murder, only suffering ensues. Embarking on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.
As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.
“A masterpiece . . . a spellbinding work.” – Life
“A remarkable, tensely exciting, superbly written ‘true account.” – The New York Times
- A Time to Kill by John Grisham: The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young man. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle — and takes justice into his own outraged hands.
For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life…and then his own…
“Grisham’s pleasure in relating the Byzantine complexities of Clanton (Mississippi) politics is contagious and he tells a good story…An enjoyable book.” – Library Journal
I hope you enjoy these recommendations. If you’ve read any of these, tell me what you think.