Recommend non-fictional works based on legal cases
July 28, 2017 6:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in reading non-fiction books for a change and I would like to read about interesting/memorable legal cases in articles, blogs, and books.

I'm looking for accessible blogs, articles, and non-fictional works based on legal cases or covering current legal changes. I'm not too interested in documentaries, movies, or TV shows as I prefer text over video. I don't mind if the site hasn't updated much as I will read old articles as long as the links aren't broken. I'm interested in reading blogs run by lawyers who describe their experiences in the process too. Thanks.

No, I'm not thinking about going to law school but I realized there's a gap in my knowledge beyond Business Law 101.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Law & Government (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

Perhaps Dominick Dunne? His style grates on me sometimes, but I appreciate his perspective.
posted by she's not there at 7:04 PM on July 28, 2017

Just to clarify--are you interested primarily/exclusively in recent law? Does the country matter? My husband is a big fan of books in a genre I call "X, Y, and the Trial That Z", but the cases take place anywhere from 20-1200 years ago.
posted by epj at 8:03 PM on July 28, 2017

Response by poster: I'm interested in any law related reading and country/time does not matter to me.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 8:06 PM on July 28, 2017

Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy is part autobiography and deals a lot with the practice of death penalty law. It is brutal and fascinating.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:38 PM on July 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ann Rule - Small Sacrifices
Deals with the case of a woman who shot her three young children, killing one and wounding two. Most of the book deals with building a case against this woman that relies on eyewitness testimony from her traumatized daughter.

Harold Schechter - The Devil's Gentleman: privilege, poison, and the trial that ushered in the 20th century

Eve LaPlante - American Jezebel: the uncommon life of Anne Hutchinson, the woman who defied the Puritans
Multiple chapters cover her trial for heresy and sedition before the Massachusetts General Court. Direct quotations from trial transcripts are used.

Jon C. Blue - The Case of the Piglet's Paternity: trials from the New Havencolony, 1639-1663

Ron Soodalter - Hanging Captain Gordon: the life and trial of an American slave trader
Covers the trial and execution of Nathaniel Gordon, the only person in U. S. history to face conviction for slave trading.

Suzanne Lebsock - A Murder in Virginia: southern justice on trial

The American Bar Association also gives out Silver Gavel awards every year to various media that "foster the American public's understanding of law and the legal system."
posted by epj at 8:53 PM on July 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

F Lee Bailey The Defense Never Rests
is a classic.

When we get into books, there is a big overlap between lawyer case stories and true crime novels. But Vincent Bugliosi is generally a good read and mixes back story/mystery with legal particulars. He wrote Helter Skelter about the Manson family trials and And the Sea will Tell about a murder on a small South Pacific island. Both were good reads. He also analyzed the OJ Simpson criminal trial in Outrage and has several other books out there.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:58 PM on July 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v Texas -- a fascinating book about the case, the background, the people in the middle of it (did you know the couple at the center of the case weren't in a relationship and never had sex?)
posted by gingerbeer at 9:50 PM on July 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

2nding Just Mercy, I finished it this week & cannot stop thinking about it, it is heart-wrenching and so important. I also enjoyed reading Courtroom 302, which follows a year in a single Chicago courtroom and the cases that cycled through during that time.
posted by frizzle at 10:31 PM on July 28, 2017

If you're not familiar with the Prenda Law years-long fiasco, Popehat had serious coverage, and Ars Technica was also good. A U.S. District Court judge quoted from Star Trek in the ruling that finally cracked them, although there were a couple more years of following the details to the final smackdowns. (On the blue. Previously, previouslier.)

For quick light reading as a break between heavier content, there's the case of Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:08 PM on July 28, 2017

Maybe The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton and Mrs Robinson's Disgrace. Both are about English divorce cases. They tend towards social history rather than straight legal stuff though, which may not be what you're looking for.
posted by paduasoy at 2:13 AM on July 29, 2017

Brian Simpson, Cannibalism and the Common Law. It's about the case of Dudley and Stephens, shipwrecked mariners who killed and ate their cabin boy out of fear of starvation; the case is still an important English authority on necessity as a defence to murder, and the book does full justice to both the complex legal issues raised by the case and the personal drama of it all. It's also a fun read.

You may also be interested in one or two of the books in Hart Publishing's Landmark Cases series. They are collections of essays on leading cases in different areas of English law, mostly written by legal academics rather than by legal historians, but paying a lot of attention to the history and personalities of the people involved in the major cases. I think the explanations of the law given tend to be very accessible, at least in the ones I've read, and would broadly make sense to a layperson.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:43 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

The account of the obscenity trial R v. Penguin Books is available in book form as The Trial of Lady Chatterley. Famously, the prosecutor asked the jury "Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?"
posted by threetwentytwo at 7:57 AM on July 29, 2017

The Buffalo Creek Disaster.
posted by kerf at 8:47 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a law student so take my opinions on accessibility with a grain of salt, but one of my favourite sources right now is the THR, ESQ. It's the Legal blog of The Hollywood Reporter, so it concentrates on legal issues in the entertainment world -- The Conan O'Brien copyright suit, the Star Trek fan film suit, etc, etc. Because they involve people and things you've heard of, they're pretty interesting and engaging right off the top and Eriq Gardner, in particular is an entertaining writer, who brings real insight into the issues.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:10 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is a huge bibliography about the Scopes Trial at Wikipedia.

There are many books about the Lindberg baby kidnapping and the trail of Richard Hauptmann. I'm not sure how many focus on the trial specifically.

If you are into criminal cases, you might research Notable British Trials. It seems pretty endless to me, and includes all those famous murders that are mentioned in English mystery stories. Some may be available on Google Books.

Collision Course: The Classic Story of the Collision of the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm is about two ships colliding off Nantucket. The book covers the legal proceedings, but I remember reporting on this book in High School and noting that just when the trial got interesting, the two parties settled out of court.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:46 AM on July 29, 2017

Response by poster: jacquilynne: It's alright I'm only vaguely familiar w/famous stars but I understand most of the legal terms used on their site.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 7:21 PM on July 29, 2017

Seconding The Buffalo Creek Disaster.

Accused by Tonya Craft.
posted by southern_sky at 8:40 PM on July 29, 2017

There's a very funny memoir by a small-town general practice attorney called There's No Justice, Just Court Costs. It's a minor classic among attorneys (very minor, I suppose, but people who've read it mostly love it). It's laugh-out-loud funny in places because he highlights his most ridiculous small-town cases/personalities. But it definitely gives you a sense of how haphazard the law can be, being applied as it is by imperfect and capricious humans. And although it's very funny, it really stuck with me as an illustration of how far apart the ideal and the reality of the law often are, and the ways in which some lawyers try to take advantage of that, and others try very hard to bridge that gap.

On the much more serious side, Courtroom 302 explores how broken the Cook County (Chicago) justice system is, focusing on the systemic issues in play by speaking with the individuals caught up in the system. (Many of whom are trying very hard to do good in a shitty system, but it's a very shitty system.) A bunch of the material in The Good Wife's episodes where Cary got arrested was taken directly from this book.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:45 PM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fifty Human Rights Cases That Transformed Britain - they are very short summaries that can end up over-simplifying, but each links to the full text of the judgement so you can read more.

Chapter 4 of Black London: Life before Emancipation (free and legal ebook download at that link) gives a good recounting of the Somerset Case on whether slavery was legal in England and Wales.

I find the cases and debates around Udal Law interesting (short version for the uninitiated: Scotland has a completely different legal system to England and Wales; Orkney and Shetland have provisions of older, Norse law which are different to that of mainland Scotland. The extent to which the provisions of Udal law are still enforcable is debated and the subject of contradictory rulings) - this pdf is a good summary including historical background.
posted by Vortisaur at 12:47 AM on July 31, 2017

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