Friday, May 10, 2013

Books to read

If you have ever scanned through biographies of successful figures in legal profession, you could not miss a similar element in their upbringing. It is a very basic, foundational element: their education. Being educated is not the whole recipe, but is an unavoidable ingredient for success in a "learned" profession. This necessity, traditionally, is a costly one, and a large share of the costs fell on books.

From Cicero's times, "books, like works of art, were expensive." You would think that with the advance of printing technology the prices would drop, yet the textbooks remain extremely expensive today,* and the prices are on the rise. Imagine, how different our history would be, if Thomas Jefferson wouldn't be lucky to inherit his father's library and then get another one from George Wythe. The world will be all so more different if Abraham Lincoln, who "was mostly self-educated and was an avid reader and often sought access to any new books in the village," wouldn't be able to self-educate himself with books.

Yet the Internet does bring change to the equation. Amazon and Ebay let you search for discounted and used books, websites like or allow to trade or rent the textbooks. And then there is even more price-effective opportunity: free ebooks! Imagine that almost all the books from Jefferson's or Lincoln's time, and a few decades of later books on top of those, if still extant in at a list one copy, are now available for you free of charge! Thanks to the concept of public domain and efforts of Google Books and other projects, such as Project Gutenberg. As recent as on April 18, Digital Public Library of America lunched its own service, aiming to compare in its offering to Google Books. We can't say so about the literature from Cicero time, but what is available for scanning was scanned and now included in the same libraries.**

What it means is: you can do a significant portion of your education and enlightenment for free! An option unavailable to all preceding generations of scholars, up until the last few years. And to illustrate how this point applies to legal education in particular, I started a books' list on a separate page, where I will link to the books remaining relevant today. The availability is not absolute, and not everything was published before 1923, but between these free books and an Amazon service allowing to buy used books from $0.01,*** there is little left of what you really need and still have to pay a high price. 

* Besides the textbooks, some speciality books also remain to command high, triple-digit prices, such as: William M. Robinson's "Justice in Grey" (used from $154.00 and up), or Michael R.T. Macnair's "The Law of Proof in Early Modern Equity"(from $111.00, plus international shipping cost)—this one is not even available on but only at .fr. .de., or I had to use a cross-shop book search engine, BookFinder4U, to find my copy somewhere in France.

** And yes, you can obtain a real paper hardcopy, through a choice of instant publishers, like will print and bind a book for you from any Google Book page. Printing itself is not a free service, and in many instances exceeds the price you would pay for finding a used original online, but it definitely worth checking out.

*** Whenever you see a $0.01 price, be sure to check the shipping cost, it may sometimes be that the combined expense of the cheapest offering is higher than the second-best in the list (sold for more than a penny but coupled with a cheaper shipping cost).
Example of a good $0.01 book: "Judges on Judging: Views from the Bench"

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