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The Legal Imagination by James Boyd White
Abridged Edition
Published by University of Chicago Press in 1973
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


Bought this book based on my delight with his later book, When Words Lose Their Meanings. This University of Michigan law professor is a true multi-disciplinary scholar. This book was written as a college textbook to accompany a course in which law students are required to read and study such diverse authors as Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Edmund Burke, and Robert Frost, and then to draw on their understandings of the literary works of these authors to write on the process of law, of being a lawyer, or of rendering a judicial decision. "What is the essence of writing a piece of fiction if not that the author discovers hitherto unsuspected revelations about himself?" Boyd White asks, in effect, and then points out that the same is true of legal opinions.

To write as a lawyer or judge in White's opinion is to write as a full person, however restricted the nature of the legal language used. Each chapter is sprinkled with excerpts from Emerson, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, which White either critiques or assigns the reader to write a critique of, or both.

To read James Boyd White is to obtain a liberal arts education with the advance of every page. The selections he chooses are inspirational. I wrote one poem, Road of Freedom and one essay, Weaver Bird and Archetypes as a direct result of reading this book.

I eagerly look forward to reading any future books of his as soon as they are available. Legal Imagination could have easily been entitled "Literary Imagination" or "Human Imagination" because it is about that unique human quality that separates us from the lower primates. The "imagination" is undoubtedly a human instinct in the purest sense of the word.

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