November 26, 2011
Over the holidays or when I’m traveling, I often like to read books related to business law, but that aren’t narrowly tailored to my current projects. That is, books that feel like reading for enjoyment, but are still perhaps sowing the seeds for news ideas or adding some breadth to my day-to-day reading.
Here are a few of my recent picks:
American Property: A History of How, Why, and What We Own by Stuart Banner
Stuart Banner’s new book is an interesting history of American property law that is especially notable for its contextual approach and nuanced view of property conceptions. Banner shows that our conceptions of property have changed over time and have always been contested.
Banner doesn’t tackle head on issues of property held in the corporate form or the rise of corporations. But there are some parts that corporate law scholars might nonetheless find particularly interesting. For instance, his discussion of the changes to property law in the early nineteenth century that brought about greater liquidity or commoditization of land (e.g., getting rid of English rules of primogeniture and the fee tail), and the idea that Americans in the early nineteenth century expected forms of recognized property to change over time. Corporate law scholars might note that this was a time when more property started to flow toward the corporate form and this window into property law of the time adds some depth to thinking about the history of corporations.
Folks pondering the viability of the “concession theory” of corporations might find interesting Banner’s discussion of police power, the line between constitutional government regulation and takings, and the notion that property is a form of delegated governmental power.
Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind
This book made a splash when it came out earlier this Fall. It tells a story of Barack Obama from the campaign trail to the presidency, with a focus on the financial crisis which the author portrays as a crisis of confidence.
I can’t say that I wholeheartedly recommend it, but I can report that lots of interesting details and some attention-getting material (tales of insubordination in the Obama administration, concerns about sexism, behind the scenes maneuvering…) kept me reading through this hefty hardback. I don’t read a lot of books with this style of political journalism – the novelistic inside narrator tone often made me wonder how the heck the author knew that was what happened. (Suskind says it’s based on hundreds of hours of interviews with over 200 people; there was quite a bit of controversy when the book came out – many people quoted in the book recanted or challenged descriptions.)
Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People by Lynn Stout
This is a fun and very interesting read. It came out several months ago now, and if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet this is a good season for it. We could use some optimism about human nature.
In a nutshell, the book explores the idea of acting with a conscience (or “prosocial behavior”), arguing that the focus on the “homo economicus” model of human behavior in law and policy discussions has neglected the important role of conscience. Stout takes the reader through social science evidence about people engaging in unselfish, ethical behavior and argues that law and policy should take account and encourage this kind of behavior in politics, business, and other areas.
Next on my reading list will be Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Feel free to add ideas from your holiday reading lists in the Comments section!