Faculty Books

The Trial in American Life

Robert Ferguson (University of Chicago Press, 2007)

America's history of high-profile trials has not only captivated the public's imagination but also served as a forum for discussion of contentious issues and barometers of thought. Prof. Ferguson's new book, written for scholars and general readership, argues that we can only understand the importance of pivotal trials by examining their public impact as well as their legal significance. He accomplishes this task by bringing together courtroom transcripts, newspaper accounts, and the work of such writers as Emerson, Thoreau, William Dean Howells, and E. L. Doctorow to show what happens when courtrooms are forced to cope with unresolved communal anxieties and make legal decisions that change how America thinks about itself. How do such trials mushroom into major public dramas with fundamental ideas at stake? Why did outcomes that we now see as unjust enjoy community support at the time? At what point does overexposure undermine a trial's role as a legal proceeding?

Ultimately, such questions lead Prof. Ferguson to modern press coverage of courtrooms. While acknowledging that the media can skew perceptions, he argues forcefully in favor of television coverage – and he takes the U.S. Supreme Court to task for its failure to grasp the importance of this issue. Trials must be seen to be understood, but Prof. Ferguson reminds us that we have a duty, currently ignored, to ensure that cameras serve the court rather than the media. The Trial in American Life weaves Prof. Ferguson's deep knowledge of American history, law, and culture into a fascinating and highly relevant book.

Back to top

Corporate Governance Lessons from Transition Economy Reforms

Merritt Fox and Michael Heller, eds. (Princeton University Press, 2007)

To date, most theoretical work on corporate governance has focused on advanced market economies. In post-socialist countries, corporate finance and transition economics scholars have often done little more than convey the received theory to transition policymakers. This work is the first of its kind to focus on the reverse concern: What, if anything, do the reform experiences of transition countries teach about corporate governance theory more generally? To investigate this question, Profs. Fox and Heller have assembled a stellar group of corporate governance theorists who provide startling answers.

The principal essays approach the problem from three complementary perspectives that form the organizing themes of the book. The first refines core corporate theory terms, while the second presents important empirical work that explores the channels through which "good corporate governance" may link to the real economy. The final part links corporate governance theory to practical reforms. After 15 years of experience, practice can now inform theory. The provocative themes and accessible writing will be of interest to a broad range of scholars, commentators, and policymakers.

Back to top

Framing Contract Law: An Economic Perspective

Victor Goldberg (Harvard University Press, 2007)

The central theme of this book is that an economic framework – incorporating such concepts as information asymmetry, moral hazard, and adaptation to changed circumstances – is appropriate for contract interpretation, analyzing contract disputes, and developing contract doctrine. The value of the approach is demonstrated through the close analysis of major contract cases. In many of the cases, had the court (and the litigators) understood the economic context, the analysis and results would have been very different.

Topics and some representative cases include "consideration" (Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon), "interpretation" (Bloor v. Falstaff and Columbia Nitrogen v. Royster), "remedies" (Campbell v. Wentz, Tongish v. Thomas, and Parker v. Twentieth Century Fox), and "excuse" (Alcoa v. Essex). Professor Douglas Baird of the University of Chicago Law School said the book "ought to be read by everyone who teaches contract law in an American law school. Even more important, it ought to be read by every lawyer who writes or negotiates contracts."

Back to top

Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law

John Fabian Witt (Harvard University Press, 2007)

James Wilson, Elias Hill, and Crystal Eastman are not names ordinarily encountered in American history books. Prof. Witt, a legal historian, uses their little-known stories (plus those of others) to show how law and constitutionalism have powerfully shaped and been shaped by the experience of nationhood at key moments in American history. The book covers a wide swath of history, from the founding era to Reconstruction and from the making of the modern state to post-New Deal limits.

Founding Father James Wilson’s star-crossed life is testament to the capacity of American nationhood to capture the imagination of those who have lived within its orbit. For South Carolina freedman Elias Hill, the 19th-century saga of black citizenship gave way to a quest for a black nationhood of his own on the West African coast. Greenwich Village radical Crystal Eastman became one of the most articulate critics of American nationhood, advocating world federation and other forms of supranational government and establishing the modern American civil liberties movement. Dean Roscoe Pound of Harvard Law School and trial lawyer Melvin Belli aimed to stave off what both saw as the dangerous growth of a foreign administrative state.

In their own way, these individuals came up against the power of American national institutions to shape and constrain the directions of legal change. Yet their engagement with nationhood remade the institutions and ideals of the United States even as the national tradition shaped and constrained the course of their lives.

Back to top

New Report Assesses Foreign Direct Investment in 82 Countries

 The Columbia Program on International Investment (CPII) and the Economist Intelligence Unit released a report that assesses foreign direct investment (FDI) flows between 2005-10. The 304-page volume World investment prospects to 2010: Boom or backlash? examines factors that suggest both a new boom in FDI flows, as well as a possible backlash against FDI. It includes special analyses of the performance of African countries, especially in light of their need for investment, as well as the transatlantic investment relationship, the dominant relationship in the world FDI market, according to CPII Executive Director Karl Sauvant. The full report is available for purchase from the Economist Intelligence Unit at To obtain a free abbreviated version, please go to

Back to top

Smit & Herzog on The Law of the European Union

Hans Smit, Peter Herzog, Christian Campbell, and Gudrun Zagel (LexisNexis, 2006)

Recently published is the completely updated and revised edition of the Law of the European Community: A Commentary on the EC Treaty. The authors, accomplished European law practitioners, academics, and public servants, analyze each article of the two treaties, its evolution, major case law, and subordinate legislation. These provisions are the basis of the European Union’s internal and external trade, economic regulation, and social integration and extensively shape the domestic laws of all its member states.

Back to top