Reading List


From time to time, people ask me for reading recommendations. One such request came recently with a new wrinkle.  My friend said she was looking for stuff to read, but between work and child care she didn't have the time or energy for books -- could I please suggest some essays instead?  I sent her the list below, comprised of recent work from some of my favorite writers, plus one golden oldie on football and the law that has stuck with me for years.  Most of these essays venture beyond the borders of justice reform, although they all touch on issues -- race, class, technology, political polarization, etc. -- that influence the public debate about justice. 

Malcolm Feeley, "How To Think About Criminal Court Reform," Boston University Law Review
"Failure is the norm, not the exception, for both bail reform and diversion, as well as a great many other innovations and practices."

Zadie Smith, "Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction," New York Review of Books
"What would our debates about fiction look like, I sometimes wonder, if our preferred verbal container for the phenomenon of writing about others was not “cultural appropriation” but rather “interpersonal voyeurism” or “profound-other-fascination” or even “cross-epidermal reanimation”?"

Wesley Yang, "Is It OK To Be White"? Tablet
"Liberals think that there’s a way to design a fair system of rules applicable to all people that would induce us to cease judging each other through the lens of the superficial physical traits that mark us off as racially distinct. Postructuralists think that the very idea of a fair system of rules applicable to all is a pernicious mystification disguising the partial interests of the dominant class as universality itself. No such universal position is possible; what remains to be done is the re-engineering of norms, customs, and precedents to favor the marginalized."


Caitlin Flanagan, "They Had It Coming," The Atlantic
"The word entitlement—even in its full, splendid range of meanings—doesn’t begin to cover the attitudes on display...When I was a prep-school college counselor 25 years ago, I thought that whatever madness was whirring through the minds of the parents was a blip of group insanity that would soon abate. It has only gotten more and more extreme."

Thomas Chatterton Wiliams, "An Incoherent Truth," Harper's
"One of the outgrowths of the frenzied, justifiably Trump-panicked moment in which we find ourselves is a profound unease with ambiguity or multidimensionality of any sort—moral, intellectual, ideological, political, artistic. Clarity is what’s most yearned for in times of emergency...That there is weakness instead of strength in viewpoint diversity is presented matter-of-factly, as self-evident truth."

William Pizzi, "Soccer, Football, and Trial Systems," Columbia Journal of European Law
"Our American trial system reflects many of the cultural values encoded in the rules and traditions of professional football: the worship of procedurals, the attempt to rationalize every aspect of the decision-making process, the distrust of spontaneous action, the heavy preference for managerial control over participants, and, above, all the daunting complexity of rules that such a system requires." 

Martin Gurri, "2019: The Year Revolt Went Global," The Fifth Wave
"Beyond the oppositional stance, the public in revolt has displayed a singular lack of clarity about its objectives...Pure negation – a loathing of the system and the elites who fatten on it – has taken the place of political doctrine."

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