Art, Literature, and the Law: Aside From To Kill a Mockingbird, what other law-related books would you recommend?

While we love the classics, we asked book lovers in our community to recommend some law-themed books that may be less well-known than Harper Lee's, "To Kill a Mocking Bird." 


Laurie Hertzel

Senior Editor – Books at the Star Tribune

book coverBleak House  
by Charles Dickens

Bleak House takes a while to get into – the first few chapters are about little more than fog and dreariness, but they set the tone for the novel, which is about, well, fog and dreariness. And also about how the legal system can destroy lives.

The story is about a lawsuit, Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, a battle over a will that crawls on for generations. Characters believe they’ll be wealthy once the lawsuit is settled – but they live and die and still the suit isn’t settled, not until lawyers have eaten up every last dime.

Bleak House is about hopes, dreams and greed, filled with black humor. It’s Dickens at his most devastating.


Michael J. Robak

Director of the Schoenecker Law Library at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and Associate Dean and Clinical Professor of Law


Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How they Shaped the World
by Allan Hutchinson

An academic book, with a novelist’s tone, written primarily for non-lawyers which originated from author Professor Alan Hutchinson’s side gig delivering lectures to passengers on a cruise ship. Each of the chapters in the book was developed from the lectures discussing some of the most important cases from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. Each chapter provides “historical and jurisprudential context” for the cases with a “lively and engaging” style.   

book coverTrying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature
by D. Graham Burnett

If you read The Martian or saw the Matt Damon movie, you may recall the scene in which the NASA space director asks the question of what could be going through the stranded astronaut’s mind.  Turns out, at the moment the director asks the question, Mark Watney was concerned about, what was to him, a logical conundrum about Aquaman’s ability to communicate with a whale since a whale is a mammal and not a fish.  “Trying Leviathan” makes clear that isn’t how the whale was once understood. “In Moby-Dick, Ishmael declares, ‘Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old-fashioned ground that a whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me.’"  Who today knows that this was taking a side in one the nineteenth century’s great controversies? The seemingly simple question in the 1818 case of Maurice v. Judd over the question of whether whale oil was fish oil is explained as not at all simple.  The story is told in a highly informative, well-written, and fast-paced manner such that some have declared it would make a great Netflix movie.  

Will Ashenmacher 



Miracle Creek
by Angie Kim

In Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, a terrible accident (or was it?) at an experimental health facility gives rise to a murder trial – and an ever-shifting sense of with whom the fault lies. Kim, an attorney herself, unspools her story slowly and carefully, so that the reader learns more about what happened at the same time the jury and courtroom observers do. Kim avoids a black-and-white good v. bad narrative, instead creating a more complex landscape where every character’s flaws weigh on the reader’s sense of propriety, if not the court’s ultimate decision. “Miracle Creek” moves quickly and has a heightened but realistic sense of drama, making its 384 pages flow by all too quickly. 

Karen Westwood

Library Director at Hennepin County Anne Grande Law Library

just mercy

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson

As a librarian I can’t give just one recommendation, so here are two.  I’ve been a big fan of Bryan Stevenson since I saw him deliver the keynote address at an American Association of Law Libraries meeting in 2017.  His book “Just Mercy” is every bit as captivating as his speech.  It contains practical advice, compelling stories and suggestions for action.  But what comes through most is his enormous capacity for compassion – a great reminder for those of us who work in public service that leading with compassion can take us to understandings we might otherwise miss. 

beautiful country-1Beautiful Country: A Memoir of an Undocumented Childhood 
by Qian Julie Wang

I’ve been interested over the last few years in books written from a child’s perspective so I’m also recommending a newer book, Beautiful Country, by Qian Julie Wang. This is a memoir by an attorney who came to New York City from China with her parents as a child.  Written from that little girl’s perspective the book is a linguistic tour de force.  Wang tells of working in a sweatshop as a small child, discovering her local public library and devouring Babysitter Club books, and memorizing the mantra, “I was born here. I have always lived in America.” Raised to distrust others and in constant fear of deportation, she nonetheless draws from her father’s resiliency and her mother’s encouragement to follow her dreams. The book’s author note tells us that Wang is a graduate of Yale Law School and Swarthmore College and now runs an educational civil rights law firm in New York City. But this book is so much more than a “poor immigrant makes good” story. 

Wang’s description of her young self navigating school, family and friends will be familiar to all who remember childhood. And despite this commonality, we are reminded in every sentence that Wang is shining a light on a part of America most of us never see.  There is so much that those of us working in law can take from this book, not the least of which is how much our profession stands to gain from people whose lived experience generates a variety of perspectives to bear on legal work. Sometimes when you read a book it feels like a gift – an enjoyable way to spend time, a feeling of being challenged, a chance to appreciate beautiful language. This is one of those books.

Alex Beeby

Attorney, Sapienta Law Group

last days of night-1The Last Days of Night
By: Graham Moore

On its face, this is a historical fiction about the infamous battle between Westinghouse and Edison about the adoption of A/C electricity. But, from a legal perspective, it is more essentially about not only the largest ever patent-lawsuit but the origins of Cravath and what is now known as the “Cravath System” (the associate/partner system still used by almost all traditional law firms today). It is an easy, quick, and fascinating read.

Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter