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A History of American Law

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  297 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
In this brilliant and immensely readable book, the author tells the whole fascinating story of American law from its beginnings in the colonies to the present day.
Paperback, Second Edition, 784 pages
Published June 15th 2010 by Touchstone (first published March 1973)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,228)
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Frank Stein
Feb 24, 2010 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

An amazing piece of work that is not just a history of the American legal system, but a history of America as seen through its laws. It manages to cover everything from the development of equity law to the explosion of torts to the history of commerce and contracts, all without being pedantic or overly general.

Friedman relies on odd laws, great cases, and telling quotes to explain his story. In discussing the battle between civil and common law in California, he quotes an early California legisl
Aug 10, 2012 Benjamin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, law
This should be required reading for every law student before he or she starts his 1L year, and strongly recommended for anyone who wants to participate in public life in this country. Friedman does a fabulous job of presenting the history of American law up to the twentieth century. It's readable, accessible, well-researched, and colored with amusing anecdotes. It provides the critical background and social context that is so sorely lacking both in modern political discourse and in grade-school ...more
Mar 14, 2010 Deb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read the first edition of this tome serveral times back in 75-77. Winthrop v. Lechmere, The Charles River Bridge Case, land is not fungible, riparian rights. Those were great days!
Jul 09, 2012 Alicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Up to page 500, Friedman is brilliant: illuminating, often witty, scholarly but rarely dry and thoroughly fascinating. As he does not end the book until page 640, he lost a star.

Many of the other reviewers in Goodreads appear to be lawyers or law students, which is the obvious audience for this book. The audiences I recommend for the book are historians, sociologists and even philosophers. In the prologue, Friedman makes the point that the study of the history of law is a sociological one, and h
Ben Eggleston
Oct 01, 2013 Ben Eggleston rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before starting this book I imagined it might be a chronological survey of important major national laws and Supreme Court decisions, or something along those lines. That might have been interesting enough, but in fact the book goes much deeper by providing an overview of the general legal regimes that pertained to various aspects of life at various times in American history. For example, although there is somewhat of a stereotype that a doctrine of laissez faire prevailed before the twentieth c ...more
Süësëttä Advöcäätä

My first reaction after finishing the book, was to ask myself how anyone could have enough time to put so much information together. As the cover states, this "book touches every conceivable aspect of is a stupendous achievement." The author takes an insurmountable task and first breaks it up into four sections, Part 1: American Law in the colonial Period, Part 2: Revolution to the Middle of the 19th century, Part 3: Close of the 19th century, Part 4: The 20th century. Within each part
Jkimballcook Cook
Law is a storytelling profession. Lawyers tell stories to judges about how a particular rule of law developed in order to convince them that it does or doesn't apply in their case. Judges tell stories about the same thing in order to convince other judges that their view of the law is right. This book, then, is kind of a meta-history because it tells the story of how American law, legal education, and the legal profession became what it is.

As an amateur history buff and a newly graduated law stu
Jul 26, 2011 mcat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, law-legal
Finally. I started this book just before I began law school. I read a chunk of it during 1L and largely left it alone until this summer. It's long and dense, but also brilliant. It's easy to read and written in a story-telling manner most history books miss. As a law student, I've found a lot in here I wish was taught in school. I've always thought history provides a much needed perspective on current endeavors. This book covers every area of law and the development of law schools and legal prac ...more
Kevin Christiansen
The book includes a lot of information. Reducing over 236 years of legal history into a 580 page volume is a challenging task, to say the least. The book had its high points. For example, I enjoyed the discussion concerning the development of the American legal tradition in the west. The book also provided some interesting information about how legal education has evolved. Unfortunately, the book glosses over a number of time periods, not the least of which is the 20th century. It also has a ten ...more
Peter Norman
Jul 03, 2011 Peter Norman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Less social sciency than I had hoped, but still more so than some other lawyers would probably want. Still, some very interesting insights into, inter alia, how the rise of the American middle class impacted the nature of law. Also very interesting for the treatment of "limited" government and regulation during the 19th century and the professionalization of criminal justice. Recommended.
Tommy Powell
Jul 07, 2010 Tommy Powell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have gained a much more realistic understanding of how law comes into being. For a long time the phrase "law on the ground" simply made me skeptical of the author. My understanding has come a long way (I'm on p. 179 Boom & Bust: the Law of Mortgages after 2 years of reading) but I'm not retaining as much as I should. This book may yet be a bit more than I can handle.
London Steverson
This is the best, and most comprehensive account of every aspect of the history of the American legal system. I learned everything I ever wanted to know about the history of American law but was afraid to ask.
The good: moved pretty quickly.

The not-so-good: glossed over details so fast (in an effort to cover as much breadth as possible) that I was left without learning much of substance.
Oliver Bateman
May 08, 2013 Oliver Bateman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent intro text...for grad students. Undergrads will despise the small font, dense chapters, and weird little asides from the living legend of an author.
Nicolas Garcia
Jul 22, 2008 Nicolas Garcia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
what falls under " the history of how things got so fracked up". also, frack those politicians who use the term "legislating from the bench" it is a legal tradition.
Book Maven
Jun 20, 2010 Book Maven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating story of American law from its beginnings in the colonies to the present day. I continue to be amazed with Professor Friedman's research.
Nov 17, 2007 Bryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law
I majored in history and I'm a lawyer-in-training. I was contractually obligated to buy this. Thankfully, it's well-written and interesting.
Mar 19, 2011 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a little crush on the Anglo-American Common Law. This is like getting a note passed from my sweetheart class during history class.
Aaron Timlin
Jul 27, 2009 Aaron Timlin is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. Slow read, but love it.
My summer project gone long...
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Professor of law.

Also author of mystery novels, The Frank May Chronicles.
More about Lawrence M. Friedman...

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