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The Paper Chase

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  624 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Fortieth anniversary edition with a new preface by the author. A best-selling book and award-winning film and television series, THE PAPER CHASE is at its heart the story of a young midwesterner, James Hart, who finds himself in the great classrooms of Langdell Hall at Harvard Law School, locked in a zero-sum game with a dominating, omniscient deity: Professor Kingsfield. ...more
Kindle Edition, 200 pages
Published December 8th 2011 by Peninsula Road Press (first published 1971)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have One L. by Scott Turow more than once because it is a really good book on the experience of Law School. Note: One L is non-fiction. Paper Chase is a novel. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed with Paper Chase.
M.L. Rio
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this in one day, and what an odd little book. I imagine many readers will be put off by the impenetrability of the characters, but personally I found this compelling because Osborn absolutely nails the many, many anxieties and insecurities of academia. A solid campus novel; I only wish it it had been a little longer and given the characters a little more room to breathe. (But also Susan is nuts and I love her.)
Joseph Samuel
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. I watched the movie going into Law School and enjoyed it. Reading this after 1L made me appreciate the story even more. I highly recommend this book to any future law student or anyone interested in getting a fairly accurate depiction of what life is like as a first-year law student. Several things have changed since this book came out, but overall, it does well in describing classmates, professors, and sentiments one encounters. This book is also an incredibly fast read.
Alon Shalev
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book with a timeless theme - the relationship between teacher and student - but with plenty of themes that make this a highly individualized novel.

Also, I loved the insight into the mechanics of an ivy league law school. Working with law students here on the West Coast only added to the spice of this crazy rite-of-passage.
Aug 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is a fabulous read. It's short, takes a day to read, and gets right to the point. It does the job so much more brilliantly and pungently than Turow's One L. This is the definitive book about the first year at the Harvard Law School. It really made me glad I went somewhere else.
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
As I greatly enjoyed the film, I grabbed a copy of this book when I saw it in a used bookstore. It's very close to the movie, which I liked. The story focuses on the first year at Harvard Law School of a young man from the Midwest named Hart. The really interesting character, however, is Kingsfield, the intimidating law professor who ruthlessly uses the Socratic method with his students. Hart becomes obsessed with Kingsfield and even carries on a love affair with the professor's independent ...more
Jim Cherry
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“The Paper Chase” is John Jay Osborn’s 1971 novel of law school and the main character Hart’s mostly one sided psychic war with contracts professor Kingsfield.

Osborn started writing “The Paper Chase” in his first year at the Harvard Law School. The novel is formatted like a series of vignettes of law school linked together by Hart’s romance with Kingsfield’s daughter Susan, a relationship he finds every bit as challenging and frustrating as his relationship with her father.

I’ve probably come to
Donna LaValley
Sep 22, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
One of the worst books I've ever read, back in the 1980's. It had a particularly unsatisfactory way of ending; I remember swiftly reading the last few pages and in one fluid movement closing the book and placing it in the trash. Then I quickly stood up, left the room and closed the door!
Varun Mittal
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
A terribly written book that gives random unrelated snippets of the various sub-components being played out. I found this book similar to the script of the latest Quentin Tarantino movie where it was cumbersome to make sense of occurrences. Elements being sought by the reader, e.g., Harvard Law School experience, domination by an infamous professor, or the love between one of his students and his daughter were not built to their maximum potential. The only positive was that this suffering ...more
An easy read and I got a rough feel about how stressful it was to be a law student back then. But I have to say it lacked any detail on what law school classes were like. Just a basic overview of how hard they studied and how they were intimidated by their professors. Very few scenes showing tension between the main character and the contracts I remember from the TV show.
Roger Smitter
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This read was just as good as my first read back in 1972. In many ways, the novel influenced my classroom teaching. I couldn’t teach like Kingsfield but I did find ways to make teaching a dialogue. And I ways to convince students that they could SPOILER ALERT throw their grades in the ocean.
Darren Sapp
Aug 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I was hoping for a lot more about law school, the classroom, the grind, etc. but it seemed the majority of this novel took place outside of the classroom and law school-related matters. Well written though.
Edward Woodward
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: John Woodward
A really good read about first year students at Harvard Law School. I may have been slightly prejudiced by watch all 4 seasons of the TV adaptation a number of years ago.
Dec 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
The TV show was far better
Melanie Sorensen
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
I don’t get this book. Unless law school really does make everyone temporarily crazy, and focusing yourself, and ignoring the competition is the solution. But yuck.
Wayde Compton
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author gets five stars. The copy editor, however, gets zero stars for using hyphens instead of em dashes throughout the book.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not that serious, you guys.. Don't lose your mind over it... The professor isn't thinking of you like that. You're just one among a sea of faces that changes each semester... It's gonna be fine.
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thought I'd read a book from long ago and see how it reads today. Not bad
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great book - provides a realistic account of a law student (none of that Suits nonsense)! Really easy read.
Aug 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having never been in law school--nor ever interested in attending--any finer points regarding accuracy and stereotypes have fully passed me by.

But as a regular ol' English major, there were aspects of this which really appealed to me.

The Paper Chase reads much less like a novel and more like a series of sketches. They don't necessarily link from chapter-to-chapter, and even once the whole thing is said and done a number of the chapters still feel a bit haphazard. Few books could get away with
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I guess it's almost inevitable that such a short novel(la) would operate in the stereotype-osphere, but allowing that doesn't make The Paper Chase any more enjoyable. I think there was a great nugget of an idea here, but Osborn was either too busy or young to fully develop it. I do hope, however, that the stereotypes in his novel were a reflection of the various sides and states of mind he was in while at Harvard Law...that would be a little redeeming. I had wondered (before reading his bio)
Nick Mann
No book had more influence on me in writing “Forgetful” than “The Paper Chase.” The parts of my book that dealt with the seminar were difficult to write. But the knowledge that more than 40-years ago John Osborne had been able to vividly capture the feel of a 1st-year law class at Harvard made me know that it could be done. I just had to keep at it. Of course Osborne wrote from the viewpoint of Hart, the student, while I wrote from the perspective of Ben Parks, the professor. But still Osborne’s ...more
Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: beginning law students (with a big grain of salt)
What I learned is that this book is over-hyped. I start law school in a few days and virtually all the books I've read about it say that law school is this horrible experience filled with awful people who engage in every sort of cutthroat tactic in order to get ahead of you in the curve. The Paper Chase is the quintessential example (and probably most famous) of these types of stories. From all the people I've talked to here at William & Mary and elsewhere, this type of behavior is quite ...more
Lisa Davis
Two good things:First, it is a good story. This is a story that needed telling. Second, the environment is described in a way that one can visualize it. Langdell Hall, the dorms, etc.

The distracting feature of this book is the style in which it is written. I describe it as "stilted," but I don't mean stiffly dignified; it is rather "stacked together." Too clipped at some points and the pacing seems very fast.

Overall, it is a fun read and, again, a good story. To quote ancient wisdom, "It is the
I think this i a little bit overly melodramatic. I feel that Scott Turow's One L is more realistic. However, I think the appeal of this book possibly has to do with its describing what you might call fantasies. The student who gives a party and no one comes, the students who sneak into the library in the middle of the night after it's locked, the professor who means a lot to you and can't remember your name, the students who check into a hotel for a couple of days in order to spend all day and ...more
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A quick read and one that was mostly enjoyable. There were a few things that felt pretty sexist but then the author portrayed Susan Kingsfield as a strong woman.

The movie adaptation is one of my favorites, with an impeccable cast: Timothy Bottoms as Hart, Lyndsey Wagner as Susan and the esteemed John Houseman as Kingsfield. The film follows the story mostly, but at times it changes scene order or attributes actions to Hart that were done by others. The Susan character was definitely dialed back
Ashley FL
The edition I read had "deleted scenes" in it: what a mistake! They showed that the writer is actually a pretty BAD writer -- I guess he had a great editor!

This is a classic for law students, but I can't remember ever reading it. Parts were great, but parts seemed almost surreal? I debated between 3 and 4 stars. In the end, I decided, it is 4 stars for law students and prospective law students, 3 stars for everyone else.

Reread in July 2016: not even as good as I remembered it. Why did I bother?
Apr 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: haveread
Sonia Sotomayor had referred to this book in her autobiography. I had never read this, but it felt like I knew exactly what was going to happen throughout the entire story. I went to college at the same time that this story was set in. I guess nothing in it surprised me. Why does school have to be like this? Why is education often set up as a competition and such a challenge? Why does education involve pressures? Why does learning involve so much stress? And why does it continue in this way ...more
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was disappointing. I have a fascination with Harvard Law School (not sure why) and was looking for some exposure to this world and I guess I got some.

The relationship between Hart and Susan, in my opinion, was never fully developed and I really didn't find myself caring what happened between them.

I found the ending to be bizarre and I didn't find it very satisfying.

I cannot recommend this book or the movie either.
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this book to try to understand the law school phenomenon better. Nope, didn't help at all. Most of the book was the student freaking out about being ready to answer a question in his contracts class. Seriously, answer the damned question it doesn't effect your grade! That said it helps me kind of understand the psychology of a law student that thinks every word they say is all important. And it was short, and very readable, and a classic of law school. And I liked the ending.
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John Jay Osborn, Jr. is the author of the bestselling novel, The Paper Chase, a fictional account of one Harvard Law School student's battles with the imperious Professor Charles Kingsfield. The book was made into a movie starring John Houseman and Timothy Bottoms. Houseman won an Oscar for his performance as contracts professor Kingsfield. The Paper Chase also became a television series. Osborn ...more
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