Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Bringing the Books Back In: Tulsa Law Review’s Annual Book Review Issue

Ken Kersch

Ken Kersch and Linda McClain

In an essay in the Texas Law Review not too long ago (2008), our friend Sandy Levinson called the radical shrinking of space devoted to book reviews in the Michigan Law Review “symptomatic of a truly national disease.” He recalled that Michigan's former editor-in-chief, Carl Schneider, was “justifiably proud” of the creation of the annual book review issue. On its 20th anniversary, Schneider suspected it was it “the best-read issue of any law review in the country,” and observed that the need for such an issue was “greater than ever,” as law professors write books “at an ever-brisker pace,” as their work becomes more interdisciplinary, and as legal scholars and lawyers increasingly benefit from knowing “what is being thought across the profession.” 

That law reviews were – are – abandoning an important role they once played in matching books to readers does an injustice to the growing number of book-writing legal scholars.  It also does an injustice to the legal profession as a whole by all but giving up (out of an ill-conceived over-specialization and over-professionalization -- the “national disease”) on law review support for the liberal education of the profession's members in the most significant intellectual developments in their field. 

One solution Sandy proposed was a faculty-edited journal “devoted entirely” to reviews of “law-related books.” Tulsa Law Review invited him to inaugurate an annual review along those lines in its pages. Sandy invited Mark Graber to join him, since Mark had, some years earlier, highlighted the importance of constitutional scholars paying attention to relevant work in contemporary political science. Mark and Sandy -- both dually trained in law and political science -- saw the new Tulsa annual review as providing a way to engage “social scientists and law professors in reciprocal conversation.” See Mark A. Graber and Sanford Levinson, “Selection Biases,” 45 Tulsa Law Review 575 (2010). 

So far, Sandy and Mark have published two of these issues (with a third coming out in February). They are superb, with lots of reviews -- short enough to be readable (3,500-5,500 words) but long enough to be substantive -- of a variety of relevant and important books in law. How many editions of law reviews can you pleasurably curl up with and learn a lot about important things in ways that broaden and deepen your perspective and spark new ideas and connections? 

Both Sandy and Mark are coming out of this experience (rightfully) excited and encouraged by its success. But they have decided to pass it on now to a new set of editors. We – Ken Kersch and Linda McClain – have enthusiastically agreed to work together on this as Sandy and Mark’s successors. Like Sandy and Mark, both of us are Balkinization contributors, and we want to draw the special attention of Balkinization readers to this project. 

Keep an eye out for Sandy and Mark’s forthcoming review edition in February (on books published in 2011), and ours (which we are now starting to put together) next time round. A special thanks to Sandy and Mark for their initiative, innovation, and hard work -- and a (very) humble thanks for giving us the opportunity to carry this worthy endeavor forward.

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