The Book Report Is On “the Ages Of American Law” By Grant Gilmore

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The book report is on “The Ages Of American Law” by Grant Gilmore

The book report is on “The Ages Of American Law” by Grant Gilmore

Grant Gilmore's 1974 Storrs Lectures were, by all accounts, highly successful. Gilmore's audience received what lecture audiences yearn for but seldom finds: with, irreverence, an intermittent profundity, and some beautifully crafted language. The Ages of American Law is an "expanded" version of those lectures, consisting of Gilmore's original text with some additions and modifications, plus an extensive series of notes.

The question is whether the printed product will achieve the success of its oral version. At one level that question is mooted for the reader by Gilmore's insistence that the book be regarded as in the lecture genre. In a series of lectures, one assumes, the dramatic generalization, even if overstated, can replace the cautious hypothesis of a monograph. Humor through oversimplification is permitted, vivid writing seems appropriate, cursory but lively treatment of a source keeps the audience's attention. All of these devices are retained in The Ages of American Law, and Gilmore announces that the book "is not... a contribution to the scholarly literature" (p. vii). He would have us believe that his purpose is not so much to say anything definitive or even strikingly original, but to advance some "hypotheses" about American legal history that have occurred to him, in the hope that others may be provoked to explore them. Despite Gilmore's disclaimers, I find The Ages of American Law a "contribution," even using a monographic rather than a lectureship standard of evaluation. Gilmore's ability to encompass an occasional piercing in- sight in memorable prose distinguishes him among contemporary legal scholars, so that at his most diffident he is rewarding. In the "age" of American jurisprudence in which he seems most comfortable-the period he refers to as the Age of Faith and which other scholars have associated with "formalism" or "conceptualism"-many of Gilmore's ""hypotheses" have a quality of solidity that suggests years of research and reflection.

There are some difficulties, for me, with Gilmore's assertions or arguments in several places, and the book produces an uneasy sense of the devil- may-care: a reward for past accomplishments or an interlude between "serious" efforts. Still, there is plenty to credit, and I shall praise before criticizing. The least-mined field of American legal history has been, until very recently, the private law treatises of the late nineteenth century. Indifference among historians to the very considerable body of academic writing in private law areas after 1870 has stemmed from more than a disinclination to have one's clothes reddened with the distinctive dust of treatise volumes. The late-nineteenth-century treatise writers were, above all, interested in reducing law to a series of abstract principles which would provide jurisprudential unity and coherence. They have fallen in disuse because their methodology has been regarded as unsound and their substantive goals reactionary. Gilmore, himself of the generation that most decisively ...
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