A Model Judicial Biography

I have long been a fan of the Michigan Law Review’s annual book review issue. I was therefore particularly delighted to read the Introduction to last year’s issue, the twentieth anniversary of this ingenious and, I think, unique law review format. Michigan professor Carl Schneider wrote that opening piece. Schneider brought excellent credentials to the writing of his witty and thoughtful essay: he was Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review twenty years ago, and thus present at the creation of the book review issue. His thoughtful Introduction states, accurately I believe, that the book review issue “is the best read issue of any law review in the country.” He recalls the initial goals of the format and offers persuasive suggestions for future ones. He points out that one of the purposes of the book review issue is to “serve the readers,” stating: “[B]ecause there is now so much published, no one can read everything; and because much of it is not good, no one would want to. Book reviews, then, help their readers decide which books to buy, which to read, and which to study.” I agree with his observation, as I especially do with his comment that “often a serious book goes unreviewed for several years because it was overlooked in the flood” of new books. The inattention to Pnina Lahav’s biography of Simon Agranat in this country vividly illustrates Schneider’s remark about books that have been overlooked. The silence of American newspapers and periodicals has been stunning. The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, other major newspapers and magazines of general circulation – none have reviewed the book. Attention to the book in American publications consists only of a favorable review by Sanford Levinson in the History Book Club Review and an extensive, enthusiastic evaluation by Laura Kalman, a knowledgeable and thoughtful biographer herself, in Law and Social Inquiry, the Journal of the American Bar Foundation. Kalman, who had written a blurb for Judgment in Jerusalem – a blurb beginning “[t]his is the best biography I have ever read” – superbly surveys the pitfalls that confront a biographer and evaluates Lahav’s achievement far more thoroughly than I can here. She ends her forty-five-page essay with the statement: “I wish my blurb had been more glowing.”