10 Good Reads – Part 2

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Editor’s Note: Part 1 of 10 Good Reads can be found here

Witold Gombrowicz, Bacacay (transl. Bill Johnston. Archipelago, 2006)

I am a very late comer to Gombrowicz – through a casual remark by Tokarczuk in an interview to FAZ, saying that in her view he merited a Nobel. He did not – his writing is too self-referential, bordering on narcissism. But a great writer, nonetheless, he is. I read everything translated into English in one gulp. His most celebrated book, Ferdydurke, defeated me and I gave up midway. I am told that his innovative use of language makes the translation from Polish to English impossible. I wonder. Be that as it may, the other books and plays, notably, but not only Transatlantyk, are wonderful, ironic, bordering on the satiric, exquisite examples of modernity at its best. If you want a cutting, at times moving, inadvertently tender, study of ‘otherness’ you will not find better.

Bacacay (after the name of a street in Argentina where he found himself ‘exiled’) is a collection of short stories – of his early career as a writer. When I consider his age when he wrote many of these, his natural talent, notably his sensibility and sensitiveness to the most delicate of emotions, usually dark, is no less than astonishing. There is a Chekhov-like quality to them in that there is never catharsis, but his style is all his own.

If you are a literary type, I think you ‘owe yourself’ to read some Gombrowicz. A very special kind of read.

William Phelan, Great Judgments of the European Court of Justice: Rethinking the Landmark Decisions of the Foundational Period (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

‘Give me a break’ was my thought when this book landed on my desk. Costa, Van Gend, Simmenthal et.al. ‘Been there, done that!!’ But if you are like me, you know the cases, you know what you are going to say about them when you teach them, and you parrot it out like an actor in the 127th performance of Death of a Salesman, deus ex machina, whilst thinking of last night’s delightful dinner. When have you last actually gone and reread them or, if you refresh yourself before class, when have you last ‘rethought’ them?

It is precisely that familiarity, coupled with Phelan’s clear and clarifying style of writing, which makes this a good read. I gulped it down on one grey Covid Sunday (blessedly it weighs in at a mere 240 pages) and found myself learning something new and/or thinking somewhat differently on each of these cases about which I had imagined I could not learn anything new. I also found myself disagreeing with several points along the way, but there is a pleasure in that too.

This book, alongside Maduro and Azoulai’s The Past and Future of EU Law: The Classics of EU Law Revisited on the 50th Anniversary of the Rome Treaty could serve as a very interesting basis for a graduate student seminar.

Robert Massie, Dreadnought – Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War (Ballantine Books, 1992)

This book is what is sometimes referred to as Popular History – a terrible misnomer. It falls in the genre of books by very serious historians who write, from time to time, for the general public rather than for their professional colleagues. I wish more lawyers would do the same. The Grand Maître is Simon Schama of course. But I would mention, for example, also Anthony Bevor with his book Stalingrad (here I am sneaking in another very, very good read), and quite a few others. The recent centenary of the Great War (also the subject, in my eyes, of a memorable symposium in EJIL) has ignited interest in the subject. I find the analyses of the ‘causes’ of the War more thought-provoking (and relevant) than the detailed descriptions in historical works on the War itself in histories (e.g. Martin Gilbert), novels (e.g. the incomparable All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque) or cinema (e.g. the painfully ironic musical Oh, What a Lovely War or more recently 1917 or They Shall Not Grow Old).

The locus classicus by common accord is Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August (still a good read) but Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers puts all previous attempts in the shade. Not just a good read, but a must read. Still, I think for the ‘pleasure factor’ I liked Massie (another Covid-reclaimed orphan) most. You might think: Why would I be interested in the construction of battle ships? Be ready for a surprise. You will find yourself engrossed. (The only legal scholar I know who has a lifelong fascination for all things naval, appropriate perhaps for a native of that landlocked country, Austria, is Bruno Simma.) It is old-style historical scholarship – it is all about the principal actors, Kings and Queens, Kaisers, Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries, and of course Admirals. But the biographical sketches of the above are simply superb – personal, detailed and endlessly fascinating. And given the direct and indirect family connections (the Kaiser was, as you will know, the grandson of Queen Victoria) among many of the protagonists and the personal relations among all of them, the story has a human drama dimension that adds further to this page turner. Don’t turn your nose up – this is serious history.

Perhaps the author overstates somewhat the naval dimension (who am I to judge?) but since it was something I had never considered before it serves as a useful correction. Internal British politics and parliamentary shenanigans are also told with verve (the cost of each of these Dreadnoughts was such that it was a matter of huge internal debate whether, say, to build three or four, with the social opportunity cost much on people’s minds).

If you have never read any of the standard accounts of the lead up to World War I, the last couple of chapters can serve as an excellent standalone primer. Silver lining to the isolation of Covid if ever there were one.

Andoni Luis Aduriz y Daniel Innertarity, Cocinar, Comer, Convivir – Recetas para pensar con los cinco sentidos (Ediciones Destino, 2012)

Though published in 2012, this reads like a ‘made for Covid’ book, when suddenly so many discovered that there is more to cooking than cooking; or put differently, that once – as with so many things in life, including the life of law – one sets aside the purely functional rationale of things and actions, deeper meanings emerge. It should not have surprised me coming as it does from the author of the remarkable Ética de la hospitalidad. Daniel Innertarity is a thinker (essential reading for anyone reflecting on European democracy), who likes cooking. And his co-author, Andoni Luis Aduriz, is a (prize-winning) cook, who likes thinking. (Maybe I should add that being a successful cook in San Sebastián, arguably where the most discerning palates live, is in and of itself a sign of great distinction.) Reflections on all manner of food and culture are interspersed with recipes, both challenging and less so, catering to all tastes. Some sample titles of the essays might be Autoderminacion Culinaria or Comer como Analfabetos. A sample of the recipes? Puerros asados a la parrilla con un cous-cous vegetal (simple, delectable). The way to read this book is as an hors d’oeuvres (pick one or two recipes) before you sit down to eat – they will inspire; and as a dessert (pick one essay – do not overeat!) after a meal – it will complement a good meal or compensate for a bad one.

Josef Hen, Nowolipie Street (Transl. Krystyna Boron. Dl Books Llc, 2012)

I usually recoil from the genre of memoirs. When written by the rich and famous, they tend to be self-serving and self-celebrating. And, by contrast, when written by others, they tend to be self-serving and self-celebrating (and why should I be interested in your memoir, anyway?). There are, of course, exceptions, and this is one.

Apparently a well-known and well-respected author and playwright in his native Poland, Hen is barely known in the English-speaking world. I have read none of his fiction and this book came my way accidently. After a few pages, I found it compelling. For through the genre of a personal memoir, it is an evocative, bringing to life, of Warsaw in those magic 20 years or so between the wars. When I say ‘magic’ I do not mean that it was all light without shadows. There were plenty of those too. But there was vitality, cultural and political richness and contestation, and a spirit of, yes, freedom in those tumultuous years. For me this was the modern Golden Age of Warsaw, which in some ways even surpasses the current age of freedom and prosperity. There was, then, considerable political turmoil and contestation but, it seems, nothing like the current polarization and bitterness. And on slowly reading the snatches of memories of a child and adolescent and young man growing up in the Warsaw of yonder, I realized that seeing that world through those sensitive, somewhat naïve eyes (Hen, despite the horrors to follow, manages well to transport us to his youthful innocence) is probably the most authentic and convincing way to recapture the fragrance of the 1920s. It contrasts sharply with the equally sensitive, anything but naïve, gaze of Gombrowicz in Bacacay.

Nostalgic Read.

PS. You do not need my poetry recommendation this year. We have a new Nobel poetess!

Previous Good Reads

(2014)

Moshe Halbertal, Maimonides: Life and Thought, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013; Robert Howse, Leo Strauss, Man of Peace, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014; Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse, Microcosm. A Portrait of a Central European City, London: Pimlico; New Ed edition, 2003; Gregor Thum, Uprooted: How Breslau became Wroclaw during the Century of Expulsions, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 201; Klemen Jaklic, Constitutional Pluralism in the EU, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014; Nick Barber, The Constitutional State, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012; Wistawa Szymborska: Here, Boston: Mariner Books, 2012; Poems New and Collected, Boston: Mariner Books, 2000 (or any other collection of her poems); Michael S. Pardo and Dennis Patterson, Mind, Brains, and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013; Maria Aristodemou, Law & Literature: Journeys from Her to Eternity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000; Thomas D. Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010; Jürgen Tautz, The Buzz about the Bees. Biology of a Superorganism, Heidelberg et al.: Springer Verlag 2008

(2015)

Michaela Hailbronner, Traditions and Transformations: The Rise of German Constitutionalism(Oxford University Press, 2015); Vittoria Barsotti, Paolo Carozza, Marta Cartabia and Andrea Simoncini, Italian Constitutional Justice in Global Context (Oxford University Press, 2015); Sabino Cassese, Dentro La Corte. Diario di un giudice costituzionale (Il Mulino, 2015); Moshe Hirsch, Invitation to the Sociology of International Law (Oxford University Press, 2015); Jürgen Kurtz, The WTO and International Investment Law: Converging Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2016); Dorte Sindbjerg Martinsen, An Ever More Powerful Court? The Political Constraints of Legal Integration in the European Union (Oxford University Press, 2015); W.G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction (Modern Library, 1999); Pio Baroja, El Arbol de la Ciencia (first published 1911); Patti Smith, M Train (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015); Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, mártir (first published 1930)

(2016)

Philippe Sands, East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (Knopf, 2016); Mario Vargas Llosa, Travesuras de la niña mala (Alfaguara, 2006); Patrick Pasture, Imagining European Unity Since 1000 AD (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); Ricardo de Ángel Yágüez, ¿Es Bello el Derecho? (Civitas, 2016); Olivier Dupéré, Constitution et droit international (Institut Universitaire Varenne, 2016) ; David Bellos, Georges Perec: A Life in Words: A Biography (D.R. Godine, 1993); Monica Garcia-Salmones Rovira, The Project of Positivism in International Law (Oxford University Press, 2014); Julio Ramón Ribeyro, La palabra del mudo (Seix Barral, 2010); Marise Cremona, David Kleimann, Joris Larik, Rena Lee, Pascal Vennesson, ASEAN’s External Agreements: Law, Practice and the Quest for Collective Action (Cambridge University Press, 2015); Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems (Penguin Press, 2015) 

(2017)

Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, 4 Volumes (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982-2012); Ludovic Hennebel, Hélène Tigroudja, Traité de droit international des Droits de l’homme (Editions Pedone, 2016) ; Lauri Mälksoo, Russian Approaches to International Law (Oxford University Press, 2015); Aldo Schiavone, Ponzio Pilato: Un enigma tra storia e memoria (Einaudi, 2016); Pontius Pilate: Deciphering a Memory (transl. Jeremy Carden, Liveright, 2017); Eduardo García de Enterría, Fervor de Borges (Editorial Trotta, 1999); Guy Fiti Sinclair, To Reform the World – International Organizations and the Making of Modern States (Oxford University Press, 2017); Matthew Saul, Andreas Follesdal, Geir Ulfstein, (Eds.) The International Human Rights Judiciary and National Parliaments (Cambridge University Press, 2017); Bernard E. Harcourt, Exposed – Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age (Harvard University Press, 2015); María Elvira Roca Barea, Imperiofobia y Leyenda Negra – Roma, Rusia, Estados Unidos y el Imperio español (Siruela, 2016); Claudio Rodríguez, Alianza y Condena (Ediciones de la Revista de Occidente, 1965); Alliance and Condemnation (transl. Philip W. Silver, Swan Isle Press, 2014)

(2018)

Marcel Reich-Ranicki, The Author of Himself: The Life of Marcel Reich-Ranicki (Princeton University Press, 2001); Louis Dumont, German Ideology: Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective (University of Chicago Press, 1986). German Ideology: From France to Germany and Back (University of Chicago Press, 1994); Yishai Beer, Military Professionalism and Humanitarian Law: The Struggle to Reduce the Hazards of War (Oxford University Press, 2018); Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate, 2009); Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate, 2012); Dennis Marks, Wandering Jew: The Search for Joseph Roth (Notting Hill Editions, 2016); E. B. White, Here is New York (The Little Bookroom, 1999; Harper, 1949 (1st ed.)); Charles Leben (ed.) Droit international des investissements et de l’arbitrage transnational. (Editions A. Pedone, 2015); Benjamin D. Sommer, Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition (Yale University Press, 2015) ; Miguel Beltrán de Felipe y Daniel Sarmiento Ramírez-Esudero, Un Tribunal para la Constitución (Registradores de España, 2017); It Stays With You – Documentary Movie, produced and directed by Cahal McLaughlin and Siobhan Mills, 2017, available here

(2019)

Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora – A History of Anti-Semitism in England (Oxford University Press, 2010); Julio Baquero Cruz, What’s Left of the Law of Integration? Decay and Resistance in European Union Law (Oxford University Press, 2018); Julio Baquero Cruz, El árbol Azul (Cuadernos de Langre, 2018); Francisco J. Urbina, A Critique of Proportionality and Balancing (Cambridge University Press, 2017); Ilenia Ruggiu, Culture and the Judiciary, The Anthropologist Judge (Routledge, 2018); Karen J. Alter and Laurence R. Helfer, Transplanting International Courts – The Law and Politics of the Andean Tribunal of Justice (Oxford University Press, 2017); Javier Marias, Corazon Tan Blanco (A Heart So White ) (Editorial Anagrama, 1992; transl. by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvill Press, 1995); Magda Szabó, The Door (transl. by Len Rix, Harvill Press, 2005); Richard Ford, The Sportswriter (followed by Independence Day, The Lay of the Land, Let Me Be Frank with You) (Vintage, 1995); Kalypso Nicolaidis, Exodus, Reckoning, Sacrifice: Three Meanings of Brexit (Unbound, 2019); Hanoch Levin, The Labor of Life: Selected Plays (Stanford University Press, 2003)

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