A Bumper Review Section

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From its very early days, EJIL has been serious about book reviewing. Around 650 books have been reviewed in the pages of the Journal since 1990. Reviewers have praised many of them, and criticized some, occasionally scathingly. In praise and criticism, EJIL reviews are intended to stimulate academic debate and direct readers to key contributions to scholarship. A collection of 25 ‘gems’, curated by our previous Book Review Editor, Isabel Feichtner, five years ago as part of EJIL’s quarter-century retrospective and available on our website, illustrates what reviews can offer: serious engagement, critical reflection, elegance in writing. 

This Issue features a bumper review section, with three review essays, one Impressions essayand no less than 12 regular reviews. Readers with an eye for detail will note that beginning with this issue, the font size for reviews has been changed, and they now appear ‘on a par’ with regular articles. Even more attentive readers may note that the names of reviewers appear more prominently in the Journal’s Table of Contents: reviewing is no lesser a genre after all, and reviewers deserve to be fully recognized.

The reviews in this issue cover scholarship in much of its diversity – from doctrinal work on investment law to important new work on the Political Economy of Hunger and Feminist Dialogues and, finally, Santi Romano’s classic text on The Legal Order, available in English a century after its original publication. There is too much here even for a summary, so I will focus on the review essays and Impressions.

Erika de Wet’s Impression article provides a window on what it meant to study international law in Apartheid South Africa, and how international law scholars like John Dugard were able to make a difference. It also traces the evolution of a South African take on international law.

By sheer coincidence, two of the review essays in the issue address books focusing on particular countries. Simon Chesterman reviews Cai Congyan’s The Rise of China and International Law and reflects on claims of Chinese exceptionalism in international law. That President Jiang Zemin urged party members in 1996 – five years before international lawyers in the US and elsewhere began to talk about ‘lawfare’ – to use international law ‘as a weapon’ is an intriguing insight. 

Belgium was not free from exceptionalist leanings either, as we learn from Jean d’Aspremont’s essay on Vincent Genin’s Le laboratoire belge du droit international. D’Aspremont praises Genin’s detailed historical account of Belgium’s internationalist 19th century, where grand vision and petty infighting existed side by side. He also highlights how many of the internationally-minded were all too willing to enlist in Belgium’s colonialist project. 

This brings us to The Battle for International Law (edited by Philipp Dann and Jochen von Bernstorff), high up on many ‘books of the year’ lists and the subject of Cait Storr’s essay. Storr sees the work as a ‘solidarist restatement’ that largely ‘retrac[es] the steps of Marxist and TWAIL analyses of the decolonization era’, but ‘does so for a new audience, and does it exceptionally well’. But the ‘battle’ is never over, and Storr concludes by asking ‘where the frontline now lies. What might the decolonization of international law mean in the wake of 2020?’

A bumper review section, then, situating and celebrating scholarship in its diversity, raising big questions for readers to ponder, and above all reflecting the ‘art of book reviewing’, which EJIL is proud to take seriously.

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