Favourite Readings 2022

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James Crawford, Chance, Order, Change: The Course of International Law (Brill, 2014)

Fareda Banda, African Migration, Human Rights and Literature (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020)

Jorge E. Viñuales (ed.), The UN Friendly Declaration at 50: An Assessment of the Fundamental Principles of International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

Claudia Rankine, Just Us: An American Conversation (Allen Lane, 2020)

Dennis Duncan, Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure (Allen Lane, 2021)

As in previous years, EJIL review team, Gail gail.lythgoe {at} manchester.ac(.)uk" data-hovercard-owner-id="98">Lythgoe and Christian J. Tams, have asked colleagues to offer short reflections on their favourite books of the year. No strict rules apply — the posts are meant to introduce books that left an impression, irrespective of their genre. Today we have selections from Dino Kritsiotis. You can read all the posts in this series here

This year, I had occasion to return to and to read in full James Crawford’s superlative lectures for the General Course on Public International Law, delivered at the Hague Academy of International Law in July 2013. Published as one of pocketbooks of the Hague Academy in 2014, Chance, Order, Change: The Course of International Law packs a lot of punch in its pages by a leading jurist at the top of their game. This is not a ‘general course’ in any orthodox sense of that term (sources, treaties, States, jurisdiction, human rights, responsibility etc.) as it takes its cue from unresolved problems of the discipline—as the discipline is understood through time (hence, the ‘course’ of international law): ‘these key problems,’ Crawford explains, ‘can be resolved, or at least reduced, by an imaginative reading of our shared practices and our increasingly shared history, with an emphasis on process.’ Many of the old intractables (such as the ‘softness’ of soft law; the Baxter paradox; the problem of international personality) are raked back into contention here, but so, too, are the frames of sovereignty, universality, equality, justice and constitutionalization given fresh and enduring voice. A wonderment to behold.

Another standout public international law monograph that educated and inspired in equal measure was Fareda Banda’s African Migration, Human Rights and Literature (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020) (disclosure: Banda and I are faculty members on the summer human rights programme at Oxford University). Her tour de force is, in many ways, an exercise in intimate introspection about the limits of law and its jurisprudence and what it betrays (or does not betray) about the human experience of trafficking or migration. ‘Reading novels and poetry has opened my eyes to the many human rights violations that are hidden in plain sight,’ she writes in a work of fierce intelligence and learning where literature gems appear from a voracious range (Under the Udala Trees; The Year of the Runaways; Behold the Dreamers; Underground Railroad: all are here). And with good reason: novels such as Leila Slimani’s Lullaby, Banda argues, ‘lift women from the cold, abstract statistics, which can often leave one feeling helpless and hopeless, and draw us out, make us see and think about our own privilege. One feels empathy and outrage simultaneously.’

The UN Friendly Declaration at 50: An Assessment of the Fundamental Principles of International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2020) is a much-needed modern inquisition into the seven principles of the General Assembly Declaration on the Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States of October 1970—although it is more broadly imagined than that as it takes on the ‘principle’ of human rights protection; the ‘fundamental principles’ of international humanitarian law; the prevention of environmental harm; freedoms in common areas as well as the principles governing the global economy. As the volume’s editor, Jorge E. Viñuales, explains in the introduction, ‘[t]he goal, whether it may be qualified as intellectually- or policy-driven, is to bring the study of fundamental principles back to the centre stage of international legal education and, thereby, to refresh or restage our collective memory of why those principles emerged, why they were felt as pressing needs, why we attached so much value to their enactment and placed so much hope therein.’ Is the idiom of friendship, however, really an appropriate basis for deepening multilateralism and international law? Or does it bear too much of the ‘traumatism’ of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (as it is put in the final chapter by Pierre-Marie Dupuy)? A superbly produced set of essays that will do its bit in helping reclaim that collective memory.

Further afield from the discipline: Claudia Rankine, a professor of poetry at NYU, has curated for synthesis and analysis a powerful series of race-related conversations she has experienced in Just Us: An American Conversation (Allen Lane, 2020)—a work that lays bare just how much thought-work (and, indeed, how much diplomacy) is actually done by way of that simple form of human exchange: the conversation. Conversations with strangers, with friends, with lovers—not to mention the conversations we invariably have with our own private selves. There is a stillness to the prose that invites deep engagement as the verso pages of the book are taken up with explanatory nuggets or news items, sometimes photographs or even data portraits, building what is said in the text (recto), as Rankine closes in on what she calls ‘the complicated mess of a true conversation.’

I have also greatly enjoyed Dennis Duncan’s Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure (Allen Lane, 2021) for its lightness of touch in tracing back the index—that supreme form of human ordering—to the thirteenth century and exploring its various functions and pathologies (note the playful title!). Who would have thought this to be a prolific point for further study, given that (as is said in the introduction) ‘[t]he humble back-of-book index is one of those inventions that are so successful, so integrated into our daily practices, that they can often become invisible’? And the playfulness is sustained right through to the very end, where the reader is rewarded with not one but two indexes for Index, A History of the—one compiled by using commercial indexing software, and the other by Paula Clarke Bain, described as ‘a professional indexer and a human being’! A real treat at every level.

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