American Law in the Twentieth Century


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Lawrence M. Friedman

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In this long-awaited successor to his landmark work A History of American Law, Lawrence M. Friedman offers a monumental history of American law in the twentieth century.

The first general history of its kind, American Law in the Twentieth Century describes the explosion of law over the past century into almost every aspect of American life. Since 1900 the center of legal gravity in the United States has shifted from the state to the federal government, with the creation of agencies and programs ranging from Social Security to the Securities Exchange Commission to the Food and Drug Administration. Major demographic changes have spurred legal developments in such areas as family law and immigration law. Dramatic advances in technology have placed new demands on the legal system in fields ranging from automobile regulation to intellectual property.

Throughout the book, Friedman focuses on the social context of American law. He explores the extent to which transformations in the legal order have resulted from the social upheavals of the twentieth century--including two world wars, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, and the sexual revolution. Friedman also discusses the international context of American law: what has the American legal system drawn from other countries? And in an age of global dominance, what impact has the American legal system had abroad?

Written by one of our most eminent legal historians, this engrossing book chronicles a century of revolutionary change within a legal system that has come to affect us all.

Lawrence M. Friedman is Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Law and Society Association and of the American Society for Legal History. His previous books include A History of American Law and Crime and Punishment in American History, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

“Lawrence Friedman already is widely recognized as our foremost legal historian. With this lively, cogent, and wise account of the broad sweep of the twentieth century, Friedman shows that he is not only master of the microscope and the telescope, but of the periscope and the kaleidoscope as well. American Law in the Twentieth Century is a wonderfully illuminating and substantial study, but it is also a great read.”—Aviam Soifer, Professor of Law, Boston College Law School

“This is a work of vast scope and ambition, nothing less than a history of the whole sweep of a huge and complex subject, a social history of American law in the 20th century. Probably no other historian or legal scholar would even have attempted such a project; and it is a safe bet that no other could have brought it to so successful a conclusion. This is a very impressive, thoroughly researched book, but the writing is clear and colloquial and lively, a pleasure to read.”—Robert W. Gordon, Fred A. Johnston Professor of Law, Yale Law School

“Lawrence Friedman is the best writer of our generation about the American legal system. American Law in the Twentieth Century teaches us so much because the author combines real data with real insight into the nations’s past and present. Friedman commands the theories and ideologies that so entertain legal scholars, but he is always skeptical of the latest fashion. He never bends history to serve the constantly shifting conventional wisdom. And, not the least, Friedman’s metaphors, analogies and editorial asides make his work always a delight to read.”—Stewart Macaulay, Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Friedman, a law professor, examines the American legal system as an integral part of the larger society, both reflecting and causing changes therein. By adopting such a focus, the author makes his book accessible to readers who are not legal scholars.”—Booklist

"This brilliant account is at once accessible to the layperson and indispensable to the specialist. A masterpiece."—Choice

“Friedman here presents the long-awaited successor to his landmark A History of American Law. It was well worth the wait. In a work of ambitious scope and vision, the author offers a vivid, insightful overview of U.S. law and society in the twentieth century. . . . This substantial work covers both legal and historical developments and convincingly situates U.S. law in its broader social context. . . . Highly recommended.”—Library Journal

"It took guts plain and simple for Lawrence M. Friedman to write American Law in the 20th Century. This is a topic of monumental scope. . . . Fortunately for those who seek an enlightening guide to this country’s modern legal history, Friedman. . . has erudition and style as well as guts. His achievement is stunning and definitive. . . . He has an astonishing breadth off knowledge, a gift for choosing historical exemplars and, most important, a keen sense of the relationship between changes in our legal culture and changes in society as a whole. . . . Each of Friedman’s chapters is jampacked with information and perspective."—Edward Lazarus, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“At 700-plus pages in length, American Law in the 20th Century looks imposing but actually is accessible and straightforward in style. It’s a welcome addition to the library of anyone who works in or is interested in the law.”—Anne Wagner,

“The book is a valuable reminder that legal history is intrinsically connected to American political and judicial behavior. Indeed, the high quality of the scholarship makes it very useful as a reference book across the disciplines, and professors teaching law and society, legal history, or even constitutional law courses, can easily adopt it for classroom use since its anecdotal style is not only entertaining, but also quite accessible for students. On balance, American Law is a worthy addition to the literature and a fine addition to the library of anyone interested in being introduced to contemporary American law.”—Christopher P. Banks, The Law and Politics Book Review

“Friedman has produced a readable and sophisticated account of what happened at the interface between American Law and American society over the past century. Its basic themes—the clash between established values and new ones, the tension between minority rights and majority rule—are as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago. This suggests that this book, too, will remain a useful guide to the social and political processes shaping American law.”—Charles Lane, Washington Post Book World

Selected by Choice as a 2003 Outstanding Academic Title

Winner of the 2002 Scribes Book Award, presented by the American Society on Writers of Legal Subjects

Winner of the 2003 Silver Medal in the non-fiction category for the Commonwealth Club of California Book Awards

Winner of AAP’s 2002 PSP Award for Excellence in Professional/Scholarly Publishing in Law
ISBN: 9780300091373
Publication Date: February 8, 2002
736 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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Lawrence M. Friedman

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