Four novels you should read to learn about the law
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Studying law doesn’t have to mean that you read only heavy non-fiction books. As a non-law student, I know that there is a lot of great literature out there that can help you on the pathway to becoming a lawyer.
Over the past few years, I’ve stumbled across various novels that have taught me about the law and how to consider legal problems. I’ve listed four of my favourites below – but there are plenty more out there. I chose the following four because they were particularly hard-hitting and impressive books to me. I hope that this list will inspire you to read something other than case studies and textbooks while improving your legal knowledge!
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
For anyone interested in the moral psychology of criminal law, Crime and Punishment is a thought-provoking read. The novel follows the mental state of a poor student in 19th-century Saint Petersburg who commits a murder and then begins to suffer under the weight of his conscience and the moral implications of his actions.
Dostoevsky uses vivid literary descriptions to undertake an in-depth psychological exploration of the criminal mind-set, and investigates the roles of truth and religion along the way. The book is a long read, but it is certainly worth it.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A modern American literary classic, To Kill a Mockingbird is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. It follows the story of Atticus, a lawyer, as he defends a black man accused of sexual assault against a white woman. The novel focuses particularly on Atticus’s children’s attitude towards the case. Untainted by adult preconceptions and issues, the children’s understanding of the case and the legal world is illustrated. The novel provides an important exploration of the categories of morality versus sinfulness, demonstrating the importance of circumstance and highlighting social and racial injustices.
Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor
Published in 2001, Bitter Fruit is a set in South Africa after the end of apartheid. The novel explores the racial and gendered tensions that arose from apartheid, following a family through their decision to keep quiet about an apartheid crime – rather than telling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the fact that it lays bare all of the complications of South Africa’s past for the reader, and presents the difficulties associated with the TRC. The novel presents the crime from all angles, allowing the reader to understand the effects it had on all the members of the family, and is an interesting read for its emphasis on how we should define crime and what should be its consequences.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The plot of Bleak House is centred around a longstanding legal case, Jarndyce v Jarndyce, concerning an inheritance spread across numerous family generations. Dickens was an avid attender of the courts and therefore the case may have been based on several real-life cases he witnessed throughout his life-time. Although the book follows various other storylines, the main characters are all linked by Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The fictional case has since become a phrase used in legal circles when referring to a very long case or one where the fees exceed the funds of the case. Much of the irony in the novel is directed towards the English legal system and it provides an interesting example for aspiring lawyers of how the legal system used to work.