Anthony Lewis, who died on March 25, wrote the book that I wish I had written.
No, it isn’t Gideon’s Trumpet, his best-known book. It’s Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment (Random House, 1991).
Make No Law is a great book about the law precisely because it isn’t a lawyer’s book. Rather, it’s a reporter’s and historian’s book in which Lewis lays out, in lucid and compelling language, two important and intertwined stories: the history of New York Times v. Sullivan, the most important libel case in U.S. history, and a succinct explanation of how modern First Amendment law developed under the influence of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Louis Brandeis, Hugo Black and other great Supreme Court justices. Both stories are thoroughly readable because they are devoid of the flourishes, pomposity, verbosity and prolixity that we lawyers often associate – wrongly – with gravitas and erudition.
In a New York Times book review, Robert Sack, a federal appeals court judge and author of a leading treatise on libel law, called Make No Law “a tour de force primer on the history of the First Amendment.”
Over many years as an adjunct professor at Duke and UNC I assigned Make No Law, and sometimes gave copies of it, to dozens of law and public policy students, many of whom later thanked me and characterized it as the best book they had read during their academic careers.
If you never read another book about the First Amendment, read this one.
Prolixity? Ah, lawyers…