Book Review: Imagining the Law, Common Law and Foundations of American Legal System

Reviewer: Joe Rooney

Title: Imagining the Law, Common Law and Foundations of American Legal System
Author: Norman Cantor
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-06-017194-4 (HDBK) 0-06-092953-7 (pbk)

Has anyone read this book? While the title seems to suggest that discussion of it is not appropriate for this group, this is really a book about Medieval English legal history. Cantor starts with Cicero and the Justinian Code. Then he moves into the early developments of the common law, particularly focusing on how Roman law influenced and interacted with the common law.

I'm thinking of using parts of the book in a law and public policy course I'll be teaching next year. I've only read about half of it so far, and the book seems quite readable, but I have found a few mistakes. Cantor stated that the English burned witches during the late Middle Ages. Without any qualifications, this statement is misleading at best. I don't believe that England had a witchcraft statute until the time of Henry VIII, so any prosecution for witchcraft would have to be done through ecclesiastical courts, where the crime would probably be intertwined with heresy. his description of peine forte et dure is another.

While his bibliography is extensive, there are no footnotes, and thus it is hard to verify statements that are made in the text. I was also troubled by an omission to the bibliogrphy as well. J.S. Cockburn's History of the English Assizes is probably "the" work on early Modern courts, and yet Cantor does not refer to him.

That being said, so far I think the work is highly readable, particularly for a layman audience who has little, if any, prior knowledge about the development of the Anglo-American legal system. I'd be interested to hear opinions from others on this book.

Reviewer Rating: 4-Good

Review written: 2000/02/20

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