Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

My Summer Book Report (2020)

Coronavirus propelled UMass into financial crisis in the spring, and, as a result, law faculty summer research stipends evaporated.  With that change in incentives to compound coronavirus travel restrictions, I found myself with more than the usual time to catch up on reading this summer.  I'm going to try to keep my observations here brief; drop me a line if you want to talk more detail.  (All links are to Amazon.)

Books About Soccer


When I signed off from the blog in May, I wrote about starting two books from Australia, Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way and The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe.  The former remains for me the definitive story of the fall of FIFA and corruption of global soccer.  Whatever It Takes was written by whistleblower Bonita Mersiades, once an Australian football executive.  I met her at Play the Game and immediately became a big fan.  I filled out the FIFA story with David Conn's Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multi-Million Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer and Ken Besinger's Red Card: How the U.S. Blew the Whistle on the World's Biggest Sports Scandal.  Conn's book gave a thorough global picture, but I didn't enjoy its journalistic perspective as much as Mersiades's animated firsthand account.  Red Card was a compelling take on the story from the U.S. law enforcement perspective; it's a good read for students of U.S. criminal justice.  I especially appreciated it in coincidental tandem with the thoroughly enjoyable TV series El Presidente on Amazon.

By John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe is a tribute to the best players of Indigenous Australian ancestry and their experiences and undersung impact on soccer in Australia.  Joshua Nadel's Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America does similar work for that continent, colored with somewhat more attention paid to the interaction of soccer and Latin America's tumultuous independence movements and subsequent political upheavals in the twentieth century.  In African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World Game, Peter Alegi also takes a continental approach, but thoughtfully traces players through the post-colonial interdependencies of African socioeconomic development and big-business European sport.

Simon Critchley in What We Think About When We Think About Soccer and Tamir Bar-On in The World Through Soccer: The Cultural Impact of a Global Sport both endeavor to make the social sciences of sport palatable for average people such as me.  Perhaps neither rises to the gold standard of David Goldblatt or Franklin Foer, but both books are rewarding, congenial reads and make worthy contributions to the literature.  Bar-On's is the more academically rigorous, but Critchley made philosophy fun for my freshman fluency.

My unexpected favorite of these books in the cultural studies vein was The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer's Next Superstars.  Sebastian Abbot takes the reader inside the world of the football talent scout and training camps, especially the lives of young African players thrust against the high stakes of the sport business in Europe and the Middle East.  I didn't know how much I didn't know, and the reality of this under-acknowledged netherworld is unsettling.  The painful truth is that the contemporary colonialist harvest of African talent is hideous, and, yet, it can't so wholly and easily be written off as exploitation.  It's complicated.

Books About Free Speech

I read many books about free speech, and I've loosely divided them into three categories here.  The broadest ranging works in this "general" set are Timothy Garton Ash's Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, Lee Bollinger and Geoffrey Stone's The Free Speech Century, and Floyd Abrams's The Soul of the First Amendment.  Ash's book is described by a reviewer as "encyclopedic."  It is; it's otherwise difficult to categorize and difficult for me to grasp the scope of his knowledge and insight.  With a trans-Atlantic perspective, he grapples with the adaptation of free speech norms to our globalized world.  The Bollinger-Stone collection is at times interesting.  One might ought pick and choose from the contents; it would serve best as a course-supplement reader.  The Abrams book is a paean to free speech, not terribly original but eminently quotable.

Samantha Barbas's Newsworthy, Eric Robinson's Reckless Disregard, and Jeff Kosseff's Twenty-Six Words are legal biographies, respectively of Time, Inc. v. Hill (U.S. 1967) (false light privacy tort), St. Amant v. Thompson (U.S. 1968) ("actual malice" as recklessness "plus"), and Communications Decency Act section 230 (1996) (ISP immunity).  Each is a solid legal history with important contemporary implications.  Robert McWhirter offers a well organized and beautifully illustrated history of the First Amendment, appropriate to scholars of all ages, in The First Amendment: An Illustrated History.

The unexpected best of this set was Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher's Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment.  I had not expected to be so captivated by this work that dares to investigate a question typically glossed over: why, and to what extent, should non-speech, such as art and conduct, be protected by the legal freedom of speech.  This interdisciplinary analysis unpacks a problem that runs as deep as the very nature of the human being as a social animal.

Books About Hate Speech and Free Speech on Campus


This second set of free speech books I classify as about campus speech, though the books about hate speech plainly have broader application.  A range of perspectives is to be found here.  I am persuaded to the more absolutist view of Nadine Strossen, who has capably maintained and defended a consistent position over decades, even as academia and neo-liberal thought have left her increasingly out in the cold.  She sticks to her guns in Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.  Anthony Lewis's book in the same vein is disappointing.  I'm a big fan of Lewis's insightful Make No Law (1991), the seminal biography of New York Times v. Sullivan (U.S. 1964).  Unlike that book, this rather facile treatment, Freedom from the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, could have been written by a research assistant.  

In Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, Keith Whittington builds the best possible case for universities to care about free speech.  I fear, however, that he gives today's university too much credit for not already being overrun and ruled by bean counters.  Sigal Ben-Porath has the most academic offering of these with her Free Speech on Campus.  But I was frustrated by her refusal to take a firm position consistent with the title of the book, free speech, as if she were afraid of tarnishing left-wing bona fides for failure of sufficient sensitivity.  Finally, the entertaining Mick Hume, a hardened alum of the U.K. newsroom, thinks about trigger warnings what Lou Grant would have thought about them, and he isn't afraid to tell you about it in Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?  Spoiler alert: yes.

Other Speech Reads


This last set of free speech books I'm calling "free speech-related."  David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memories and Its Ironies is one of the most memorable books of my summer.  I read it because I am endlessly intrigued by the right-to-be-forgotten issue and the problem of cultural memory emphasized by institutions such as the stunning Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile.  Rieff turned upside down and shook an interrogation out of everything I thought I knew about the subject, leaving me with a highly uncomfortable uncertainty about what we should remember as a global human society, and whether we're anyway invariably doomed to forget all the right stuff.  I also picked up (used) Carol Fichtelman's Right to be Forgotten: Legal Research Guide.  It's essentially a bibliography and good for its 2018 publication date, but already in 2020, at about $15, I overpaid.  I'm not sure why WS Hein decided to bind and sell what should be a free online resource.

Adcreep: The Case Against Modern Marketing is a book I picked up at a Law and Society conference a couple of years back.  I'm interested in the implications for commercial speech, and Mark Bartholomew amply demonstrates the how and why of something we're all instinctively aware of: that we as individual consumers are hopelessly outmatched in today's sophisticated commercial marketplace of ideas.  Finally, I read through an unusual item that's been on my to-do list for a while: John Greenewald Jr.'s Beyond UFO Secrecy.  Wait wait, before you come to confiscate my tin foil hat: I read this book because of its acclaim in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) community.  Much of the book's leaves are dedicated to the reproduction of produced government documents blackened with redactions, which is fun and interesting for the FOIA enthusiast.  You will get your ink's worth and your conspiracy suspicions stoked.

Other Reads

Tom Wolfe achieves his usual excellence in The Kingdom of Speech, which compelled me to break my blog hiatus in late summer.  The Curve: A Novel, about life at the "Manhattan Law School," by Jeremy Blackman and Cameron Stracher, was a delightful self-indulgence in fiction, though if you've ever worked in academics, it'll have you recollecting the truths that are stranger than....  In contrast, Kent Newmyer, The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr is hardcore nonfiction, if excellent supplemental reading for the Hamilton devotee: a biography of one of the most important legal cases in U.S. history that somehow usually manages only the scarcest mention in constitutional legal studies.  Equally serious about its social science, Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny tells both the nonfiction history of said bears and the story of their masters, the latter amid a psychoanalysis of dark reaches in the collective human mental condition.  More than once a Polish friend has recommended Witold Szabłowski's book when I struggled to understand something about eastern European thinking.  And ... yeah, I see it now.  Con Job: How Democrats Gave Us Crime ... I know will seem an odd pick for those who know me; I don't usually take my partisanship without at least a teaspoon of Splenda.  I admit to interest in how Crystal Wright, self-described "Conservative Black Chick" came to be who she is.  As I suspected, disillusionment is not a partisan affliction in America, and we ignore it at our peril.

Most memorable of this set was Mikey Walsh's haunting Gypsy Boy: My Secret Life in the World of the Romany Gypsies.  It had been on my to-do list for years, and I never quite felt up to the heartrending drama.  It's not unlike Hillbilly Elegy.  Walsh evinces a grudging appreciation of his Romany heritage and teaches the reader a great deal about its proud traditions, alongside its shames.  The journey was at times painful, but overall enriching.

I only got about halfway through my summer reading to-do list, so more books await.  For now, though, I need to get back to figuring out how to teach 1L Torts online.  Happy reading.

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