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Copyright (c) 2010 Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, Inc.
Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities

Book Review: Law's Architect

Winter, 2010

Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities

22 Yale J.L. & Human. 127


Allen D. Boyer*


Wilfrid Prest, William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. 355.

This fine biography of Sir William Blackstone displays both Wilfrid Prest's command of English legal history and his ability to tell the dancer from the dance. For more than two centuries now - even perhaps, in the Georgian England whose law he defined - Blackstone the jurisprudent has been obscured by Blackstone the law-book. Behind the lucidity and balance of Blackstone's Commentaries, Prest reveals the pompous, energetic man who penned them: an orphan, a scholar, a forceful academic politician, a shrewd estate manager, and, finally, when his ship came in, a thoughtful and progressive judge. Prest has also overcome the temptation to dwell on his subject's times rather than his life. To our continuing discussion of Blackstone, this book restores the human element.

"If a lawyer today were to encompass the whole of our legal system in a single book," the young Daniel Boorstin wrote,

and if that book were to become the principal document by which our law was translated to another continent, he would be doing for twentieth century America what Sir William Blackstone did for eighteenth-century England... . Since the first volume of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England appeared in 1765, this work has thus filled a place unique in the history of law in the English-speaking world. It is the most important and the most influential systematic statement of the principles of the common law ...
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