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Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor Paperback – March 31, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0674014718 ISBN-10: 0674014715

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Alchemy of Race and Rights:  Diary of a Law Professor + Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Second Edition (Critical America (New York University Paperback))
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 31, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674014715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674014718
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #479,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In a personal and profound examination of the United States legal system and its effect on African Americans, Patricia J. Williams uses the term alchemy--the medieval, mysterious practice of turning base metal into gold--as a haunting metaphor for the nearly mystical process by which United States law emboldens and endangers blacks through arcane interpretation, as well as the heroic will of a people to make those laws manifest. "I'm interested in the way in which the legal language flattens and confines in absolutes the complexity of meaning inherent in any given problem," she writes. "I am trying to challenge the usual limits of commercial discourse by using an intentionally double-voiced and relational, rather than a traditionally legal black letter, vocabulary."

With an authorial voice that draws upon Williams's perspective as teacher, lawyer, black American, and woman, The Alchemy of Race and Rights uses a palette of court cases, educational encounters, and personal experiences--including her discovery of her slave ancestor and her interactions with school deans over how to teach law--to create a literary cubist portrait detailing the rhetoric and reality that color the complexion of American justice. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

One of the most invitingly personal, even vulnerable, books I've read...Williams has a knack for keeping you just a bit off balance...Her readings invigorate familiar controversies: If you thought there was nothing new to be said about Howard Beach or Eleanor Bumpurs, Tawana Brawley or Baby M., read Williams on them. But some of the most magical turns of argument flow from far less public events...The law needs a brain...and, even more, a heart and some courage. Certificates won't help. This book just might. (Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Nation)

Williams melds sophisticated legal scholarship, memoir and allegory into a rich melange that will change perceptions about the substance and spirit of black women...At a time when the nation is wrestling with political correctness or wrongness...Williams' candor about the law and her life is refreshing...The Alchemy of Race and Rights brings jurisprudence to the people while leaving no doubt that the author is among the finest legal talents among us. (Evelyn C. White San Francisco Chronicle)

This is a work where style and substance are deeply connected...Writers of feminist jurisprudence first pushed the door open wide some fifteen years ago, and many scholars of color have walked through. Williams/author' work is among the best, and the most respected, in this tradition...There is passion in these essays, and there is rage, clarity, confusion, intelligence and tenderness. This is more than the alchemy of race and rights. This is the magic and complexity of life. (Judy Scales-Trent Women's Review of Books)

Williams is an original and imaginative mind, an unstultified, insubordinate thinker who jumps off cliffs and lands on her feet, who flies close to the sun and never melts her wings. She accomplishes the near impossible: simultaneous depth of engagement in law and world. The alchemical forge she theorizes between race and rights parallels her own method: 'the making of something out of nothing.' See what she makes out of sausage, polar bears, Beethoven. See if you can ever shop at Benetton's again. (Catharine A. MacKinnon, University of Michigan Law School)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By law student on March 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Finally, after a year and a half in law school I have found something that feels real. Professor Williams' book addresses all the unspoken assumptions and rules that frame and defines the study of law. Her voice is the first that I have heard or read which captures the frustration of existing in a world of law that is so unapologetically deficient of humanity. The book reveals the rich and thick veneer of denial that surrounds and protects those privileged by the law. She dissects the silent and invisible plague of racism that infiltrates every aspect of the law. She forces discomfort on herself and the reader in order to reach some greater knowledge or understanding.
It is the book's refusal to conform to traditional forms of legal discourse that helps to powerfully illuminate the inherent limitations, oppressions, and inadequacies of the law. The narrative form brings to life the messy complications and nuances that inhabit not just law, but our relationship as individuals, and as a nation, to race and gender.
Perhaps it is the vulnerability laid so bare, or the familiar voice of madness creeping so closely, whatever the source, the voice in the book was one of the most powerful I have heard in years. It is so refreshingly honest and brave, a book I am very grateful to have encountered.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I recently had the pleasure of re-reading this remarkable book. Over the past half-century, it is no doubt one of the most important books on race published in the United States. The author blends autobiography, keen visual observations, analysis, and heart into a powerful journey through the landscape of American race relations. The result is utterly convincing: the convergence of the "personal and the political" moves each reader to examine his or her own relationship to the subjects at hand. While most race books pontificate, this one eases the reader into examining some very difficult, indeed painful questions. Williams, a writer of great skill and elegance, has pulled off a miricale in the field of race writing, an enduring masterpiece that has changed the way we think and talk about race in America.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is an extraordinary book. Through the use of a wide array of reasoning and writing methods, Williams makes it possible for us to get a glimpse of the dangerous and contradictory legal world that ethnic minorities must negotiate to survive. It may be a bit of a stretch for people unaccustomed to thinking outside the box as well as those unfamilar with literature and literary theory. But the insight Williams offers is well worth the effort. It also provides members of the privileged class with the unusual & valuable experience of not being the central focus of the text. A fabulous experience for readers with an open mind!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By t-sao on March 19, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am the commenter on the review titled, "A Widely Read Manifesto of Regressive Race Relations"'. So if youre going to base your decision on that individual's negative review, PLEASE reference the comment!

Now that that is out of the way, this book is amazing. If you want details, reference the comment. Otherwise, just trust when I say if you are a prelaw/law student who aims for an ethic approach to understanding the limitations of the law, then you must give this book a chance.. and even if youre not aiming for an ethical approach, just read this lest you become hollywood's (/traditional) caricature of a lawyer.
Patricia Williams' writing is very very very layered, poetic and illuminating. Her words evoke both beautiful and tragic imagery. Therefore, you're going to have to read her chapters more than once. But, trust me, the time is well spent.
The part of this book that I enjoyed the most was the personal dimension that Williams allows. Reading her book is almost like reading her journal-- her innermost thoughts exposed and analyzed. I was definitely blown away by her ability to draw you in-- personally, I was quite emotionally invested as I neared the later chapters.
I above all admire Williams' strength to lay bare her most vulnerable experiences and thoughts in the hopeful attempt to shed light on the complexity of being.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Apophenia on March 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Alchemy of Race and Rights is a wonderful exploration of race and the law in modern society. In a whirlwind of impressionistic strokes, Williams beautifully illustrates the mutually constitutive nature of bodies and rules. Her elegant prose leads the reader to contemplate the law from a place where subject position is everything, and the false security of formal equivalence and abstract monetization are the very currency of oppression.

Though her writing style may be off-putting to those in search of a formal treatise on race and the law, and her fragmented invocation of the personal as a starting point for inductive work is sometimes difficult to follow, the impressionistic quality of the text is also one of its great strengths. In the end, a deeper meaning is conveyed through this sometimes schizophrenic free association than could be done through any more formally-structured argument.

Keep an open mind, and read everything twice. You won't regret the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pazia Miller on September 12, 2014
Format: Paperback
Amazing. Changed my perspective on the workings of race entirely. Elegant and personal.
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