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Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead Hardcover – May 11, 2010

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Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead + Dead Hands: A Social History of Wills, Trusts, and Inheritance Law (Stanford Law Books)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300121849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300121841
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,093,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A sparkling polemic...Madoff convincingly argues [that] we are granting the dead ever more elaborate property rights, which are crowding out the rights of the living."—Christopher Caldwell, the Financial Times
(Christopher Caldwell Financial Times 2011-07-29)

"You don't have to be an attorney or a dead person to love this book. Along with clear, scrupulously researched coverage of perennial topics like trusts and disinheritance, Madoff covers death's terra incognita: posthumous conception, organ donation by executed convicts, the ever-shifting death criteria debate. Even cryonics gets its due. (Can the wife of a frozen 'not really dead' person remarry?  Who has to pay his bills when he reanimates?) For every topic, Madoff digs up diverting examples. What other law book includes the tale of the socialite who asked to be buried in her baby blue Ferrari 'with the seat slanted comfortably'?"—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Bonk
(Mary Roach)

"Ray Madoff has pulled off an extraordinary feat. Immortality and the Law is a compelling read about a fascinating topic; a survey of death, laws, and taxes that somehow manages to be neither dreary nor gruesome. Deftly mixing historical anecdote, legal analysis, and a fine sense of humor, the author relates how Americans have historically treated the dead, and how our laws are subtly but powerfully changing to give those no longer among us an increasing range of powers. Read this book before you die!"—Debora L. Spar, President, Barnard College
(Debora L. Spar)

"This is a well-written and well-crafted book on a neglected subject—how we treat the wishes of the dead, and how the wishes of the dead impact our law and our society. In this succinct but careful treatment of the subject, Madoff describes how we can and cannot control what happens to our bodies, what happens to our property, and what happens to our reputations, when we are no longer here to make decisions and defend ourselves. It is a book full of insights and surprises, and a constant delight to read. It deserves a wide audience."—Lawrence Friedman, Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
(Lawrence Friedman)

“We normally don’t think that dead people have any legal rights. But in her  carefully reasoned and exquisitely written book, Immortality and the Law, Ray D. Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, not only reminds us of our current legal system’s treatment of the dead but documents the extent to which the rights of the dead are expanding and rapidly encroaching on the rights of the living.
Whether it is on issues of reproductive procedures, artistic creations, copyright protections, reputational interests, trust provisions, property rights or charitable giving, our laws are increasingly giving greater privileges to the dead while not calculating the costs exacted on the living. Particular striking is the author’s analysis of charitable trusts, many of them foundations, which are founded largely on the twin pillars of donor intent and perpetuity. Both insure the “dead hand” of the past and limit the extent to which great wealth can be spent to solve today’s societal problems.

Is this shift in the law good for our society and for our democracy? Has it tilted too much against the interests of the living? Professor Madoff argues that it has. She makes a persuasive argument that a balance must be restored.”—Pablo Eisenberg, Senior Fellow, Georgetown Public Policy Institute

(Pablo Eisenberg)

"Overall, this is an interesting discussion of a specialized legal area."—A. H. Cooley, CHOICE
(A. H. Cooley CHOICE)

About the Author

Ray Madoff is a professor at Boston College Law School.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Aries Arditi on June 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
One of the best, most enlightening, and beautifully clear books I have read. I poked around briefly on the web to see what kind of publicity it has received, and am amazed at how little there is so far. Jon Stewart should invite Ray Madoff to be a guest on the Daily Show to give it a boost, because the book, while dealing with a complex (and on the face of it, uncomfortable) topic, introduces us readers to far reaching changes that affect us all deeply -- and Stewart's erudition and wit can help broaden the book's readership, which it surely deserves. This book has a simple and original message that ties together many loose ends about American values, and about how changes in our laws in recent years make money increasingly paramount in determining how our body parts, our financial and creative assets, our reputations and our intentions live on after we die.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Becca on July 19, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
I can't believe anyone made estate law so interesting! As an aspiring law student, I found this book to be refreshing and captivating. The text was extremely accessible, and Madoff's interest in the subject and sense of humor make the book a pleasure to read from start to finish. This is a must-read!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca L. Tushnet on June 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
This short book covers control of the body/organs after death, control of weath via transfers to relatives and to charity, and control of intellectual property in the form of copyright and the right of publicity. Madoff argues that Americans in particular have given far too much power to the dead hands of the wealthy, both in IP and in distributing their wealth, subsidizing transfers to heirs or charities that might not do much to serve the overall social interest. He would prefer a more Jeffersonian approach denying that the dead have enforceable interests. I'm sympathetic, but the part of the book about actual dead bodies isn't particularly connected to the thesis--perhaps because everyone, rich or poor, leaves behind a body (cryogenics notwithstanding) and thus the law of dead bodies hasn't been so much subjected to the distortions that are really about wealth (though he does mention the history of bodysnatching, which the rich feared and the poor just had to deal with).
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