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Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law Hardcover – March 30, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


Extremely stimulating, consistently interesting. (Christopher Tomlins, American Bar Foundation)

Impressive and ingenious, a model of scholarship in legal history. (Mark Tushnet, Harvard Law School)

An elegantly written, broad-ranging and imaginative take on American nationalism from one of the best of the new generation of legal historians. (Mary Dudziak, University of Southern California School of Law)

A must-read about fascinating individuals whose lives should be better known, since they vividly illuminate the history of American civil liberties and law. (Nadine Strossen, President, American Civil Liberties Union)

Brimming with fresh insights, a rare marriage of style and substance. (William Forbath, University of Texas School of Law)

Legal historians have long debated the relationship between America's origins as a constitutional state founded upon a legal text and its history as a nation-state animated by a pluralism of cultures and traditions. In this elegant and arresting new book, Professor John Witt describes how this interaction explains the "bounded contingency" of American legal development, which emphasizes the "the many possible paths open to legal and constitutional development" and "the many possible national identities open to self-described Americans" that are bounded by "American nationhood." Professor Witt's project charts a new course in American legal historiography by focusing on the ways in which America channeled and transformed global influences during critical periods in the nation's history. (Harvard Law Review)

There is no more central legal issue in debate these days than whether we are unique among the nations of the world for our structure of laws and liberties or whether we change them as convenient fashion dictates. This collection of four answers by...John Fabian Witt illuminates that question as well as provokes those of us who think we already have the answer...It does not give away the book’s focus to reveal that Witt does believe the American nationhood is rooted both in fundamental concepts of law and in the changing interpretation of those laws by an increasingly activist network of courts and, most provocatively, by a self-interested scrum of lawyers. Other nations are governed by laws, to be sure, Witt concedes. Yet he argues America is different. (James Srodes Washington Lawyer 2007-07-01)

In the study of U.S. history, legal history is often neglected. No doubt, the complex nature of the subject is one explanation. Witt, a professor of law and history at Columbia University, cracks this barrier...This informative, readable book brings forth a new perspective. (J. J. Fox Jr. Choice 2008-01-01)

There are some books that simply take your breath away for their daring. Patriots and Cosmopolitans is one of these. In this work the author covers the entire sweep of legal and constitutional history, from the founding generation to the late twentieth century. He tackles private law, lawyering, politics, reform, and legal theory; as well as war, peace, race, gender, and ideas of nationalism...Witt tells his stories well...His argument itself is proof that well-written and forcefully argued legal history can still elevate, inspire, and improve our thinking. (Peter Charles Hoffer The Historian 2008-06-01)

About the Author

John Fabian Witt is Professor of Law and History, Columbia University.

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More About the Author

John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He writes in the history of American law and in torts, including Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History (Free Press, September 2012), Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007), and the prizewinning book, The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004), as well as articles in the American Historical Review, the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, and other scholarly journals. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, and The Washington Post and he has been a guest on NPR's All Things Considered. In 2010 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for his project on the laws of war in American history. Professor Witt is a graduate of Yale Law School and Yale College and he holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale. Before returning to Yale, he was the George Welwood Murray Professor of Legal History at Columbia University. He served as law clerk to Judge Pierre N. Leval on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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