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Persons and Masks of the Law: Cardozo, Holmes, Jefferson, and Wythe as Makers of the Masks Paperback – May 29, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0520235236 ISBN-10: 0520235231 Edition: First Edition, With a New Preface
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Persons and Masks of the Law: Cardozo, Holmes, Jefferson, and Wythe as Makers of the Masks + Ideals, Beliefs, Attitudes, and the Law Private Law Perspectives on a Public Law Problem (Frank W. Abrams Lectures) + Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Noonan's analyses challenge even as they charm; simultaneously they constitute both pieces of creative scholarship and literary gems." -- Walter F. Murphy, editor of American Constitutional Interpretation

From the Inside Flap

"Noonan's analyses challenge even as they charm; simultaneously they constitute both pieces of creative scholarship and literary gems. I have read and re-read this slim volume and have strongly recommended it to students as an example of how an imaginative scholar can start with what seems commonplace and force us to reexamine our own conclusions--and occasionally values."—Walter F. Murphy, author of American Constitutional Interpretation

"A classic work, highly influential, widely cited."—Martin Shapiro, author of Seeking the Center



"Persons and Masks of the Law is a brilliant conception, beautifully realized. I congratulate the author on this sparely and wholly expressed idea."—Robert K. Merton, Columbia University

"A beautifully written and probing discussion by an eminent legal philosopher. Professor Noonan strips the façade from judge-made law, and exposes the often unpleasant reality that citizens must confront daily."—Norman Dorsen, New York University School of Law

"I am struck by the timelessness of the work. I have always thought of it as a great book. What I now see is that it is a book that will never be out of date. The reason is simple: it brings a great legal mind of our own time into conversation with the greatest legal minds of the past."—Robert P. George, author of The Clash of Orthodoxies
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition, With a New Preface edition (May 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520235231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520235236
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Seth Cooper on May 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Combining a fascinating legal analysis with legal history, [now Senior Judge] John Noonan has written a fine book. Tracing the jurisprudence of some major legal minds from three different periods in American history, Noonan demonstrates how a preoccupation with LAW as a detached set of rules with a life of its own can lead to the obscuring of the human element in law.
Rules are clearly necessary to an orderly society and to the adjudication of disputes between parties, but rules are conceived of in the minds of people and are applied by people to cases and controversies involving people. An overemphasis upon law as a detached science of rules can allow for the creation of rules that obscure the humanity of people who are subjected to them. These sorts of rules Noonan describes as "masks." (Masks are to be distinguished from "roles," which people assume, but which they are not consumed by.)
Noonan's chronicling of George Wythe and (his student) Thomas Jefferson's legal involvements with the old slave codes provides a stark example of how masks have been used in the history of American law. That section was particularly interesting from a scholarly and historical standpoint, as Noonan describes them in all their utter brutishness, proceeding to delve into the (hypocritical) political, economic and social purposes for which they were created.
Also interesting is Noonan's analysis of Oliver Wendell Holmes' legal thinking and how that thinking was employed in the U.S. Supreme Court case of American Banana Co. v. United Fruit Co. (1909). In this reviewer's opinion, there is greater moral ambiguity in the case of sovereign immunity than there is with chattel slavery, but Holmes clearly employed a mask in the American Banana case.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brian Sullivan on January 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
Dr. Noonan's book, "Persons and Masks of the Law" is the best I have read in terms of informing its readers of what really goes on below the surface of what we commonly consider to be "The Law." It shows its undersurface, and how it is invariably a question of the personalities and prejudices of those who administer the law. Noonan's mind, and analyses are brilliant.
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Format: Paperback
In general, I steer clear of lawyers who "do academics." They tend to drag legalism and legal doctrine into the way they conduct historical and historiographical analysis. John Noonan's "Persons and Masks" is an exception to this rule. Originally published in the mid-1970s, this text (really, a series of stand-alone studies/essays) is as good a read today as it was in 1975. The historical analysis is superb: a thorough study of the men (yes, men), law firms, secular interests, ideologies, and so forth that resulted in the "abstract" doctrines that form some of the bulwark of the contemporary legal system. (Any law student should immediately recognize the Palsgraf case.) Yet at back of it all is a trenchant commentary on this whole enterprise: that the legal profession serves to smooth out and legitimate the ugliness of human affairs.

If the point is not terribly novel, the methods used to get there are noteworthy. Like Robert Cover, Noonan moved past the briefs, motions, and rulings to employ original documents to human and humane ends. I found the original edition in a Salvation Army bookstore in Baltimore in 1992 or so and considered myself very lucky. I'm just glad to see it is easier to procure this fine book these days. It deserves a wide audience.
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