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American Property: A History of How, Why, and What We Own Hardcover – March 31, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this tightly written book, Banner, a professor of law at UCLA, tackles an admittedly expansive topic, illustrating that our ideas about what property is, how it is regulated, and what it is meant to do are in constant flux and have been historically contested. Partly an examination of law, partly of culture, politics, economics, and even religion, Banner successfully shows how our notions of property and so-called "natural property" in essence sketch the shifting borders of what Americans deem appropriate government regulation. "Our conceptions of property have always been molded to serve our particular purposes," Banner writes, using examples ranging from zoning laws (which were often used to enforce racial and economic boundaries); eminent domain and personal property disputes; as well as new, thorny notions of intellectual property in the digital age (digital copying makes some property rights harder to enforce, he notes, but creates new opportunities as well). Banner even addresses biological breakthroughs (can a company own a genetically engineered hybrid or a cell line?). It's an huge amount of history and analysis that ably proves a simple thesis: "the debates have never been about property in the abstract," Banner writes. "Property has always been a means, rather than an end." 11 b&w illus. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

This is one of those books whose title doesn�t really give you much of a clue about the wonders within. What sounds like it might be a staid look at a dry subject turns out, in fact, to be an exciting and captivating journey along a fascinating side road in American history: property and its ownership. Around the time of the American Revolution, when the country was divorcing itself from England, a massive change took place: the old British laws concerning property were not merely tweaked but, instead, demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. From the fundamentals�ownership of land, which was a revolutionary idea in the eighteenth century�to more esoteric subjects, such as whether it�s possible to own less-tangible kinds of property (sounds or the news or parts of your own body), the author, a professor of law at the UCLA, explores the occasionally labyrinthine legal and political processes that, as America was defining itself as a country, began to define one of its residents� most basic (yet complex) rights. --David Pitt
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674058054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674058057
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Andrew D. Oram on May 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Banner's book is a highly readable survey combining the general with
the specific. While he covers a wide variety of aspects and things in
property law, he preserves some threads from one chapter to another,
such as the notion that property is defined by the goals of litigants
and governments. There are many useful accounts of familiar incidents
in American law, such as the "Right to Privacy" article by Warren and
Brandeis. (Read the book to find out how privacy evolved into a
property right.) But even more valuable are the histories of epochal
shifts through court cases that are little known among the general
public. I found Banner to be generally fair to all sides. It is
probably a tribute to say that he does not establish easy choices, but
shows the dilemmas inherent in almost any legal decision.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This well-written and substantial book is so important. If only the majority of U.S. citizens understood how changeable the law can be--and the forces arrayed to influence those changes--then citizen activism to influence the lawmaking process would receive an important boost. Those who do not study history must live as if what happens today has never happened before--a paraphrase of a much better known concept. I heartily encourage others to read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is on the Rorotoko list. Professor Banner's interview on "American Property" ran as the Rorotoko Cover Feature on June 6, 2011 (and can be read in the Rorotoko archive).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Good book. The writing is a bit dry but it gives a large (and mostly interesting) survey of property law.

Don't buy the Kindle version. The references aren't linked (they just appear as plain superscript numbers), the font is bad and unchangeable (but this can be changed by stripping the DRM, which I did to make the book readable), the index isn't linked, and where there should be images it just shows "[to view this image, please refer to the print version of this title]."
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