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The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law Paperback – December 26, 2012

4.8 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Sf writer Cory Doctorow says lawyer-cartoonist Burney’s guide to the bedrock of his trade is a “great gift” to aspiring crooks and prospective law students. Since yakking about high-profile murders, rapes, heists, and so forth is a major pastime, plenty of law-abiding nonstudents should welcome it, too, especially because Burney amuses while informing. For instance, the chapter “It Was Either Him or Me” opens up a Wild West scenario to exemplify when you can and can’t use deadly force, under what circumstances throwing the first punch is justified, when you can stand your ground and when you should retreat, and other matters of self-defense. Other chapters on the purposes of punishment; what constitutes guilt; solicitation, accomplice liability, and conspiracy (a particularly engaging presentation); entrapment; and other topics extrapolate more than one scenario, and it is always illustrated in a way to genuinely illuminate the subject matter, not divert us from it. In short, Burney’s rudimentary cartooning ideally complements his crystal-clear explanations of what is and isn’t criminal in the eyes of the law. --Ray Olson

About the Author

Nathaniel Burney studied law at Georgetown University, where he was an editor of the American Criminal Law Review and a student practitioner defending juveniles in the District of Columbia. In between classes and the library, he worked at the Supreme Court as personal assistant to retired Chief Justice Warren Burger, and jammed in a bar band called The Ambulance Chasers. After law school, he moved to New York City to be a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office. After several years in Special Narcotics, he moved on to the famed Rackets Bureau, where he investigated political corruption and cleaned up a mafia-controlled labor union. Meanwhile, he lectured on criminal law at New York City schools and coached student mock trial teams. He did not play in a band, which was probably for the best. In 2006, Mr. Burney returned to the defense side, focusing mostly on complex cases like wiretaps, securities fraud, antitrust, and loitering. In addition to his Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law webcomic, he also teaches the "Hope for Hopeless Cases" series for West LegalEdCenter, and is training his kids to be rock stars.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Jones McClure Publishing; 2012 edition (December 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598391836
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598391831
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 7 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It is, in a word, excellent.

Criminal law is a topic which is of great interest to all citizens, not just lawyers. And Burney has done a great job providing a broad overview that is as accesible to a layman as to a practitioner of ten years. It is better, by far, than the textbook I used when I took criminal law in law school. Through a mixture of comics and text, Burney lays out a macro and micro view of criminal law.

The book is broken into 5 categories:

Introduction (What is crime? What is punishment?)
Purposes of Punishment
Guilt
Inchoate Crimes
Defenses

Within each category are chapters on specific aspects of criminal law: mens rea, necessity, solicitation, etc. As opposed to explaining what these terms mean through dry text or volumes of case law (which is how lawyers learn about them), Burney creates characters and paints vignettes that do as good a job. You're certainly not going to become a criminal defense lawyer after reading the book, but you will have a much better understanding of criminal law than 95% of the general public.

And while Burney does his best to make it entertaining (and it is), there is still a fair amount of reading to be done. Peanuts, this is not. You're going to get wall-of-text'ed from time to time, but that is to be expected with the daunting task of explaining the nuts & bolts of criminal law in comic form.

As I said earlier, the book is excellent. Highly recommended for law students, lawyers, anyone with an interest in criminal law.
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If you are a lawyer, married to a lawyer, want to be a lawyer (shame on you!), are friends with a lawyer, like watching crime shows on TV, like reading murder mysteries, like reading crime stories in your newspaper, like comic books, like laughing, or are a judge (especially if you are a judge!) - get this book. It's accurate, educational and, most of all, entertaining.

I'm thinking about handing a copy out to every new client.
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The theory of Law is as alien to most people as magic. The comparison becomes more evident when people fear lawyers as they are subtle and quick to anger. The lawyer/wizard evokes great and mysterious powers that can help or hinder in mysterious ways but who are too dangerous to be around safely. As the wizard was once hated, the lawyer is so despised. As important legal cases go on, everybody has an opinion but few understand the legal questions at work as questions of how society should be organized.

Standards of proof, intent, authority, and the limits of punishment are inherent to Law but are arcane to much of the population. Society and people are the worse for such ignorance. I have seen people walk into traffic in the expectation that their death by jaywalking will bring a punitive award against the bus company or motorist who couldn't stop in time. The reality is that the law stands clearly against reckless behavior and such deaths or injuries would be in vain. Their ignorance may very well kill them.

It in light (a dark one indeed) that The Illustrated Guide to Law is so welcome. It explains basic legal concepts with short stories that highlight the principles in question without the baggage of many other factors as the law schools encounter in the casebook method. This is Law for the common man and it is made all the more accessible by the humor with which cases are presented. The Illustrated Guide to Law started out as a webcomic and that shows in the artistic evolution through the book (but far less than in the online version).

As much as I love the simplicity and accessibility of the work, I can only give it 4.5 stars (rounded up because I recognize nothing is perfect).
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I am not a lawyer, but like most of us, am interested in our criminal justice system (and grateful to have never had to experience it personally!). This book was super entertaining and informative. I love the author's off-beat sense of humor. Following his retirement from the the law, maybe he can take over where Berke Breathed left off? Now I'm sending this to my friend who is an assistant district attorney - I know she will love it.
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Format: Paperback
I am a civil litigator. My only exposure to criminal law was in law school, so admittedly it is a topic I don't know much about. Nathan really brings it home in a nice, easy to read manner. He dispels many myths about criminal law, like "An undercover cop has to tell you he's a cop, otherwise it's entrapment."

An easy to read, fun book that you will learn a lot from.
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I just have a layman's interest in the law, and was attracted to this mainly because years ago I had enjoyed "The Criminal Law Color Book" by F. LaGard Smith. That book was fun, but rather traditional in subject matter. (I think it even covered the definition of "the curtilage", an element of the old common-law definition of burglary.) Nathaniel Burney's book is quite different in tone and intent, and is perhaps an even more fascinating treatment of the subject - certainly a more timely one. I believe this is the most impressive graphic nonfiction I've seen, aside from Larry Gonick's best work.

Since I Am Not A Lawyer, I'll remain neutral on the more controversial sections, notably the discussion of over-criminalization. However, Burney presents his arguments very cogently.
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