Tag Archives: textbook

Missing in Action

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The Missing American Jury: Restoring the Fundamental Constitutional Role of the Criminal, Civil, and Grand Juries by Suja A. Thomas (Cambridge University Press, $99.99, 262 pages)

“Juries should decide criminal and civil cases… And grand juries should decide whether charges proceed against criminal defendants in state courts prior to any plea discussions by the government.”

“Blackstone cautioned against establishing tribunals of judges and other persons to decide facts without juries. Other countries had done so, eliminating juries, and eventually devolved into aristocracies.”

University of Illinois law professor Suja Thomas’s review of the functions of the American jury is written in obtuse, legalese, textbook language: “A jury trial will not be required for a new cause of action for which money remedies are available unless the action is analogous to one that existed at common law.” This, and a price of $100, makes it difficult to determine who would serve as the audience for the book.

The premise of the work is that the jury is an increasingly powerless and limited aspect of the criminal and civil justice system; and the role of grand juries has also been eroded. This is definitely true at a time when over 90 percent of criminal cases are settled without a jury (e.g., plea agreements). I suppose Thomas has performed a service in detailing the history of juries in the U.S. and elsewhere, but I doubt that 262 pages was needed to make a single point.

I was on my way to potentially serve on a jury panel when I began to read the work. This led me to realize that there are two groups who might be interested in reading The Missing American Jury (presuming they can find a copy in a library); specifically, those called for jury duty and pre-law students. Law students will learn enough about the topic in their first-year classes.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Home Is Where the Hearth Is

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The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Houses Became Our Homes by Judith Flanders (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99, 368 pages)

Display had become the essence of the house. This public display of the private was considered to have a moral dimension, too. Immanuel Kant thought that “No one in complete solitude will decorate or clean his house… but only for strangers, to show himself to advantage.”

Judith Flanders presents her survey of the evolution of the house into a home in an unmistakable textbook format with glossy color illustrations, notes, bibliography and index. The writing is a bit stilted; however, Ms. Flanders is British. This may just be her natural style. She takes a close look at what we believe to represent past times and daily practices and brings a logical scene to her reader.

Apparently, those of us who are inclined to study interiors from the distant past have done so only at a superficial level. There’s more to what was meant in those historic paintings of rooms such as Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (1434). Social mores, values and fantasy are often present in the form of innocuous fabrics, colors and subtly placed items.

The evolution of relationships (men, women and children), geography and personal values are all determining factors in what was the place for sleeping, cooking and keeping animals – a house, and what we now call a home.

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The cadence of the narrative evens out once the reader is past the first few chapters and becomes more of a lecture rather than a heavily laden introduction to the concept of a dwelling.

Well recommended.

new small house

The New Small House by Katie Hutchison (The Taunton Press, $32.00, 217 pages)

On the heels of the recession there was a resurgence of interest in small houses, and even smaller retreats.

Residential architect and small dwelling advocate Katie Hutchison follows in the illustrious footsteps of Sarah Susanka, author of the Not So Big House series. Both women are experts in the use of materials, site and scale. Taunton Press has added to their coverage of housing possibilities with The New Small House.

Smaller is better for a certain segment of the house-buying public. Ms. Hutchison focuses on dwellings that are not just small (at 1700 square feet or less) but also smartly laid out, sited and built with carefully selected materials. Her 10 small house strategies are defined up front and eloquently illustrated through a series of in-depth reviews of homes and retreats across the United States.

961 square feet

The book is a guide to what makes for a successful new small house. Hutchison goes into specific details about each of the beautiful and unique dwellings. The icons that alert the reader to the strategies employed are posted with each selection. Several of the owners are fellow architects who are clearly kindred spirits of hers.

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The New Small House is meant to prompt thoughtful consideration of how we can live with less and make better choices. It also gives the reader plenty of ideas for downsizing or building a personal retreat.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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38 Species x 9 Lives

Wild cats

Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter, Illustrated by Priscilla Barrett (Bloomsbury, $40.00, 240 pages)

Wild Cats of the World is a coffee table sized book that at first glance looks like it would be the perfect gift for any feline lover. The book examines 38 species of small and big cats, augmented with beautiful photos and sketches. It also imparts interesting information, like the fact that female cats are actually more efficient hunters than males – since they don’t stalk things they can’t kill, and that wildcats can live a full 19 years in captivity. It’s also repeatedly stated that wildcats can and do interbreed with domestic cats.

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Unfortunately, this book has several weaknesses. Hunter is far too concerned with what each type of cat kills and eats; there are too many photos of cats with their prey – which deems it unsuitable to be kept around children; and the book over-emphasizes the issue of extinction of species. What could have been a joyful celebration of the world’s most successful mammal – one that exists in both large and small forms – becomes a depressing, dragged-out, textbook-like read.

There’s not enough attention paid to the 43 breeds of domestic cats, which are far from extinct with 500 million of them serving as beloved pets, and an additional 500 million living as feral creatures. (500 million feral versions of Felis catus/Felis silvestris definitely equals a very successful type of wild cat!) And the high-priced book is poorly edited (“[a] survey must… continue for a long enough to sample…”).

Overall, a miss instead of a hit.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on October 13, 2015.

Note: There’s another book titled Wild Cats of the World, authored by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist (Chicago University Press).

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