Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Review: The Legal Analyst

My main goal in teaching my introductory Economics class is to give students a good set of mental tools for understanding the world. This semester, I had a student who already had a surprisingly good understanding of game theory and questions of knowledge and proof. As we talked after class, he mentioned that he had learned these things from a book assigned for an introductory law class. After I asked about the book, he lent it to me. 

From the minute I started reading The Legal Analyst, I saw that it was consistently excellent. About two-thirds of it was a readable, intuitive, high-quality summary of things I already knew, and the other third was new information that I am very glad to have. After finishing the book, my professional opinion is that it is extraordinarily good. Anyone who studies it will be a much better thinker and citizen.

The Legal Analyst is not just a law textbook. The subtitle is A toolkit for thinking about the law. These should be reversed. The title of the book should be A Toolkit for Thinking and the subtitle should be using examples from the legal system. The book is an excellent overview of a lot of very important things, such as incentives, thinking at the margin, game theory, the social value of rules and standards, heuristics and biases in human thinking, and the tools of rational thinking. It has the best intuitive explanation of Bayes' Theorem I have ever seen, making this incredibly important mental tool available for everyone's use. 

I am very glad that law students are reading The Legal Analyst. They will be much better thinkers as a result. The existence of this book makes me more optimistic about the future of our government and legal system. If the principles outlined here become widely understood, the world will be a better place. This book should be required reading in any course that can get away with assigning it. Anyone who is responsible for writing any kind of regulation or policy, or does economic analysis, needs the information in this book.

The Legal Analyst is a very easy book to read, making it even better from a cost-benefit analysis standpoint. I read it a few chapters a time, in my spare time, without any mental effort required. A great deal of high-quality research has been carefully and expertly summarized in clear, vibrant language.

Anyone who has an interest in understanding how the world works, or becoming a more rational thinker, should read The Legal Analyst.

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