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This book does not deal with conventional comparative law. Rules and structures of one system are not set out against those of another for contrast. Rather, rules particular or general, are examined to explain why they are as they are, and how they came to be. The author does not accept that to a great extent law reflects society or the power of the ruling elite.
Chapter one serves as both introduction and conclusions. The conclusions are:
1) Governments and rulers are not much interested in developing law, especially not private law, but leave this to others to whom they do not grant power to make law.
2) Even famous lawmakers are seldom interested in a particular social issue in law or in giving law certainty.
3) Borrowing, even mindless, is the name of the legal game.
Chapters range from grand legislation (the Ten Commandments and Napoleon's code civil) to unrecognized law in action and daily life (Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus and the adulteress, the claim that Julius Caesar descended from a slave). Other chapters deal with judges' passivity in giving needlessly a judgment they claimed was unjust, to deciding against the judge's own theoretical and practical position (Somerset's Case).
Likewise stressed is the difficulty of developing law fit for the society, and of understanding foreign legal thinking. The survival of law in different circumstances for centuries and also in a different place is emphasized.
The chapters are separate entities, and the author claims that each must stand on its own merits. But he insists that if each is plausible, then together they present a very different approach to law in society from thosehabitually offered.
About the author:
Alan Watson, Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law, is regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on Roman law, comparative law, legal history, and law and religion.
A prolific scholar and master of more than a dozen languages, Watson has nearly 150 books and articles to his credit, and his books have been translated into countless dialects. Selected scholarship includes the revolutionary books Legal Transplants: An Approach to Comparative Law (1974) and Society and Legal Change (1977) as well as The Evolution of Western Private Law (2000), Jesus and the Jews: The Pharisaic Tradition in John (1995), Ancient Law and Modern Understanding: At the Edges (1998), Sources of Law, Legal Change, and Ambiguity (2d ed., 1998), Legal History and a Common Law for Europe (2001), Authority of Law; and Law (2003) and The Shame of American Legal Education (2006).
Watson holds eight degrees, including a master's and law degree from the University of Glasgow; the bachelor's, master's, doctor of philosophy and doctor of civil law degrees from Oxford University; a doctor of laws degree from the University of Edinburgh; and a doctor of laws degrees honoris causa from the University of Glasgow.
Watson is an honorary member of the Speculative Society and serves as North American secretary of the Stair Society. He is an editorial board member for the Juridical Review, Journal of Legal History, the Journal of Comparative Law, the Belgrade Law Journal, IURA, the European Lawyer Journal and the American Journal of Legal History.