The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play

Jenny Diski writes:

Bingham has also used his academic lectures and papers to consider more systematically ideas that he was able to engage with in his judicial work only in a fragmentary and cursory way. It was in a public lecture given in Cambridge in 2006 that he started to bring together his thoughts on the rule of law itself, and The Rule of Law now extends and deepens the themes of that lecture. It displays Bingham’s erudition and patience, both rare qualities in legal practitioners, as well as his robust outlook and accessible style. He adds a slight flavour of autobiography by, as he puts it, ‘referring, disproportionately … to cases in which I have been involved’, but with none of the pomposity and vanity that made Lord Denning’s post-retirement output so cringeworthy. Although easy and pleasant to read, bringing refreshing simplicity to issues that convolute legal theorists, Bingham’s book is scrupulously academic in tone. His own views are always clearly stated and firmly maintained, but great trouble is taken to survey and illuminate rival opinions, including those that divide Bingham from his fellow judges, those that he finds in the academic literature, and even those held by politicians and journalists. The book would be a tonic for anyone who believes, reading the party-political sloganeering about the rule of law that appears (with intended irony) on its dust jacket, that the ideal is an empty one. Bingham shows that, on the contrary, it has much work to do, and that we underestimate it mainly because we cannot imagine life without it. We complain that judicial efforts to protect it are undemocratic because we fail to see that democracy itself is made possible only by its unobtrusive presence.

(LRB 8 July 2010)

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