Books We’ve Read

In this section, a law student provides an in-depth summary of a book. The summary is meant to be a faithful synopsis–one which the book’s author and critics would all (ideally) agree reasonably reflects the content of the book. Accompanying each of these synopses, some of our Editors weigh in with their views of the book.

We will add new books to this collection over time. Please send a Letter to the Editor if you wish to propose a book for us to include.

The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay Jess Bravin

In The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, Jess Bravin writes a fast-paced account of the Guantánamo military commissions, which he calls “the most important legal story in decades.” Bravin follows the development of the commissions from their conception through their legal challenges, start-stops, and reforms. Bravin, who covered the commissions as The Wall Street Journal’s Supreme Court correspondent, was involved in some of the earliest reporting about the administration’s interrogation and detention program. His book admirably weaves together different strands of the commissions’ cluttered history—including commission proceedings, several constitutional challenges (including Rasul and Hamdan), and career profiles of individuals involved. Terror Courts offers a coherent account of the military commissions that highlights both their underlying movations and their surrounding battles. continue»

Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency Daniel Klaidman

with Comments by David Cole and Daphne Eviatar

National political correspondent Daniel Klaidman’s book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, offers a compelling account of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy and the internal debates that have framed the current political landscape. continue»

The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration Jack Goldsmith

with Comments by David Cole and Jeremy Waldron

Jack Goldsmith’s book, The Terror Presidency, is an insightful look into the circumstances that shaped some of the Bush administration’s most important national security counterterrorism policies.  Following Goldsmith’s time as head of the Office of Legal Counsel from appointment to his eventual resignation, the book provides an insider perspective on the administration’s responses to what Goldsmith terms the “twin pressures” continue»

The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth Mark Mazzetti 

with Comments by Daphne Eviatar and Ryan Goodman

In The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti describes how in the years since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, “lawyers and policy makers ha[ve] steadily chipped away at the wall separating the work of soldiers and spies.” This thesis consists of three main arguments. continue»

The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics Kathryn A. Sikkink

with Comments by Ryan GoodmanHarold Hongju Koh, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin

Kathryn Sikkink’s book, The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics, provides a personal, historical and empirical account of human rights prosecutions in international politics. Its themes have direct and indirect implications for U.S. national security law and policy. continue»

Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots Ronald C. Arkin

with Comments by Philip Alston and Sarah Knuckey

Dr. Ronald C. Arkin is a roboticist, roboethicist, and a Regents’ Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Space Planning at the School of Interactive Computing within the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. … In his third book, Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots, Arkin draws largely on research conducted since 2006 under a contract with the Department of Defense. The objective of his research was to create an “artificial conscience” for military robots. continue»


Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History John Fabian Witt

Review by David Luban with a Response by John Witt 

Yale legal historian John Fabian Witt has written a superb, illuminating, and startling history of U.S. involvement with the laws of war, from the Revolution to the beginning of World War I. As Witt tells the story, U.S. thinking on the rules of warfare has always blended an authentic commitment to high principle with a generous measure of low pragmatism—and often low pragmatism disguised itself as high principle. A telling example is the early American understanding of whether the rules of war permit the confiscation of enemy property. continue»


Cuban Missile Crisis: International Crises and the Role of Law Abram Chayes

with Comments by Harold Hongju Koh and Jennifer Daskal

Abram Chayes’ The Cuban Missile Crisis begins in the fall of 1962 as Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were at their highest.  Chayes provides an insider’s account of the factual and legal background of the crisis, discussing the Kennedy Administration’s red line prohibition of Soviet offensive missiles in Cuba and describing in detail the deliberations over potential U.S. responses if that red line were crossed. continue»

The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty Laura Donohue

Synopsis by Joseph Jerome, a Legal and Policy Fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum

Counterterrorism policy is often described as a pendulum swinging between security and liberty, but The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty suggests that counterterrorism policy is best characterized as a spiral, ratcheting up security at the expense of liberty.  Over and over again, Laura Donohue details how government officials insist that national security demands extraordinary powers without end.  continue»


No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State Glenn Greenwald

with Comments by David Cole

Equal parts memoir, journalistic thriller, and political tract, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State is author and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s personal account of the Snowden disclosures and his own role in reporting on previously unknown National Security Agency (NSA) programs. continue»