Here are the books recommended by judges to give to judges

By Anna-Leigh Firth

If you’re thinking about buying a book as a gift for a fellow judge this holiday season, here are more than 60 suggestions from NJC alumni.

The recommendations, from 158 judges who responded to our December survey, are organized by topic with individual titles listed alphabetically.

Where provided, the name(s) of the judge(s) who recommended the books appear in parentheses.

If you happen to order any of these from Amazon, please start at smile.amazon.com/ch/94-2427596. That way a tiny portion of the purchase price will be donated to the NJC by Amazon at no cost to you.

The most frequently recommended
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson (eight recommendations, including Norman, Oklahoma, District Judge Michael Tupper; Anchorage, Alaska, District Judge Pamela Washington; Jacqueline Jones, administrative law judge for the Covina, California, Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board; and Topeka, Kansas, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (seven recommendations, including Kent County, Delaware, Justice of the Peace Kevin L. Wilson and Jackson County, Alabama, Circuit Judge John H. Graham)
  • The Bible (four recommendations, including Midland, Texas, Justice of the Peace Terry M. Luck)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (six recommendations, including Cumberland County, North Carolina, Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons)

Mental health, mindfulness, self-help, psychology
  • Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao by Dr. Wayne Dyer
  • Finding Meaning – The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler

“I read an interview with Kessler in the Harvard Business Journal in the early days of the pandemic,” wrote Cumberland County (PA) Judge Albert Masland. “The interview was a breath of fresh air and drove me to the book, which is paradoxically a light and heavy read. Grief and meaning are issues that we all deal with, as do many who come before us.”

  • Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

“Fun read with great insights into navigating and appreciating life’s ups and downs, recognizing that even the ‘downs’ can be ‘green lights,’” commented Clemson University Municipal Court Judge Debi Culler.

  • Mindfulness, an Eight-week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, foreword by Jon Kabart-Zen (recommended by Waukesha County, Wisconsin, Municipal Judge Dana Bertling)
  • Overcoming Cognitive Biases: Thinking More Clearly and Avoiding Manipulation by Others by E. Scott Fruehwald (recommended by Mount Morris, New York, Magistrate Judge David Provo)
  • Any simple book on origami

“Origami helps force me to take a two-minute break and reset my mind/stress level,” wrote Indiana Chief Environmental Law Judge Mary Davidsen of Indianapolis.

  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk

“This book is for judges who truly want to understand the neuroscience of trauma and effective treatment,” wrote Jackson County, Oregon, Judge Joe Charter.

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Law
  • A Republic If You Can Keep It by Justice Neil Gorsuch
  • Bourbon Justice: How Whiskey Law Shaped America by Brian Haara, foreword by Fred Minnick

“This book is a good read for anyone who enjoys reading about key decisions that formed the basis of much of early American jurisprudence, or just enjoys good sour mash,” wrote New Castle County, Delaware, Judge Robert Burton Coonin.

  • Citizens Uniting To Restore Our Democracy by Daniel Kemmis

“[The book] discusses election financing, Citizens United, and possible citizen responses to unhealthy partisanship and excessive money in politics,” wrote Washington State Federal Water Master Judge John Thorson of Plains, Montana.

  • Conviction Machine by Sidney Powell
  • Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre

“A beautifully written account of the role of drug makers and distributors in the opioid crisis in West Virginia,” commented McDowell and Mercer counties, West Virginia, Family Court Judge Mary Ellen Griffith.

  • Eulogy of Judges by Piero Calamandrei, preface by Jacob A. Stein (recommended by Clark County, Nevada, District Judge Cheryl Moss)
  • How to Become a Federal Criminal by Mike Chase (recommended by St. Joseph County, Indiana, Magistrate Judge William L. Wilson)
  • In Chambers: Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices by Todd C. Peppers and Artemus Ward (recommended by Tallahassee, Florida, District Judge Scott Makar)
  • Legal Writing: A Judge’s Perspective on the Science and Rhetoric of the Written Word by Robert E. Bacharach
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, A Life in War, Law and Ideas by Stephen Budiansky (recommended by Tallahassee, Florida, District Judge Scott Makar)
  • Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts by the late Justice Antonin Scalia (recommended by Broward County, Florida, Circuit Judge Michael Usan)
  • Reflections on Judging by Richard Posner (recommended by Tallahassee, Florida, District Judge Scott Makar)
  • Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman (recommended by Clark County, Nevada, District Judge Eric Johnson)
  • Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes by Clare Cushman (recommended by Tallahassee, Florida, District Judge Scott Makar)
  • The Legal Limit and The Substitution Order by retired Patrick County, Virginia, Circuit Court Judge Martin Clark
  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin (recommended by Jackson County, Alabama, Circuit Judge John H. Graham)
  • When Brute Force Fails: How to have less crime and less punishment by Mark Kleiman

Racial Justice
  • A Time for Mercy by John Grisham
  • Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt (recommended by Topeka, Kansas, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger)
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • On the Courthouse Lawn, Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century by Sherrilyn A. Ifill (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison by Jeffrey Reiman
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

”A book that explains how humans make decisions (whether we are aware of what we’re doing or not); highly recommended for anyone but especially judges and trial attorneys,” commented an anonymous judge.

  • These Truths by Jill Lepore (recommended by retired Palmer, Alaska, District Judge Bev Cutler)
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

“Every single person in the U.S. would benefit by reading this,” commented Jacqueline Jones, administrative law judge for the Covina, California, Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board.

  • Uncomfortable Conversations with A Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
  • Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration by Christine Montross
  • White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race and Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class by Ian Haney-Lopez 
  • White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (recommended by Topeka, Kansas, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger)

Classics
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 

“A classic WW2 novel, a parody on modern rules and regulations within the military structure during the war,” wrote Jefferson County (PA) Judge John H. Foradora. “In this time of Covid-19 for any managing judge we all seem to be in the position of Yossarian (the main character), who is trying to choose between conflicting regulations, free will, and common sense in a hostile, dangerous world. Come to think of it, it’s a good parody on the daily struggles of every trial judge.”

  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (recommended by Sherwood, Arkansas, District Judge Milas “Butch” Hale)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (recommended by U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Greenville, North Carolina, Judge Joseph Callaway)
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Miscellaneous
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

“Excellent biography of the man, his impact on the founding of our country, and the development of our system of courts and our nation’s treasury,” wrote City of Vancouver, Washington, Judge Troy Price.

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

“I listened to this audio book in my car. It added a new perspective to my sense of existence,” wrote Grant County, Oregon, Justice Court Judge Kathy Stinnett

  • Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas Ricks

“Two very different people had more in common than one might think,” commented retired Penobscot County, Maine, District Judge Evert Fowle.

  • Desiderata the Book by NJC faculty member Don Tomlinson
  • How to Lose The Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict by Nina Jankowicz (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.: A Biography by Robert Kennedy, Jr.
  • Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin (recommended by Denver, Colorado, District Court Chief Judge Michael A. Martinez)
  • My Early Life by Winston Churchill
  • My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

“Women judges stand on the shoulders of so many before us who courageously paved the way,” Tallahassee, Florida, Circuit Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson wrote of the Ginsburg and Sotomayor books. “Their journeys to the bench are an inspirational read!”

  • Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (recommended by Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin Trial Court Judge Mary Jo Hunter)
  • The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard by John Birdsall (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, The Legal Limit, and Plain Heathen Mischief, all by retired Patrick and Henry counties, Virginia, Judge Martin F. Clark
  • There Must Be a Witness: Stories of Abuse, Advocacy, and the Fight to Put Children First by Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb with Nick Cenegy
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama (recommended by California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge Patricia Miles)
  • Saving Freedom by Joe Scarborough (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump (recommended by Mandan, North Dakota, Municipal Judge DeNae Kautzmann)
  • We Cast A Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (recommended by NJC President Benes Aldana)
  • Wink by Rob Harrell

“A story of a seventh-grade boy who contracts a rare form of cancer and the bittersweet and uplifting story of his recovery,” wrote Boone County, Indiana, Superior Court Judge Matt Kincaid. “Categorized as for young readers, this 50-year-old loved it.”  

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