“Conformity: The Power of Social Influences,” by Cass R. Sunstein ’78 (NYU)

Conformity helps to make civilizations possible, writes Sunstein, but it can also make atrocities possible. In his book, the HLS professor examines how conformity works: People tend to be influenced by those who are confident and firm; people tend to follow the unanimous view of others, but someone who dissents from that view can have a large impact; and people will be less likely to be influenced by a group they distrust. He also explores how like-minded people can go to extremes when they hear arguments that reinforce their opinion. People benefit when they hear alternative points of view, and well-functioning institutions help promote dissent and discourage conformity, Sunstein contends.

“Taiwan and International Human Rights: A Story of Transformation,” edited by Jerome A. Cohen, William P. Alford ’77 and Chang-fa Lo LL.M. ’87 S.J.D. ’89 (Springer)

The end of martial law in 1987 brought the first opportunity for the people of Taiwan to protect their rights and freedoms, write the editors, who present a variety of perspectives on Taiwan’s human rights performance, including from many HLS alumni. Alford, professor and director of the East Asian Legal Studies Program at the school as well as the founding chair of the HLS Project on Disability, co-writes an essay on protecting people with disabilities, while Cohen, professor at NYU School of Law who introduced the teaching of Asian law at HLS, writes on his personal experience of Taiwan’s human rights history. Lo, former grand justice of the Constitutional Court of the ROC (Taiwan) and former dean, National Taiwan University Law School, contributes two chapters: on the introduction of international human rights norms into constitutional interpretations, and on gender equality issues. The editors point to the high standards of Taiwan’s human rights protection even as it is barred from joining international human rights conventions.

“Equity and Law: Fusion and Fission,” edited by John C. P. Goldberg, Henry E. Smith and P. G. Turner (Cambridge)

The book’s essays examine the ways in which law reform starting two centuries ago through the mid-20th century “fused” common law and equity, and ways in which they have remained distinct. With historical, comparative, and theoretical analysis, the book seeks to show equity’s place in the modern common law system and explores whether equity should be distributed throughout the law. The ideas emanated from a seminar co-hosted by HLS’s Project on the Foundations of Private Law, which is directed by Professors Smith and Goldberg.

“Felony and the Guilty Mind in Medieval England,” by Elizabeth Papp Kamali ’07 (Cambridge)

The concept of mens rea, or guilty mind, factors into how we determine criminal responsibility in modern law, writes legal historian and HLS Assistant Professor Kamali. The same was true in medieval England, according to Kamali, who shows how jurors considered defendants’ mens rea in reaching verdicts and conveying mercy. In addition, she explores how “felony” became a legal term of art, how anger as a fact pattern could affect adjudication, and how confession underpinned convictions and pardons. Judges and juries too were expected to approach their task “with the right orientation of heart and mind.”