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A Life of H.L.A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream [Paperback]

Nicola Lacey


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Book Description

May 12 2006
Shortlisted for the 2005 British Academy Book prize, Nicola Lacey's entrancing biography recounts the life of H.L.A. Hart, the pre-eminent legal philosopher of the twentieth century. Following Hart's life from modest origins as the son of Jewish tailor parents in Yorkshire to worldwide fame as the most influential English-speaking legal theorist of the post-War era, the book traces his successive metamorphoses; from Yorkshire schoolboy to Oxford scholar, from government intelligence officer to Professor of Jurisprudence, from awkward batchelor to family figurehead. In the tradition of Ray Monk's biography of Wittgenstein, Nicola Lacey paints an absorbing picture of intellectual and psychological development, of a mind struggling to cope with intellectual self-doubt, uncertain sexuality, a difficult marriage and an anti-semitic society. In depicting the evolution of Hart's life and mind, Lacey provides a vivid recreation of both the intellectual and social climate of Oxford in the post-War era.

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Review

`Review from previous edition Lacey has done a superb job. A highly readable narrative. Valuable achievement' London Review of Books

`A book which brilliantly relates Hart's personal life to his academic achievements. Lacey has a remarkable ability to explain both the intellectual issues, his ideas about them, and the objections that have been raised by his views.' TLS

`By unravelling a life the intensity and gravity of which no one, not even his wife and colleagues, had imagined... Lacey's biography sheds new light on the origins and the depth of Hart's work... A life of H.L.A Hart is a concise and extremely well organized biography irrispite of being a very rich and full one... In spite of its dense content, the biography's prose is clear and fluent throughout, in a style of which Hart would have approved, and this makes it extremely enjoyable to read.' Samantha Besson, German Law Journal

`in retrospect of what she found in Hart's diaries, she seemed the perfect person to take on his biography... she tried to "bring alive on the page the complicated, very human man whom so many readers of his academic work think of as impersonal icon."' Samantha Besson, German Law Journal

`This fascinating and touching biography's secreet lies in a unique intergenerational encounter that turned into a rich, albeit posthumous, human relationship between one of the twentieth century's most brilliant legal philosophers and a younger fellow jurisprude who is most probably one of the most perceptive feminist legal theorists of her generation.' Samantha Besson, German Law Journal

`And the wonderful thing is Professor Lacey never sells Hart s ideas short, never underestimates the content of his work both as a jurist and as a public intellectual even while she brings his family, his circle of friends, and his personality to life. We end up learning as much about secondary rules in the law as we learn about wartime espionage and the lucid prose of this biography makes them both into an enjoyable and profitable experience.' Jeremy Waldron, Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Law and Philosophy, Columbia University

`Outstanding biography. He deserves a perceptive biography, and Nicola LAcey has proided one.' TLS

`For me, a biography addict, this is certainly the biography of 2004' Baroness Warnock, The Times Higher Education Supplement

`impressive new biography' Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph Review

`This is a stunning achievement. Nicola Lacey has thrown a wonderful light, not only on H.L.A. Hart, the man his life, his marriage, his war-work, his sexuality, his self-doubt, his experience of anti-Semitism but also on the Oxford of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and by extension the circle of friends in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in New York, in Jerusalem, and all over the world in whose company he developed his ideas and made his massive contribution to jurisprudence.' Jeremy Waldron, Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Law and Philosophy, Columbia University

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AT the very beginning of the twentieth century, newly-weds Rose and Simeon Hart, furriers and dressmakers in the East End of London, decided to set up business in the northern spa town of Harrogate. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Massive Void Filled at Last Jan. 12 2005
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For far too long there has not been a full-scale biography of H.L.A. Hart, author of "The Concept of Law." That gap has now been eliminated by this superb biography by Nicola Lacey of LSE. And this is a biography, and not an "intellectual biography" (such as Duxbury's masteful book on Frederick Pollock)which focuses primarily upon the subject's writings and theories--although Lacey addresses Hart's jurisprudential concepts within the framework of developing his life. For those who want to use this volume as an introduction to Hart's substantive work, ample references support the incisive discussion within the text. But the focus here is his life. As such, it is helpful to also read his wife Jennifer Hart's autobiography, "Ask Me No More."

Lacey had access to the most private of Hart's papers, his private diaries. While invaluable insights result, one is almost at times uneasy with the most intimate thoughts that Hart expressed in these writings. Lacey shares this concern, and in a "rule of thumb" describes what guidelines she imposed upon herself in the use of this material. This leads naturally to a second fundamental question--do we really need to know about such intimate issues as sexual orientation in the biography of a jurisprudential thinker? Each reader will have to make their own decision--but one really does get an incomparable insight into Hart the person as a result. In my view, it is healthy to be reminded from time to time that major figures such as Hart are people just like the rest of us and don't reside on some intellectual Olympus.

The narrative is crisp and with the exception of an overly long chapter on Hart's wartime service, never ceases to spark interest. The blending of Hart's theoretical contributions within the context of a biography is a challenge that is more than well met. The fact that Lacey personally knew Hart adds an important dimension as well. Also making apperances are a number of fascinating characters, including Hans Kelsen, Julius Stone, Lon Fuller, Ronald Dworkin and a host of Oxford philosophers. In her "Biographer's Note," Lacey explains a number of key issues she confronted in writing Hart's life, which in itself is an important contribution to the literature on biographical writing. Whether one is particularly interested in legal theory or not, this is simply one of the most extraordinary and important biographies to appear in recent years.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suprisingly, a great read Jan. 3 2005
By Lawprof - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Let me begin by saying that I have no connection at all to the author of this book (I feel such disclaimers are needed on Amazon.com). I picked up this book because, as a law professor, I wanted a bit of biographical background on H.L.A. Hart, perhaps the most important legal philosopher of the 20th century. Hart's writings are dense and hard even for experts to understand -- so I expected his biography to be equally dry. I am very happy to say that this book is virtually a page turner. The Da Vinci code it's not, but it is something more valuable -- a fascinating look at a very, very complex individual.
(...) I found the book particularly engaging because of my interest in legal philosophy, ordinary language philosophy, and Ronald Dworkin. Non-academics might find the author's discussion of these difficult subjects hard to follow and frustrating. However, the author does not obsess about these difficult matters and on the whole handles these technical subjects with grace and a soft touch. I would recommend the book to any person who is interested in the private life of a public philosopher. For those with an interest in legal philosophy and particularly modern positivism, this book is a "must read." Nicola Lacey -- Bravo!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man behind the Initials July 2 2005
By mojavejoe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I couldn't put this book down. Nicola Lacey is a surprisingly good biographer. "Surprisingly" because Ms. Lacey is not (or was not until now) a professional biographer, but a legal academic.

The book makes you want to dust off "The Concept of Law" again and take up sides in the Hart/Dworkin debate. Because Hart comes across as such a loveable great guy you'll find yourself rooting for him.

On that note, I could have used more legal philosophy, rather than less (as some reviewers suggest), but this is a very minor criticism. I also looked forward to the moment when Ms. Lacey herself would appear on the scene (she knew Hart personally), as she indicated in her preface, but I did not see her.

American readers will be mystified (but only slightly) by Ms. Lacey's not infrequent use of the adjective "shambolic" (may there always be an England!), which if I'm not mistaken means something like it sounds: a bucolic shambles, which is, by the way, not what this book is--it is, rather, an elegantly written biography that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

And note to Oxford Press: put Hart's "Punishment and Responsibility" back in print! It is only one of the four most important books written on criminal law in the last one hundred years! (the other three being: George Fletcher's "Rethinking Criminal Law", R.A. Duff's "Criminal Attempts", and Michael Moore's "Placing Blame: A General Theory of the Criminal Law".)
3.0 out of 5 stars Fear and (Self) Loathing in Oxford July 2 2012
By not me - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
H.L.A. Hart was the greatest legal philosopher of the 20th century. For readers into jurisprudence, just about anything written by him or about him is worth reading. "A Life of H.L.A Hart" definitely falls into this category.

The book draws on Hart's copious letters, diaires, and notebooks to reconstruct his inner life in intimate detail. We learn about his anxieties, his homosexuality, and his tortured marriage. We read about his cluttered offices and his love of literature and nature. We learn about his Jewish "outsider" background and his need to be accepted in Oxford's stuffy society. We read excerpts from letters written during his travels in Europe, New Zealand, the U.S., and India. We learn that he was ambivalent about fatherhood yet devoted to his children, especially to his autistic youngest son. We even learn how media allegations that Hart's wife spied for the Soviet Union in the 1930s and '40s brought on a late-life nervous breakdown that was treated with electro-shock therapy.

Hart seems to have led a life of perpetual torment. In spite of his intellectual prowess, academic success, and great capacity for friendship, he was riddled with self-doubt and insecurity. And even though he loved his wife, their marriage was a lifelong source of heartache and sexual frustration (for both of them). If a successful biography opens a window on the inner emotional life of its subject, then "A Life of H.L.A Hart" is a major success.

But while the book teaches us much about Hart the man, it leaves Hart the thinker and lawyer strangely underdeveloped. In particular, it tells us little about the technical content of Hart's legal philosophy, which revolutionized jurisprudence and influenced an entire generation of younger legal philosophers including Ronald Dworkin, Joseph Raz and John Finnis. Similarly, we learn little about Hart's non-Oxford professional life. He worked as a London barrister and served with MI5 before joining Oxford's faculty in mid-life, and later served on official bodies such as the monopolies commission. These experiences are given short shrift even though they are interesting in their own right and surely shaped Hart's view of law and policy.

Bottomline: I loved "A Life of H.L.A. Hart." It's a psychological pageturner, and I devoured much of it on a long plane flight. But then I've read "The Concept of Law" (Hart's masterwork) four times and was able to fill in the intellectual gaps in "Life." Unfortunately, the author apparently was content to mine the trove of Hart's personal papers without doing broader research into the events and circumstances of his life and career. I'm not sure whether anyone not already a fan of Hart would get more than 100 pages into this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant first biography June 21 2008
By Hande Z - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I agree entirely with the previous reviewers that this was a well written and informative biography of a very humble, very private intellectual. If not for N Lacey, the legion of Hart followers who do not know him personally would guess that he was not only brilliant, but also a kind and wonderful human being. Now, thanks to the book, there can be little doubt that he was indeed so. However, I suspect that the third line from the top of page 349 might be incomplete. It seems to be an editorial oversight that should be rectified in reprints or a second edition.
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