The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law (Book Review)

Illustrated_Guide_to_Criminal_Law_

With law firms and law schools in crisis, federal and state governments paralyzed, and the citizens restless and weary of more of the same cynicism and cowardice, we need a comic book hero, someone to inspire us and give us reason to hope for a brighter day.

We now have one. His name is Nathaniel Burney, and he’s a lawyer who wrote a comic book.

Burney’s The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law is, in a word, terrific. It succeeds brilliantly at what it sets out to do: make criminal law make sense to laypersons and lawyers alike. This book smashes BS urban legends about criminal law the way the Hulk smashes bulldozers: spectacularly, and for fun. It explains the law using sophisticated short stories and one-off illustrations, thus leading the reader through heavy ideas by attaching them to graphic context. If you’ve ever read a comic book or graphic novel, you know how memorable the skilled mixing of words and pictures can be.[1]

Two-fisted action!

Most importantly, the book works because Burney understands criminal law from both the scholarly (I’d be stunned if he didn’t get the CALI for his CrimLaw class) and experiential (he’s a former NYC prosecutor and now a defense attorney) angles. So he knows what he’s writing about.

Second, he writes very, very well. This book would be well worth your time even if one removed all the illustrations and bits of text that relate only to them. But the graphics and writing work together perfectly. Burney isn’t a pro-level illustrator (although he’s a very good amateur) but his graphics dynamically spark the imagination and in doing so both aid understanding and impress that understanding on the reader’s memory.

Here’s just one example of Burney’s smashing success: To teach the reader solicitation, conspiracy, and accomplice liability, Burney flips a law school CrimLaw exam question on its head and creates a delicious 23-page story that leaves the reader firmly in command of all those legal concepts, as well as utterly entertained.

Topical! But Compelling!

Burney has also written a protest book, one that makes plain that our criminal law has been hijacked by politicians and bureaucrats for their own cynical and self-serving purposes, and is therefore in need of major reform. If we want to change criminal law in this country,[2] we need books like this, books that excite not only CrimLaw geeks like me, but laypersons like my wife, who has never expressed any enthusiasm whatsoever about learning law[3] but who found the book intriguing.

The book is compliled from Burney’s original online version where you can still check it out for free[4] . But get the book if you can, because books are more fun to read than websites, and the book has been professionally lettered in a classic comic-book typeface. The online version uses what I assume is Burney’s own handwriting. So the book is significantly more a pro-level graphic novel or comic book reading experience.

Who Should Buy This Book?

All lawyers, law students[5] and judges. Also, anyone who gives a crap about the fact that the government can legally kill you or your loved ones. In other words, everybody.

Summary

The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law is a brilliant description of the fascinating and compelling place where crime, law, and politics intersect. This book is a hoot, and you should buy a copy for yourself and another for a friend.

Notes

[1] And if you have never read a comic book or graphic novel, after reading this book you probably will want to.
[2] Heard of the War on Drugs, have you?
[3] She’s more the mathlete type.
[4] Go take a peek, but if you like it, and have a law job, pony up and buy the book so Burney will keep doing this work.
[5] It’s by far the best CrimLaw class or bar exam study guide I’ve seen.

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  • http://FishtownLaw.com Leo

    Jordan bought this book for us and I read it in two sittings. This book should be used as a supplemental text for criminal law.

    Maybe that’s just because I like pictures in my books.

  • http://associatesmind.com/ Keith Lee

    Leo – Get some crayons and it’s like a coloring book too!

    RE: Burney’s Book – it’s fantastic. Go buy it.

  • http://www.BetterNoahLawyer.com BetterNoahLawyer

    The book and the blog that started it are excellent. Well worth the time and money.

    As a practical tip to the author of this post, the endnotes were awkward to parse. If you must use them I’d suggest hyperlinks back and forth to reduce scrolling. But I don’t think they’re a good fit for this forum.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/andymergendahl/ Andy Mergendahl

      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll keep trying.

  • Jeff

    Read the first part on the Internet a couple of months ago. Truly geat stuff, in both style and content

  • http://McDowlaw.com/ Thomas F. McDow

    I hope the book is as good as the review. I just ordered two copies, one for my 38 years old daughter who may go to law school and one for me in my forty-fifth year of practice.