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Book Review: Is Eating People Wrong?

Hello there diligent law student! Yes, you there with the stack of Federal Reporters straining your back and dropping that AmJur on your foot. The library loves you. And now that you are creeped out, I have your attention. Are you in the mood to read something out of the ordinary? If your textbook readings are leaving you in tears, why not peruse the unexplored sections in between the stacks? The library has a variety of fascinating books full of memorable anecdotes that enables the law to become more digestible.

Take for example the writings of author Allan C. Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. He is a legal theorist whose research interests include: public law, legal theory, and the legal profession. Hutchinson is a prolific writer, having authored/or edited some 16 works. And February 20th of this year marks the release of his 17th work entitled “Laughing at the Gods: Great Judges and How They Made the Common Law.”

eating people

You can check out his 2011 release, Is Eating People Wrong?: Great Legal Cases and How They Shaped the World, from the library’s Treatise section. In an interview with Rorotoko (5/22/11) Hutchinson states that he chose eight cases he felt had the most impact in shaping common law. He proposed that the legal cases discussed in his book “breathe life” into the law for the reader. Hutchinson presents monumental legal cases such as Brown v Board of Education and Miranda v Arizona.

The book’s title refers to R v Dudley and Stephens. Hutchinson displays his flair for the narrative style as he recounts the details of the infamous events abroad the Mignonette. The Mignonette was purchased by John Henry Want, an English businessman. He and his crew of three had planned to sail from New South Wales to Australia. A storm destroyed the yacht, and the men barely escaped with their lives. After weeks of drifting and slowly starving to death, the decision was made to eat the already emaciated cabin boy. Upon their eventual rescue at sea, the surviving men were at first hailed as heroes. Hutchinson really draws the reader in with his detailed re-telling of the events that led up to the men’s reversal of fortune, and subsequent arrests. This 1884 case set a precedent within common law that necessity is not a defense to a charge of murder. Sadly, this is the only case in Is Eating People Wrong? that analyzes the legal repercussions of cannibalism.

Another highly entertaining chapter concerns Donoghue v Stevenson, a.k.a the “snail in the bottle” case. The chapter entitled “A Snail in a Bottle: Nature, Neighbors, and Negligence” recounts how Glasgow native May Donoghue became ill after finding the partial remains of a snail within her ginger beer bottle. Her decision to pursue legal recourse against the bottling company led to the concept of negligence.

Is Eating People Wrong is a thoroughly enjoyable read that takes a look at some of the notable cases that have come to shape common law. And proves once again that fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

~Erica Tyler~

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