Review: A Crash Course In American Law by J. Ryan Jones ★★★★★

A Crash Course in American LawI was laughing—I mean snorting tea out through my nose and onto my Kindle screen laughing—before I even got to the first page. Please don’t let the title turn you off this book. Listen to the subtitle instead. This is not a dry law textbook; it’s not even a juicy law textbook. But still you will learn a lot about law in the most entertaining way. In each chapter of this delightful little book, author J.Ryan Jones discusses one legal case—everything from personal injury cases to criminal cases to employment discrimination cases — to, well, some even weirder things.

Many of these you’ve probably read about in the news (the woman who sued McDonald’s after spilling scalding coffee on herself, the woman who dropped a severed finger in her chili and tried to sue Wendy’s, the battered wife who got 20 years for firing a warning shot), but here Jones not only tells what really happened (often a slightly different and far more interesting story than the one we read in the papers), but explains the legal reasoning and maneuvering behind the scenes.

Some of the cases he discusses are less well-known, but no less fascinating: a drunk driver who sues his victims, a case that sheds some light on what really goes on when a cop shoots a suspect, and a case where workplace harassment leads to armed robbery (really, it’s complicated).

Despite the lighthearted tone, Jones presents nuances of these cases (especially in ones like the battered wife and the warning shot) that you aren’t likely to see in many other discussions. In the introduction Jones writes:

This is not just another book about frivolous lawsuits or greedy lawyers… These cases are so much more interesting when you look at the actual evidence, the participants’ lives , and how the law led to a particular result (for better or for worse). I have not found any newspaper or Internet list that does more than post a sensationalized headline and a few quotes. The truth is so much more interesting. My goal is to share these true stories and turn you into an armchair lawyer.

The information Jones shares is, however, all drawn from the public records of the cases, and the e-book contains links to evidence for those interested in reading more (and much less entertaining) detail, as well as a full appendix of same. The only parts Jones made up are the snarky comments and asides and occasional fictionalized comments from court. Again, as he put it in the introduction:

There is a slight chance that you will see one, or possibly even two insulting comments about some of the people who star in these stories. The insults are just my opinion and not assertions of fact so, with respect, those people should not bother to sue me; I would just end up making fun of them in the sequel.

And in case you are wondering, it is totally clear when Jones is asserting fact and when he is holding forth with his opinion.

It’s a funny and irreverent read, but also a very enlightening one. You’ll learn how arbitration works (and why you might or might not want to sign those contracts promising you’ll submit to arbitration if you get screwed by the company asking you to sign the contract), why the jury doesn’t actually see all the evidence in a case (and how that’s perfectly legal), why you shouldn’t be too trusting of expert witnesses, and much more.

If you are an armchair lawyer, you’ll love learning about the details of these cases and getting good explanations of what goes on in court and why. If you thought a tort was a fancy cake and believe legal jargon would make a good torture device, don’t worry, you’ll still love A Crash Course in American Law. The legal bits are almost as funny as Jones’s witty take on the cases, and the learning goes down very easy. After reading this book, you’ll never again think law is dry.


A Crash Course in American Law

Review Overview