Even as Jurisdynamics was blogging about the revival of The Great Gatsby, Al Brophy addressed the same issue at the Legal History Blog. Better still, Al asked a fantastic question:
All this causes me to wonder what other literature is out there waiting to be discovered, particularly what other literature is out there waiting to tell us something about jurisprudence.This makes a great meme, one whose social value vastly exceeds that of Jurisdynamics' truly bad movie meme.
I'll get things rolling by nominating my candidate: Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901). (Bibliographical note: The Octopus is available online through Google Books and the Gutenberg Project.) Norris wrote this "Story of California" as part one of an unfinished "Epic of Wheat." The Octopus was based on the Mussel Slough Tragedy of 1880, a bloody conflict between ranchers and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley had leased land from the railroad at $2.50 to $5 per acre, in the hope of eventually purchasing the land outright. When the railroad offered the land for sale at prices adjusted for improvements (made, for the most part, by the farmers themselves), fighting broke out.
I've used The Octopus in agricultural law and in regulated industries. The agricultural application should be self-explanatory. As for regulated industries, The Octopus provides (remarkably enough) what may be American literature's most complete description of classic cost-of-service ratemaking. I always told my students that a page of Norris was worth a volume of Chen: The Death of the Regulatory Compact: Adjusting Prices and Expectations in the Law of Regulated Industries, 67 Ohio State L.J. 1265 (2006).
I now tag anyone blogging within legal education. It would be great to compile a list of lost literary classics that are suitable for use in law school. If we get enough suggestions, I will gladly publish a consolidated reading list here at Jurisdynamics, with links back to all posts proposing additions to this canon.