Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Five books that influenced Justice Stephen Breyer

Stephen Breyer is a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, Breyer discussed five books that have influenced his thinking, and explained why reading widely, including literature, is essential for judges and lawyers. One book he tagged:
La Peste
by Albert Camus

Let's move onto Camus and The Plague. Why do you cite this classic novel as intellectually formative?

Because it really speaks to my generation. I grew up during World War II. Though I was a young child, I can still remember blackout shades coming down in San Francisco because people were worried about an invasion. My wife is English. We just saw a documentary about Churchill, and in it there were lots of English women carrying their babies into Tube [metro] stations during air raids. I thought maybe one of those babies is [my wife] Joanna. That was the world that we were born into. Camus, in The Plague, writes about that world. Although the story takes place in Algeria, he's really writing about the Nazi occupation of France.

Most read this work on an allegorical level.

He talks about the plague. Well, the plague is that part of a human being which can be very evil. That germ, he says at the end, never dies, it simply goes into remission. It lurks. It lurks in the cupboards, it lurks in the hallways, it lurks in the filing cabinets. It lurks throughout the house, perhaps one day to reawaken and once again send forth its pestilence into what was once a happy city.

All over the world, people are trying to stop that plague because it's still there, in the hearts of people. To keep the plague away, we build institutions including independent judiciaries to interpret constitutions that contain words, which are protective of human beings’ basic rights. That's true in Europe, it's true in the United States, and it’s more and more true throughout the world. I have a job that is one small part of the effort to build a barrier against another epidemic of evil like what we saw in World War II.
Read about the other books on Breyer's list at The Browser.

La Peste is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best rats in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue