Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

history of criminal justice in Michigan

While browsing the second floor reference books today, I stumbled upon this amazing book, History of Michigan Law, which is a collection of articles on various aspects of Michigan law. The chapter on the history of criminal justice in Michigan was enlightening in the following ways:

  • substantitive law (list of crimes and punishements) [links to current MI penal code] has not changed much since the 1800's; although many new crimes have been added and amended, most crimes remain unclear, and are left to the courts to interpret. A "model penal code" was attempted a couple times, and failed.
  • Michigan was the first English-speaking government to ban the death penalty. wow.
  • Michigan gave poor criminals the right to a defense and appeal before the U.S. Surpreme Court did.
  • In 2001, our indigent defense system was ranked 49th in the nation (=bad).
  • Around the eighties, we had very severe minimum mandatory sentencing laws.
  • In 2004, we followed the U.S. Supreme Court by adopting the "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule; which gives police a certain exception when illegally searching and seizing. (interesting point to remember: States can give citizens more rights than the U.S. Constitution, but not less.)

In sum, the author described this history as a constant "balancing act," between preventing and punishing crime, and giving criminals and alleged criminals fair treatment. It is social, legal, and political.


The History of Michigan Law

Portrait of Camelot

It has now been 50 years since the inauguration of JFK. For those of us who remember, it hardly seems possible that it could have been that long ago. KPL has acquired a fitting commemoration of the brief Kennedy Administration in the form of a book which contains many of the photographs by the official White House photographer from 1961-1963, Cecil W. Stoughton. This book is not a volume of history in the formal sense, although it does introduce short commentaries on each of the pictures. Portrayed are the president and his family in both official and casual settings, both at home and abroad. Regardless of the reader's political views, this week-by-week record of a part of American political life is one that can be either recalled or explored, and in any case, enjoyed.


Portrait of Camelot : a thousand days in the Kennedy White House
David D.

People are Reading the Constitution

The Law Library has free copies of the United States Constitution, which, I'm happy to say, have lately been flying off the shelves. In fact, there seems to be a revived interest in our most cherished founding document, mostly known for its magnificent "add-ons" (the Bill of Rights). Whether this interest comes from new political issues or new social problems, we should all think about what the Constitution means at some point. It defined the birth of our nation; it set the conditions for the "American experiment"; it starts with the word "we." Martin Luther King called it a "check" that needs "cashing," a "promissory note" that needs to be performed:

"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (read here).

Go to for commentary, great historical notes, and full text. Or drop by the Law Library and read our books on Constitutional Civil Rights, or First Amendment Law, or The State and Religion.


The Constitution of the United States of America



Before you Rent...

It's the time of year when many college students are looking to rent. When entering into any legal situation, a basic understanding of your rights and obligations is your best protection. And with these awesome books by Nolo, it is very easy, interesting, and up-to-date. Learning before is always better than after some dispute comes along.

This book goes over the basic rights that tenants have in relationship to the lease and the landlord. Is this an illegal lease provision? Can the landlord raise my rent? How much can the security deposit be? What does the law say about discrimination? What happens if I end my lease? Can a landlord change my locks? How does the eviction process go?

Although this book is not a specific discussion of the law in Michigan, it does have an appendix in the back that references to various state laws. For much more information, come visit the Law Library.


Renters' Rights: The Basics

Transgender Warriors

What with last year’s passage of Ordinance 1856 in Kalamazoo and June being now-presidentially-proclaimed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered Pride Month, I have been inspired to learn more about the lives of transgendered individuals, the oppressions they face and the strength it takes to walk in this culture as a trans person. At KPL, I discovered documentaries, feature films, biographies, historical accounts, sociological perspectives and novels.       

I was especially struck by Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Transgender activist Leslie Feinberg gives many examples through history of famous and not-so-famous people who crossed the lines of the gender expectations our culture holds. I learned so much through their and Feinberg’s own experiences.

Some subject terms you can use to find information about, by and for transgendered people in KPL’s collection are: transgender people; transgenderismtranssexuals and gender identity. Also, check out the GLBT Pride display on the first floor of the Central library through the end of June!


Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul

How the States Got Their Shapes

The History Channel has really been outdoing themselves with new and fun programming.  Some of my favorites are Food Tech, American Pickers, and Pawn StarsFrom these websites, you can watch previous episodes or learn about the program in more detail.

One of the shows I caught the other night (since baseball season has not monopolized the TV quite yet) was How the States Got Their Shapes.  The stories behind many of our state's boundaries are quite fascinating and noteworthy.  Beyond the geographic obviousness of things like the Great Lakes or the Gulf of Mexico, the state shape legacy often revolves around money and politics--often including a war or conflict of some sort.  The belief in slavery (or lack thereof) carried far into the West and determined the straight, horizontal lined borders of many states.  Even major rivers such as the Mississippi River don't automatically create a border.  The "boot toe" part of Louisiana crosses right over the Big Muddy, for example. 

If you missed the show on state shapes, you can pick up a book of the same name here at the library.  Each state is its own chapter chock full of maps and stories that help provide insight into some of the weird things we either don't realize or take for granted. For instance, what if half of your town in is Canada and your Uncle George lives on the other side of town?  Plan on a couple hours of passport, border patrol time!


How the States Got Their Shapes

Universal Healthcare

With the healthcare debate raging, I decided to check out T. R. Reid's book The Healing of America:  a Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care.  Mr. Reid has some pain in his shoulder and decides to travel the world to see what kind of medical care he gets.  Although he does make a stop in India, most of the countries he chooses to visit have some kind of national health care system that covers all of its citizens.  He finds that these countries have all found different ways to administer their national health care systems with varied combinations of public and private providers.  He gives a short history of how they developed their models and the successes and drawbacks of their systems. This is a great, accessible resource to get you thinking about the issue of health care in our country and help you decide where you stand.


The Healing of America
Steve S

Legal Problems? Try Nolo.

Thinking of evicting a tenant? Are you being evicted? Filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court? Bankruptcy? Fighting your traffic ticket? Charged with a crime?

There is a book published by Nolo (a for-the-layman legal publishing company) for virtually every legal situation that most citizens eventually find themselves in--whether it's getting Social Security Disability, facing foreclosure, or getting your idea copyrighted. If you do a key word search for "Nolo" in our catalog you'll see we have about 200 of them; some are in the Law Library, some in the Business Collection, some in the general stacks (2nd floor), and some in all three locations. These books combine the authority and practical advice of lawyers (most, if not all, are written by lawyers) without the legal jargon.

Represent Yourself in Court


Nation’s Morons March on Washington State

When I moved to Madison, Wisconsin to go to library school, the staff of the satirical newspaper The Onion(a precursor to fake, hilarious news shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report) was on its way out of town.  In fact, I almost bought a house from someone who worked for The Onion and was moving to New York.  Even after they moved to New York, you could get free copies of the paper in newspaper racks on campus and around downtown which was one of the real treats of living in Madison.  Recently, they published The Onion presents our front pages : 21 years of greatness, virtue, and moral rectitude from America's finest news source [1988-2008].  I had many good belly laughs while reading this book and I had a great time reliving the years I spent in Madison as well as catching up on all the years I missed before and since then.

If you've read The Onion before, check this out and relive the past two decades of hilarious headlines.  If you've never heard of The Onion, you are about discover a hidden treasure.


The Onion Presents Our Front Pages
Steve S

Remember Long Gas Lines?

 Born in 1968, I grew up in a large family with Republican parents in a largely Republican suburb of Chicago. My older sister passionately arguing for my parents to vote for Jimmy Carter at dinnertime is probably the first political memory of my childhood. I still voted for Gerald Ford in my elementary school election along with everyone else in the school, except one third grade girl (some kids found out who the girl was and I still have this disturbing image in my head of her running, crying down the school hallway with several kids following behind her, jeering and taunting her), but it was the opening of the possibility that I could have different political opinions than my parents and the beginning of a soft spot in my heart for Jimmy Carter.

Kevin Mattson’s book, What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?, focuses on what was going on in the United States in 1979 before Jimmy Carter gave a famous speech on the state of the country that amazingly revived his dismal approval rating for a short time, before being turned against him and dooming his run for a second term as President. I really enjoyed reading a book full of events from my childhood that I remember, but didn’t know much about or understand. I also appreciated the prominent reference to the Disco Demolition event at White Sox Park that year. Tigers fans might remember that one, too.

We find ourselves with the same energy policy questions they were struggling with in the late seventies and it really makes you wonder where we would be now if we had listened harder and not become distracted from the clarion call Jimmy Carter gave in 1979.


What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?

Steve S
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