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Book Review

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This essay reviews Spencer Weber Waller's recent biography of the legal realist Thurman Arnold (NYU Press 2005). Arnold's academic and popular writings during the 1930s - which not only critiqued what he saw as the foolishness and ill effects of legal formalism and political conservatism, but also recognized the symbolic authority of legal forms and conservative beliefs and the need for any reform movement to respect and appropriate them - force us to reconsider the entire project of legal biography. Arnold's life and work reveal the ways in which the forces of modernity - forces that Arnold celebrated in his work and helped unleash in the New Deal and at Arnold & Porter - call into question the rugged individual that biography requires. Arnold's critical realist project sought to uncover the historically contingent and ideological nature of the classical liberal conception of the subject who authors his own individual life; but at the same time, the culturalist side of Arnold's work explains why this conception remains necessary, given the symbolic nature of a legal system and the deeply felt needs we have in residual concepts.