Review: Turow’s ‘One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School’

I wrote this on Goodreads, and then decided to modify and share.ONE L Turow Image


Good plot, very emotionally moving story of a competitive and clever writer turned lawyer. It’s illuminating, Turow’s gradual movement from elation to challenge to intimidation. The grade inflation scandal (Harvard now routinely awards its students with A’s) hadn’t yet happened. Turow explains the common problem of law students putting studies before anything else, even spouses or any form of relaxation, due to the incessant need to keep up with piles of information and the desire to excel.

Finding Balance

Eventually, Turow strikes a balance between respect and dislike of professors’ talents versus their personal style (and sometimes bullying manners), and also an improved work-life balance.

Balance isn’t everything, though. It’s disturbing to see him lose his common sense and shaky moral ground for an ‘understanding’ common to legalese: outcomes don’t matter as much as the process of getting the best for your client. One particular professor taught his students, through the numbing process of endless ‘what ifs’, that consistent application of the law was a near-impossible achievement.

From a humanistic perspective, he’s quite right – left to himself, man has an endless supply of mitigating or exacerbating factors, and nearly no grasp of universals, but an endless supply of justification for awful or stupid behavior.

Harvard’s Fall: Historically Disturbing

Turow avoids almost any mention of religious thought or influence, which is disturbing because Harvard was known for both its grasp on theology and a common-law (rather than situational ethics) understanding rooted in the Holy Scriptures.

A husk of its former self, Harvard of the 1990’s seems to have degenerated into an avaricious, money-grubbing institute, preening itself on the intellectual prowess of worldly achievement and attainment. The author seemed deeply shocked and disturbed by both his own and his classmates’ response to the peer pressure for endless intellectual achievement, fame, and future success.

He’s honest, if not very insightful about the human spiritual condition.

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