Classic legal history, adding new Foreword by Stewart Macaulay: Lawrence Friedman’s Contract Law in America

Contract law as applied in the real world and not just in the law books—a classic study of the social and economic realities of commercial and trade law, told through case studies and rich historical analysis. Comparing contract cases and legislation over three discrete historical periods, Lawrence Friedman shows that social context matters, that contract and commercial law is more contingent and adaptive than traditional doctrinal studies would suggest, and that the framing of contract law can use a fresh reexamination in light of the historical realities he exposes in this intricate and fascinating study.

A recognized study in law & society, this volume previously hid out as a rare book or was completely unavailable. Now readily accessible worldwide, it also features a new preface by the author, as well as a new, analytical foreword by Stewart Macaulay, a senior professor of law at the University of Wisconsin.

As Macaulay notes, Friedman’s Contract Law in America “still challenges those who research, write and teach in the field of contracts. His findings and arguments still call for a serious response today.” Has contracts doctrine become “the law of leftovers”? Fair question. In any event, Macaulay sums up, “Friedman combines scholarship that takes him into dusty archives with insight into the broader effect of both public culture and legal culture. I am continually and pleasantly surprised when I read him.”

Like all the quality contributions to the Classics of Law & Society Series, this book features modern formatting and presentation, legible tables, and hyperaccurate proofreading from the original text. Ebook editions have fully-linked subject Index and active TOC, cross-references, and notes. Moreover, it includes embedded page numbers from the first edition (in both print and digital formats), for continuity of references.


New Paperback available now. See it at; at our eStore (fulfilled by Amazon); at Barnes & Noble online; and at other leading booksellers.

Kindle ebook available at Amazon Kindle Store.

Nook book at Barnes & Noble.

Look for it at Apple iBooks and iTunes, too, as previewed online.

OTHER DIGITAL FORMATS: In downloadable ePub, PDF, rich text, and online viewing at Smashwords.
Available at the Sony Reader store, at Diesel eBooks in ePub, and at Kobobooks.
Also for UK ereaders at the Amazon UK Kindle Store.

Praise for this anniversary edition of the book:

Contract Law in America is one of the most important works in the entire scholarly literature on American legal history. Friedman took a subject that had been treated by researchers in exclusively doctrinal terms, bringing an entirely new perspective that revealed how contract law has been at the very center of how we need to understand ‘law in action’ in key periods of American development. In the methodology that Friedman applied, in the brilliance of the analysis, and in the new light his book cast on the full dimensions of governance and law in the United States, this book broke new ground. It remains today, still, required reading for any student of legal history.”
Harry N. Scheiber
Stefan A. Riesenfeld Professor of Law and History, University of California at Berkeley

“The republishing of Contract Law in America is a very welcome event. For years this has been one of the neglected classics of legal literature. Friedman did what the Legal Realists only dreamed of doing—he studied in-depth what kinds of contracts cases state courts had decided over time, and found grand patterns in the decisions. As real-world contracts dropped out of common law litigation and into private ordering and specialized regulation, courts abandoned abstract formal rule-making for particularized equitable resolutions. In the present moment, more receptive to social and empirical studies of law than was 1965, Friedman’s book should finally find the audience it deserves.”
Robert W. Gordon
Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History, Emeritus, Yale University; and
Professor of Law, Stanford University

Contract Law in America remains a classic examination of the relationships among legal doctrine, legal culture, and the shifting frameworks of American business enterprise. Amid the current academic re-engagement with questions of political economy, we can only hope that more historians, social scientists, and legal scholars acquaint themselves with Friedman’s probing analysis of how law did, and did not, influence American commerce, and how commerce did, and did not, influence American law.”
Edward J. Balleisen
Associate Professor of History, Duke University

Also see this review by NYU Law’s Dan Ernst at Legal History Blog: “…After encomia like those, a further endorsement is unnecessary, but I’ll add mine anyway.  Chapter 4, ‘Contract Law and the Legislature,’ is essential reading for any legal historian of the administrative state.  Readers who considered only the book’s title might not expect to find a remarkably comprehensive, concise, and lively summary of the rise of the regulatory state in Contract Law in America.  … Macaulay concludes his foreword with a tip for reading his friend and colleague: ‘If you keep in mind Friedman’s sense of humor well mixed with anger at stupidity that hurts people, you can understand him better.’  Of the many reasons to discover or rediscover Contract Law in America, the chance to observe that sensibility at work is among the best.”


Lawrence M. Friedman is the Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor of Law at Stanford University. An internationally renowned, prize-winning legal historian, Friedman has for a generation been the leading expositor of the history of American law to a global audience of lawyers and lay people alike–and a leading figure in the law & society movement. He is particularly well known for treating legal history as a branch of general social history. From his award-winning History of American Law, first published in 1973, to his American Law in the 20th Century, published in 2003, his canonical works have become classic textbooks in legal and undergraduate education.

ISBN-13 9781610279772 (Kindle)
ISBN-13 9781610279796 (paperback)
ISBN-13 9781610279789 (ePub)