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The last great contract law treatise?
on 8 February 2008
Treitel's 'The Law of Contract' is a classic. Perhaps it will be the last of the great treatises on English contract law, coming from a tradition beginning with Powell's Essay upon the Law of Contracts and Agreements at the end of the eighteenth century, through writers such as Anson and Leake in the nineteenth and ultimately to Treitel in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Quote Treitel and people listen. The fashion has now changed and contract books now contain extracts from cases to save the casual reader an excursion to the library or logging onto Lexis or Westlaw. They are none the worse for this. Ewan McKendrick's book on English contract law is highly recommendable. For those that prefer a historical approach to their contract law, David Ibbetson's 'Introduction to the Law of Obligations' is a superb treatment of the subject. Both McKendrick and Ibbetson are probably more accessible to undergraduates than Treitel. However, as a student advances in his or her understanding of English contract law and is able include the likes of Brian Simpson and Patrick Atiyah within the theories that they are familiar with, having a copy of Treitel to hand, if only to see what the old master has to say on the topic under consideration, is invaluable.
A practical example, on recently looking at the doctrine of consideration, I went through a number of standard textbooks on English contract law to see what they had to say about Rann v. Hughes and was amazed to see how few included it. Of course, it was in Treitel - I should have looked there first.