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A Life of H. L. A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream Hardcover – 20 Apr 2006

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 422 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st edition (20 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199274975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199274970
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3.3 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 936,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


Overall this is an outstanding biography of a fascinating personality which will appeal to readers interested in Hart, jurisprudence or Oxford academic life. (The Journal of Intelligence History)

Outstanding biography. He deserves a perceptive biography, and Nicola Lacey has provided one. (TLS)

For me, a biography addict, this is certainly the biography of 2004 (Baroness Warnock, The Times Higher Education Supplement)

Impressive new biography (Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph Review)

This is a stunning achievement. Nicola Lacey has thrown a wonderful light, not only on H.L.A. Hart, the man, his life, his marriage, his war-work, his sexuality, his self-doubt, his experience of anti-Semitism, but also on the Oxford of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and by extension the circle of friends in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in New York, in Jerusalem, and all over the world in whose company he developed his ideas and made his massive contribution to jurisprudence. (Jeremy Waldron, Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Law and Philosophy, Columbia University)

The fascinating biography of a complex and brilliant man. Lacey's account vividly recreates the postwar Oxford climate in philosophy and jurisprudence, and paints Hart's life inside and outside the university with sensitivity, wit, and authority. (Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge)

About the Author

Nicola Lacey is Professor of Criminal Law, at the London School of Economics, and Adjunct Professor of Social and Political Theory, at the Research School of Social Sciences of the Australian National University.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was recommended this book when writing my undergraduate dissertation a year and a half ago, and I found it a very interesting, indepth, and well researched. Rather than focusing on his professional life, Lacey, has gone right back to his childhood and the history of his parents, which provides a good background context to the adult life of H.L.A. Hart. Also, when writing about his work, specifically "The Concept of Law" Lacey has covered all aspects including other forms of interpretation and why he was used other philosophers e.g. Wittgenstein and "Philosophical Investigations." This book helped me not only understand more clearly Hart's work but also how future interpretations and wrtings could be achieved. It is also both funny and sad in places, and does reviel areas of Hart's life that would have been rather difficult if made public during his career.

A good read and excellent source of reference for anyone interested in law or philosophy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 11 Nov. 2014
By Wes Rann Swinfen - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brilliant and engaging biography. Superb work.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Massive Void Filled at Last 12 Jan. 2005
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on
Format: Hardcover
For far too long there has not been a full-scale biography of H.L.A. Hart, author of "The Concept of Law." That gap has now been eliminated by this superb biography by Nicola Lacey of LSE. And this is a biography, and not an "intellectual biography" (such as Duxbury's masteful book on Frederick Pollock)which focuses primarily upon the subject's writings and theories--although Lacey addresses Hart's jurisprudential concepts within the framework of developing his life. For those who want to use this volume as an introduction to Hart's substantive work, ample references support the incisive discussion within the text. But the focus here is his life. As such, it is helpful to also read his wife Jennifer Hart's autobiography, "Ask Me No More."

Lacey had access to the most private of Hart's papers, his private diaries. While invaluable insights result, one is almost at times uneasy with the most intimate thoughts that Hart expressed in these writings. Lacey shares this concern, and in a "rule of thumb" describes what guidelines she imposed upon herself in the use of this material. This leads naturally to a second fundamental question--do we really need to know about such intimate issues as sexual orientation in the biography of a jurisprudential thinker? Each reader will have to make their own decision--but one really does get an incomparable insight into Hart the person as a result. In my view, it is healthy to be reminded from time to time that major figures such as Hart are people just like the rest of us and don't reside on some intellectual Olympus.

The narrative is crisp and with the exception of an overly long chapter on Hart's wartime service, never ceases to spark interest. The blending of Hart's theoretical contributions within the context of a biography is a challenge that is more than well met. The fact that Lacey personally knew Hart adds an important dimension as well. Also making apperances are a number of fascinating characters, including Hans Kelsen, Julius Stone, Lon Fuller, Ronald Dworkin and a host of Oxford philosophers. In her "Biographer's Note," Lacey explains a number of key issues she confronted in writing Hart's life, which in itself is an important contribution to the literature on biographical writing. Whether one is particularly interested in legal theory or not, this is simply one of the most extraordinary and important biographies to appear in recent years.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suprisingly, a great read 4 Jan. 2005
By Lawprof - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Let me begin by saying that I have no connection at all to the author of this book (I feel such disclaimers are needed on I picked up this book because, as a law professor, I wanted a bit of biographical background on H.L.A. Hart, perhaps the most important legal philosopher of the 20th century. Hart's writings are dense and hard even for experts to understand -- so I expected his biography to be equally dry. I am very happy to say that this book is virtually a page turner. The Da Vinci code it's not, but it is something more valuable -- a fascinating look at a very, very complex individual.
(...) I found the book particularly engaging because of my interest in legal philosophy, ordinary language philosophy, and Ronald Dworkin. Non-academics might find the author's discussion of these difficult subjects hard to follow and frustrating. However, the author does not obsess about these difficult matters and on the whole handles these technical subjects with grace and a soft touch. I would recommend the book to any person who is interested in the private life of a public philosopher. For those with an interest in legal philosophy and particularly modern positivism, this book is a "must read." Nicola Lacey -- Bravo!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fear and (Self) Loathing in Oxford 2 July 2012
By not me - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
H.L.A. Hart was the greatest legal philosopher of the 20th century. For readers into jurisprudence, just about anything written by him or about him is worth reading. "A Life of H.L.A Hart" definitely falls into this category.

The book draws on Hart's copious letters, diaires, and notebooks to reconstruct his inner life in intimate detail. We learn about his anxieties, his homosexuality, and his tortured marriage. We read about his cluttered offices and his love of literature and nature. We learn about his Jewish "outsider" background and his need to be accepted in Oxford's stuffy society. We read excerpts from letters written during his travels in Europe, New Zealand, the U.S., and India. We learn that he was ambivalent about fatherhood yet devoted to his children, especially to his autistic youngest son. We even learn how media allegations that Hart's wife spied for the Soviet Union in the 1930s and '40s brought on a late-life nervous breakdown that was treated with electro-shock therapy.

Hart seems to have led a life of perpetual torment. In spite of his intellectual prowess, academic success, and great capacity for friendship, he was riddled with self-doubt and insecurity. And even though he loved his wife, their marriage was a lifelong source of heartache and sexual frustration (for both of them). If a successful biography opens a window on the inner emotional life of its subject, then "A Life of H.L.A Hart" is a major success.

But while the book teaches us much about Hart the man, it leaves Hart the thinker and lawyer strangely underdeveloped. In particular, it tells us little about the technical content of Hart's legal philosophy, which revolutionized jurisprudence and influenced an entire generation of younger legal philosophers including Ronald Dworkin, Joseph Raz and John Finnis. Similarly, we learn little about Hart's non-Oxford professional life. He worked as a London barrister and served with MI5 before joining Oxford's faculty in mid-life, and later served on official bodies such as the monopolies commission. These experiences are given short shrift even though they are interesting in their own right and surely shaped Hart's view of law and policy.

Bottomline: I loved "A Life of H.L.A. Hart." It's a psychological pageturner, and I devoured much of it on a long plane flight. But then I've read "The Concept of Law" (Hart's masterwork) four times and was able to fill in the intellectual gaps in "Life." Unfortunately, the author apparently was content to mine the trove of Hart's personal papers without doing broader research into the events and circumstances of his life and career. I'm not sure whether anyone not already a fan of Hart would get more than 100 pages into this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant first biography 21 Jun. 2008
By Hande Z - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I agree entirely with the previous reviewers that this was a well written and informative biography of a very humble, very private intellectual. If not for N Lacey, the legion of Hart followers who do not know him personally would guess that he was not only brilliant, but also a kind and wonderful human being. Now, thanks to the book, there can be little doubt that he was indeed so. However, I suspect that the third line from the top of page 349 might be incomplete. It seems to be an editorial oversight that should be rectified in reprints or a second edition.
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