April 2013 Vol. 111 No. 6 THE REVIEW

The Vexations of Aging from the Imagination (A Lot) and Life (A Little) of Bill Miller

James J. White

Bill Miller has done something quite uncommon, possibly singular: he has become a prominent law professor by writing books that have nothing to do with the law. His books do not even have the remote relation to law that books by philosophers or historians can claim. Having studied medieval history before law school and achieved law school tenure by teetering on the edge of law in his work on Icelandic sagas, Miller jumped the fence completely in his books The Mystery of Courage, The Anatomy of Disgust, and Faking It. He has never returned. Presumably, this Review earned a place in an issue devoted to “law books” only because the student editors could not swallow the heresy that a member of a law faculty—who, believe it or not, teaches property—could be writing about something unrelated to law.

Where in the academic literature do Miller’s books on courage, faking, and disgust, and his latest book, on old age, fit? Certainly, those who describe his latest book Losing It: In Which an Aging Professor Laments His Shrinking Brain as an autobiography are wrong. Of course Miller, in his most engaging, neurotic manner, uses his own real and imagined experiences as examples, but those examples do not make an autobiography. All of his books take behaviors that everyone has experienced directly (disgust and faking) or vicariously (courage), and disassemble them to show their qualities and demonstrate our ignorance—is a Japanese soldier who has been trained from youth to fight to the death exhibiting “courage” when he heads into battle? These books belong to psychology or maybe sociology. Bill Miller is a fine lawyer, but he is an even better psychologist.

 

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