Each chapter of The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese takes on a broad topic, like criminal law, tort, money, or sex. Author Adam Freedman brings up the main vocabulary (habeas corpus, misdemeanor, legal tender) and some of the more obscure ideas (per stirpes, res ipsa loquitur), exploring their roots along the way, and most importantly, grappling with why in the world we accept such tortured language.
The legal system and lawyers are convenient punching bags (I would be more surprised if Freedman had a difficulty finding things to puzzle over), but I didn’t expect the book to be quite so funny. He often seems like a stand-up comic: introduction, development, punchline. It seems like every paragraph had some bit of goofiness. Plenty of the jokes were just corny, but much of it was good. I also like that Freedman keeps a few running gags across sections and chapters of the book, like the recurring “four-hour erections” bit from an early chapter on legal disclaimers.
I don’t expect to buy it or ever read it again, but it was perfect for a few mornings on the train to work. You can read an excerpt from the first chapter to get a feel for it, or take a look at Freedman’s blog of the same title, The Party of the First Part.