On the Nightstand: Book Recommendations from America’s Top Lawyers

Charles William Elliot once called them the “most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Despite all the advances in technology, that praise of books remains just as true today.

Books teach us new skills, sharpen existing talents, or help us to overcome fears and weaknesses. They bring historical and inspirational individuals to the comfort of our homes. They challenge our thinking and change our points of view. They provide companionship and an often-needed escape beyond our daily lives into a different reality.

As someone who coaches young lawyers and law students, I often wonder what books have inspired the leaders in the field or played an important role in their careers or lives. So I decided to ask some of America’s top lawyers for their recommendations.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Recommended by Yasser Madriz, partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP

“I have always identified with Huck’s character. A child at heart, he wants to do what is right, fair, and just. Growing up distant from mainstream society, he is also a natural skeptic—but it is this underlying doubt that allows him to be open to new ways to see the world. Huck’s mentality forms the foundation of my legal practice, reminding me to remain open to different perspectives and to never stop learning, pursuing what is right, fair, and just, and most importantly, caring.”

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum
Recommended by E. Lynn Grayson, partner at Jenner & Block LLP

“The concepts of sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up your messes and living a ‘balanced life’ of work, play and learning resonated with me when I first read this book after graduating from law school, and does even more so now. The practice of law is about people and our relationships to one another. I believe that long-term success and happiness in law practice is associated with how we feel about, and how others perceive, our personal integrity and reputation. I was blessed to learn respect, kindness, compassion and manners at home; this book reminds me that the golden rule is not just for children but should be a guiding principle for lawyers too.”

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell
Recommended by Paulette Brown, partner at Locke Lord LLP

“This book provided invaluable insight into how I process circumstances and events, and how they affect my decisions. It has helped me learn to gather all information on my own (as opposed to what may be in my unconscious—influenced, in essence, by someone else’s opinion) to make a reasoned decision. It has helped me to be a better lawyer because I am now a lot more strategic.”


A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr
Recommended by Alanna Rutherford, partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP

“I read this book during my first year of law school and I still think about it. It’s about all the things that can go right and wrong at trial, and during trial preparation, and reminds you of the real-world consequences related to those choices.” 



Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King
Recommended by William Lee, partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP

“Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is a hero to many of us for his service as the first African-American justice on the court and his representation of the plaintiffs in the seminal case, Brown vs. Board of Education. But his real struggles and triumphs occurred well before. This book captures the challenges and triumphs of Marshall and others as they defended wrongfully accused African Americans before all-white juries in the Deep South. The violence, drama and intrigue are bone-chilling, and I found myself constantly “Googling” the names of participants, in part, because I just could not believe they were real. The issues of race have once again become central to our national discourse. This book reminds us all of just how hard it was to get where we are and how much further we have to go.”

The First 90 Days, by Michael D. Watkins
Recommended by Iris Chen, senior director at Google Inc.

“I came across this book when I first began managing a legal team in Google’s New York office. This book taught me that being a ‘great lawyer’ wasn’t going to be enough, and that many of the same strengths that got me the job weren’t going to be the same ones that made me successful as a manager. That realization gave me the freedom to approach problems in a different way and experiment with how I reacted to situations until, eventually, I was able to develop a management style that felt natural to me and helped my team succeed.”


Godel’s Proof, by Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman
Recommended by Stanley Marcuss, senior counsel at Bryan Cave LLP

“This book is highly complex, and I am sure I did not—and still do not—completely understand it. It is about the inherent limitations in mathematics in proving the truth of all but the most simple of axioms. Though the book deals primarily with mathematics, it is a reminder to me of how difficult it is to prove conclusively in many other fields of endeavor all but the most simple of propositions. Recognition of the existence of uncertainty is, thus, for me an important guiding principle in dealing with many professional and personal matters.”


 Jackie Robinson, a Biography, by Arnold Rampersad
Recommended by Bruce Ruzinsky, partner at Jackson Walker LLP

“This biography is a compelling and inspirational narrative about overcoming adversity and inhumanity with grace, determination and humanity. As impressive an athlete as Jackie Robinson was, his greatest gift was being that ultra-special person who began to bring down the insidious barrier of segregation/racism in Major League Baseball. One of the many lessons in the book is to never give up. That lesson applies equally to all, including law students and attorneys.”


Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
Recommended by Lucy Helm, general counsel at Starbucks Corporation

“Reading this book reminded me of the power and promise of the legal profession, and our awesome responsibility to deliver compassion, skill, and justice to all persons who need legal support. Bryan Stevenson, who NY Times journalist Nicholas Kristof rightfully calls ‘America’s Mandela,’ writes riveting, compelling, and deeply moving stories of struggle and triumph in the face of injustice. He inspired me to not only reflect and learn but to take action.”


One Size Never Fits All, by Arin Reeves
Recommended by Kirsten Jensen, partner at Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett LLP

“The author of this book tackles a number of the interesting dynamics you may find in a law firm or other client services businesses that most law school students aren’t aware of at the start of their careers. The ability to identify and understand what’s going on in an environment can often make it easier to succeed there. Increasing diversity so that law firm partnership demographics start to look more like those of law schools is something I’m really passionate about. Diversity gets a lot of lip service at law firms, but books like this have information that could help actually move the needle.”


1,000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz
Recommended by Jennifer Tung, senior counsel at Uber

“It’s such a cliche, but this book is probably my all-time favorite displacement activity. When I was just starting out at a firm, I spent what free time I had reading this book and daydreaming about all the faraway places I wanted to see. At that time, it was hard to see past the day to day of billing, paying back student loans, worrying about career, etc. This book showed me that there were hundreds of things out there that I wanted to accomplish in life other than to make partner. I also learned that I didn’t care to measure success by billables or a paycheck, but by how few regrets I’d have about having been too afraid to try all those things. And because, you know… #yolo and #noregrets and stuff!”

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward FitzGerald
Recommended by Nader Mousavi, partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP 

“These poems, written by Omar Khayyam in the 12th century, transcend time, place and culture. Khayyam’s key themes are seizing the moment and the impermanence of life. For me, it has been like a call to action to never take anything for granted and to live each day and moment to the fullest. This is something that is easy to forget at times in our hectic lives, including in the practice of law. It is also a reminder for me how Persian culture has deep roots in a universal and entirely secular worldview that contrasts starkly with both the reality, and Western perceptions of, Iran today. I’ve read these poems at different times and picked up new shades of meaning each time.”


The Sleep Revolution, by Arianna Huffington
Recommended by Amy Weaver, general counsel at Salesforce

“This book underscores the utter importance of sleep, which is one of the rarest commodities for lawyers—especially early in one’s career. While it isn’t always possible to get a good night’s sleep (and I’ve pulled far too many all-nighters to be preaching about this), I believe firmly that everything in your life can be improved by prioritizing sleep.”


10% Happier, by Dan Harris
Recommended by Craig Stone, senior counsel at Phillips 66 Company

“Dan takes you on a fun journey of his exploration of meditation and how it helped him handle stress in the demanding field of journalism after experiencing a panic attack on live television. Although I don’t meditate regularly by any means, his story reminds me to breathe deeply when managing stress and that it’s OK to let things go, especially what you cannot control. What is important is how you respond to your ‘internal demons’ and life challenges. I’m 100% happier when I manage the stress that goes along with the practice of law.”


Thou Shall Prosper, by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Recommended by Doris Gilliam, associate general counsel at AARP

“As a Christian, the Bible has been the most influential book in my life, but the customer service principles in Thou Shalt Prosper have profoundly shaped my approach as an attorney. I have always worked as in-house counsel, and one aspect of my job that I hold dear is the relationship I share with the departments that I support. However, at the beginning of my career I fell into the same rut that many in-house attorneys experience—my counsel was viewed as a barrier rather than a benefit. After learning principles from this book, I stopped viewing my time as precious, and instead approached every conversation, project or review request as an opportunity to serve and build a bond with internal departments that would foster an environment of open dialogue and transparency.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig
Recommended by Francie Frederick, general counsel and Board of Regents at The University of Texas System

“The story of a father-son motorcycle trip is great, but the true strength of this book is the soft unveiling of the importance (and indeed the true enjoyment) of preparation. By the end of the book, the main character has mastered predicting what may be around each turn and what he will need to continue the journey. In my opinion, the book sets out requirements that completely parallel what one needs to be successful as a litigator and to enjoy the work.”

About the Author

Niki Khoshzamir Moore is a lecturer at UC Berkeley School of Law andthe founder of PracticePro LLC, a legal education startup striving to improve how new lawyers learn to practice law. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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