Alan Dershowitz
Professor, Harvard Law School
04:46

What inspires you?

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Dershowitz finds his inspiration anywhere and everywhere he can.

Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School. In addition to his teaching, Dershowitz is a prolific author who makes frequent media and public appearances, and who is known for his commentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as his work on numerous high-profile cases. As a criminal appellate lawyer, Dershowitz successfully argued to overturn the conviction of Claus von Bulow for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny. He also served as the appellate advisor in the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson.

Dershowitz joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as an assistant professor of law in 1964. He was made a full professor of law in 1967, at the age of 28, becoming, at that time, Harvard's youngest full law professor in the school's history. Dershowitz is also the author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence (2007), The Case for Israel (2003), the bestseller Chutzpah (1991), and Reversal of Fortune (1986), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide and in numerous languages.

Dershowitz joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as an assistant professor of law in 1964. He was made a full professor of law in 1967, at the age of 28, becoming, at that time, Harvard's youngest full law professor in the school's history. Dershowitz is also the author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence (2007), The Case for Israel (2003), the bestseller Chutzpah (1991), and Reversal of Fortune (1986), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide and in numerous languages.

Transcript

Question: What is your inspiration? 

Alan Dershowitz: I don’t look within my field. I find that looking at the law alone is often a very sterile enterprise. I came to Harvard 43 years ago to teach law “and” . . . I love the “and.” Law and . . . initially it was psychoanalysis. Then it was psychiatry. Then it was psychology, philosophy, politics.

When I was a college student, I took a very eclectic background. Philosophy, economics, political science, a range of other issues.

So I find my inspirations outside the law. I find my inspirations in the widest range of activities.

Literature. When I first read Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Crime and Punishment,” that had more influence about how I think about criminal law than any criminal law textbook I ever read.

When I read Saul Bellow or when I read writings of other people who are able to probe deeply into the human intellect and into human experience, it gives me more insights.

I’ve just finished reading hundreds and hundreds of letters by Thomas Jefferson, which gave me more insight into how America was founded, and the proper role of church and state in America than textbooks.

So I try to find my inspiration from outside. I’m also a good observer. I’m, in that way, influenced by Thomas Jefferson who said, “Watch the world. Look. See.” His philosophy grew out of observation and experience. And so I like to look and watch.

I like to bring together a variety of things. My wife says about me that I’m able to go to an opera and watch it, and then come home and write an article about criminal law. Go to a basketball game and bring some experience from outside into what I’m thinking about. I’m a terrible date for that reason.

No matter what I’m doing, I always have that little pad in my pocket. And I take it out and I take notes, and people around me think I’m a reviewer. But I’m not writing about the opera. I’m getting an idea about something that I want to write about.

 

Recorded on: June 12, 2007


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