Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #24: The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance by Kevin Underhill

Some books are better than they need to be. In the same ground where a dozen others have hacked out something quick and easy, a diligent author works hard to do it right, finally. In a better world, we wouldn't be able to identify them, because the quick hackwork wouldn't exist at all.

But this is very much not a better world, and Kevin Underhill's The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance is the Platonic ideal and sole example of the perfect "weird laws" book. As an initial proof point, I will note that it was published by the ABA itself, which knows something about this law business.

Underhill is himself an attorney, working out of San Francisco [1], and the author of the law blog Lowering the Bar. (It was one of my happiest discoveries after I wandered into marketing to lawyers; the standard multi-author blog for attorneys is less fun than the one for accountants, but lawyers are more likely to be good writers, due to their training.)

Typically, bloggers who graduate to writing stuff between two covers find ways to re-purpose their old material, but it looks like Emergency Sasquatch is all new material. Underhill here looks at various odd, quirky, and outdated laws -- starting with a Reform Edict from Sumeria circa 2350 BC, which prominently mentions beer (because some things, both reform and beer, don't change), and moving up to the present day -- either that he saw listed in other "weird law" articles or otherwise came across in his researches.

Emergency Sasquatch is made up of a myriad short chapter-lets, each one covering one specific law or provision that Underhill finds particularly silly, and organized into several sections, covering the ancient world, the not-quite-as-ancient world, US federal law, US state law, US city/county law, and finally laws of other countries in the modern day. And every single law is cited; if you had access to Westlaw (obligatory plug for my day-job), you could look them up for yourself. Underhill even thanks an associate in his acknowledgements for checking those citations -- these are not just weird laws, they are verifiably real weird laws.

All that could be kind of bland if Underhill weren't such an entertaining, sprightly writer. I don't know if he's a natural humorist or if he sweats over each page, but his final work-product here is impressive and funny: each little bit is funny and amusing.

Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance is a quick, funny read, easy to pick up for a page or two when you have time, and also quite enjoyable to read straight through (as I did). Again, it's vastly better than it had to be, both in the legal and humor realms, and the fact that it exists at all is at least a minor point in favor of the theory that there is a benevolent Creator.

[1] Purely for people in that world, as I am these days: he's a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a litigator specializing in complex class-action defense. For the rest of you, all of those things add up to "knows what he's talking about, and good at this law stuff."

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