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Blue, Brown, or Red?:
Every law student knows that most casebooks come in one of three colors: there are the blue-covered books (from Foundation Press), the brown-covered books (from West Publishers), and the red-covered books (from Aspen Publishers). So here's a question for law students: Do you have any preferences? Do you like the blue, brown, or red books the best? Is there any one that you like the least? And if you do have preferences, are those preferences based on the typesetting and format or your experiences with the contents of the book?

  Thanks for your responses. (Also, if you are not either a current law student or a recent graduate, I would appreciate it if you would not post a comment, thanks.)
Nobody Special:
Red, followed by blue. I hated the brown.

The red books were a more convenient size, and I found the off-white pages to be easier to read for long periods of time. The printing quality of the brown books was lacking, and looked, at times, like it was produced on a 1960s era mimeograph machine.
10.13.2006 12:07am
Nobody Special:
I also think that the quality of the West casebooks was lacking, but I was fortunately spared them for the most part. Farber Eskridge is the only one I used, off the top of my head.
10.13.2006 12:08am
CG:
i liked the look of the blues, then browns, then reds.
10.13.2006 12:12am
Mel Woods (mail):
My book preferences happen to align with my politics. Blue is my favorite. I despise red. My three red books have all been horrible: contracts, property, and con law. Singer's property book was by far the worst in my law school curriculum.
10.13.2006 12:12am
Fingerprint File (mail):
Blue for sure. I like the sturdy, dimpled texture of the binding, and the font is a good size for my eyes. The red are the worst - the pages are too thin, so much so that you get distracted by seeing through to the next page. I've had good and bad experiences with West's brown books - I agree that the printing is sometimes bad, but this is not always the case.
10.13.2006 12:12am
Bob (mail):
Blue, then brown, then red.

I like the wider margins and the bright white pages of the blue books. This combination makes it much easier to take notes in the book and read without falling asleep.
10.13.2006 12:13am
MikeC&F (mail):
In order of preference: Blue, brown, red. I HATED the red books.
10.13.2006 12:13am
Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka (www):
Blue is my favorite, then brown. I hate red. Pages are too thin, text and margins are too small.
10.13.2006 12:19am
Hugo Black (mail):
Blue.

Then tie for brown and red. The only Aspen (red) I've liked is their Commercial Law Text. Tought to beat Gunther and Prosser.
10.13.2006 12:21am
s806:
Of my casebooks I would rank them;
1) Foundation Press - my overall favorite
2) Aspen Publishers - thinner pages
3) Carolina Academic Press - worst binding

My Carolina Press book has a serious binding problem, the spine comes loose from the binding. This appears to be a common problem. I have had it replaced once, the second copy I used super-glue on.

I do prefer the Carolina's pages which are not glossy. I really don't like Aspen's off-white pages. Foundation's pages are glossy and can reflect some light from a desk lamp at certain angles. Carolina's pages are plain white, non-glossy, and pen and highlighter bleed through less than Foundation or Aspen.

I find the typesetting very legible across the board.
10.13.2006 12:23am
Class of 2005:
I liked the Aspen publishers the best, and most of the faculty chose Aspen books. I had a few of the blue books, they weren't bad. But the brown books were the worst -- I found the format just absolutely baffling.
10.13.2006 12:34am
JR (mail) (www):
I am a recent graduate. I liked red the best, blue second, and brown last. The red books are a nice size, and for some reason, I tended to understand the material better when reading from them as opposed to the brown and blue books.
10.13.2006 12:38am
zooba:
Best) Red Blue Brown (Worst

West is horrible, many of the textbooks are filed with typos, printing errors, etc.

Aspen seems to have the most consistent quality of printing, layout, font selection, etc.
10.13.2006 12:40am
Kerouacbum:
Blue, then brown, then way down is red.

When I was an undergrad I found the blue books to look the most prestigious. Once I got to law school, I found the blue books to again be the most user-friendly, with bright white pages and large margins. The brown books are generally quality. The red books are too small and the off-white pages make it harder to read.
10.13.2006 12:44am
JR (mail) (www):
Prof. Kerr: Oh, and by the way -- and with all due respect -- the Crim Pro casebook your name now appears on is way too big for its own good. Do you guys get kickbacks from the a chiropractic association or what? I would dare to guess that no law school class, or set of classes, on Criminal Procedure has ever come close to covering all the material in the casebook.
10.13.2006 12:44am
M (mail):
I liked the Red, then Brown, then Blue. All were more or less fine but the worst edited book I've had was a blue one- International Finance. It was full of typos and contradictory parts where on section had been updated and others had not. To be fair it was in it's 12th edition and seemed to be updated every year, making a pretty hard job, but still, it was pretty annoying.
10.13.2006 12:47am
Fletcher Reede (www):
I agree mainly with Kerouacbum.
The Blue Torts and Blue Crim are very good in terms of content and clarity. The Brown CivPro is not. Brown Contracts is decent, and wins very high marks for being a reasonable size/weight. The Blues in general are too big and heavy, and no professor ever uses all of the material anyway. I've yet to have any Reds, but the Contracts one I flipped through was unimpressive.
10.13.2006 12:55am
Realist Liberal:
I would say that Blue is the best (the Contracts case book is really well done and so is the Prosser, Wade and Schwartz Torts Book) followed by the Brown (the Friendenthal Civ Pro book was pretty good and the Kerr Crim Pro book is awesome). The Red is definately last, the pages are thin, I was distracted by the off-white and the shape was odd which made it not fit as well in my bookcase. Also, I am predisposed to not liking it because of my first experience with Aspen which is the Singer Property Book. The Singer Property Book is horrible (and I'm the TA for the Property Class). I used the 3rd edition which I really didn't like and the 4th edition which the class is using now is even worse. The Chemerinsky book for Con Law is good in terms of the content but the actual book is bad.
10.13.2006 12:58am
Stephen Aslett (mail):
What Kerouacbum said.
10.13.2006 1:01am
Paul Sherman:
I loved the huge margins in the Foundation books, but I disliked the bright white paper. I much prefered Aspen's coarser off-white paper which was easier on the eyes and (I thought) less prone to ink smudging. Unfortunately, Aspen also has, by far, the smallest margins.

I actually liked the brown covers on the West books; I always thought they looked the way legal tomes should look, and I like the way they look next to the green companion hornbooks.

Someone needs to print a book with Foundation's huge margins printed on Aspen's off-white paper and then slapped between the West covers.
10.13.2006 1:05am
M. B.:
I like the blue ones because of the margins and the altogether professional appearance. I find them to be a little too big to carry, though.

I like the brown ones because of the size of the books, though they were slightly less professional-looking.

I hate the red ones. The type seemed too small and I especially hated the paper they were printed on -- I was always able to see my markings on the back of the pages.
10.13.2006 1:05am
Realist Liberal:
Prof. Kerr, just curious, why do you ask? Haven't you already had your case book published? Are you thinking about changing for the next edition?
10.13.2006 1:07am
GWLawEugene:
I would say Brown, Blue, and then Red. I actually like the Lexis Nexis ones the best (the deeper blue ones). After those, I like the typesetting and appearance of the brown books slightly more than the blue ones; however, I hate the Red ones. Their typsetting is awful, they're smaller than the others (I like uniform-sized books), and what is the deal with the off-white pages? I don't get it.
10.13.2006 1:10am
OrinKerr:
RL, I'm just curious. No agenda here.

Oh, and JR, the Kamisar/LaFave book breaks into two: most profs assign one of the paperback halves, "basic crim pro" or "advanced crim pro."
10.13.2006 1:12am
18 USC 1030 (mail):
I've yet to use a Blue book, but I can say Brown then Red. The paper in the Aspen books is far too thin, the margins are far too small, and there is generally more typos and errors. That said, the Brown books are generally larger and require a student to hire a Sherpa to carry them.
10.13.2006 1:16am
MMF:
Definitely BLUE. Paper quality is so important — easier on the eyes, and better for underlining/highlighting and margin notes.

You'd think publishers would consider this stuff.
10.13.2006 1:22am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
I'm a fan of the Aspen books. I think this is because my 1L first semester books were all from Foundation - the blue ones - and I saw the kids in the other sections and thought the grass was greener on the other side. They also tend to be thicker, but less wide and tall, which is convenient.

What's interesting about this post, is that it's something I definitely consciously considered - but I don't think anyone usually cares to bring it up.
10.13.2006 1:28am
Constantin:
Blue, brown, red.
10.13.2006 1:37am
David Mader (mail) (www):
Interesting to see so much of a divide over the reds. I think my preference goes red-blue-brown, although I like the reds and the blues almost equally. I'm not a big note-taker, so I don't mind the thinner margins - and I appreciate the trade-off in weight that smaller margins tend to bring. The red McConnell/Garvey/Berg religion textbook is the best textbook I've had in law school: perfect size for a book, well edited, and with a great balance of notes and sources. The red Brest/Balkin/Amar/Levinson conlaw is a behemoth, and yet somehow I find it easier to manage than the blue Hart &Wechsler FedCourts, or the Gunther &Sullivan ConLaw, or even the Strauss Admin. In fact every blue text I've had has felt like a tome - which is good if you want a legal prop, but not necessarily good if you want a usable textbook. But, as a number of people have noted, both red and blue stand far above brown, which seems to suffer a general editing problem. Which is really a shame, as the substantive material hasn't struck me as any worse.
10.13.2006 1:40am
Lev:
Just out of curiousity, what if the law book publishers used "trade paperback" bindings?
10.13.2006 1:46am
Whaler Fan (www):
I think I've had 6 reds, 2 browns, 1 blue (waltz and park evidence), and 1 other (lexis? civ pro).

I really appreciate the reds' smaller size. The only exception being the Brest et al. Con Law which was a chore to haul and read. I don't really mind the thin off white pages. I know some people complain about pen ink bleeding, but I just use pencils to take notes in the books.

The browns strike me as the poorest physical quality of all. I'm with Nobody Special that they are like old mimeographs.

I liked the blue's wide margins that allowed for very comfortable note taking.

I haven't really noticed any trends in quality of the content relative to color, but I'm not sure my sample size is big enough. I also didn't find Singer's Property to be as awful as everyone makes it out to be, so maybe I'm not the best judge.
10.13.2006 1:48am
jinnmabe (mail):
Blue is so much easier to read than red, it's not funny. Brown is in the middle, closer to blue than to red. I join the chorus of those that HATE the red books. Particularly the remedies text we used. Dreadful.
10.13.2006 2:07am
UVA1L:
So far I like a blue dimpled casebook by Foundation best. The red Aspen books are ok, but the red is a really boring ugly color. The worst is the blue book published by Lexis though. It looks professional, but the binding is garbage. Several of my sectionmates have had the binding start to peal away on it less than a month into the year.
10.13.2006 2:12am
YR:

The blue are my favorite. I too hate the red.
10.13.2006 2:13am
David Malmstrom (mail):
Red are the best, the blue lexis books are awful, the paper is too bright and reflective... anything short of a ball point pen frustrates note taking in text
10.13.2006 2:15am
Romach (mail) (www):
Hate the brown. I find the layout of the blue books to be the best, along with the typeset. I dislike the yellowish coloring of the red books and find the covers aren't as sturdy (nor the binding), and they are more awkward to carry.

Foundation press for me.
10.13.2006 2:22am
Nobody Special:
Someone mentioned Carolina Press books.

The binding on them does indeed suck catass. What's worse in my mind the the near zero attention to layout in the one I used (separation of power)- it is practically impossible to distinguish the primary document selection from the notes, or to tell where one segment ended and another began.

Haven't people heard of indentations?
10.13.2006 2:43am
TomHuff (mail):
My completely irrational, yet honest answer is this: I'm a fan of the blue, think red is pretty cool, and absolutely loathe the brown.

I'm pretty sure this is simply due to the fact that all my ConLaw books were blue, my Posner and Epstein books were red, and my dreary dreary CivPro book was brown.

That said, I thought Professor Kerr's Computer Crimes book was extremely well-edited and I'm sure I would have enjoyed it even if it had had a brown West cover back when I used it as a student. The cases and notes were concise, and yet I still felt that I came away with a lot after every reading assignment. A single page in Professor Kerr's book might pack the content of about 10 pages in a normal law book (or 100 pages in the case of my CivPro book).
10.13.2006 2:49am
A Northwestern Law Student:
Red >>>>> Blue >> Brown
10.13.2006 2:59am
OrinKerr:
Tom, titcr.
10.13.2006 3:04am
Hastings Law Student:
I love the brown, which seems to be the minority position. I think the pages are clear and easy to read, and I just prefer the general formatting, amount of whitespace, etc. The red get points for being smaller, though if you write in ink it shows through the page. I haven't used the blue yet.
10.13.2006 3:15am
HLSbertarian (mail):
Blue above all. Brown is pretty on the outside, but has thin pages and sometimes annoying layout. Reds are too cramped and have small font.
10.13.2006 3:47am
Manturtle (mail):
Blue > Red > Brown
10.13.2006 3:52am
TFKW:
I'm undecided on the appearance with the exception that I wish Aspen would use consistent dimensions. Differing heights makes for inefficient use of bookshelf space and offends my sense of order. If all my textbooks were different sizes, or if I weren't trying to store them neatly, I wouldn't care.
10.13.2006 3:57am
Mich3L (mail):
Believe it or not, about a week ago I was teasing a fellow 3L on the books displayed in his room: he had far too many brown and red. They thought I was insane for having a preference. I am happy to know that I'm not the only one who thinks that the blues are the best by far. Actually, ummmmm, coursepacks are the best...... In my experience those professors that use coursepacks (understandably not 1L profs) are more involved in the material and care more about teaching.


Nevertheless, I do agree with 'M' above, one of the worst 'casebooks' I've had has been the 'blue' 'international finance' text. Scott is an idiot, and you would think that in a 13th edition, you wouldn't have such devastatingly important typos. He really is an idiot.

Nevertheless, I have made it through law school using 90% of my texts of the 'blue' type and I'm ecstatic that I was able to do so. I hate the dry, thin, depressing red books. And, well, the brown........ the opinions of the previous posters should suffice.
10.13.2006 4:07am
Pius XXX:
Red very good. Blue fatter, more meandering, harder to navigate, far less cool. Brown - in three years of law school I don't believe I've ever had one in a single class. Hard to believe. Go Fordham. -Pope Pius XXX
10.13.2006 4:15am
Mich3L (mail):
Sorry for double posting, but I wanted commend Mr. Kerr for this post. Indeed, it is possibly my favorite (although clearly not the most important to my daily life) post that I've read on this blog so far (and I have been reading it for years). It's not fun because it's esoteric, it's fun because it's true--people care about this seemingly minor difference.
10.13.2006 4:16am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Interesting how things have changed in the last 16 years since graduation. I came out of law school with an impressive collection of brown and green West books. Only a couple of red and blue each. Probably because I had so many West books, I never learned to apprciate the other, except that I didn't have enough of either to look impressive. Definately blue before red though - I dreaded them.
10.13.2006 5:52am
Armen (mail) (www):
I don't think I disagree with anything that has been said. I've found glaring typos in books from each publisher. Depending on the subject I've found some better organized than others. Red's pages are easier on the eyes but you have to devise a football playbook to make any meaningful marginal notes. Blues are ideal for taking notes. Hell you can solve Fermat's last theorem in the margins of those things. But you better hit the gym 5 times a week to keep your back muscles in shape (roller backpacks are never an acceptable alternative). In the end, Dukeminier's Property is the only one I've read that has pictures. So if there's any sort of a tally, I'll vote red just on that basis.
10.13.2006 6:41am
Avi:
Blue and brown, then red.

For me, book size was never an issue. I had my caseboooks unbound, drilled, and put onto rings, and I only took with me to class those sections I expected to need during the next 2-3 class meetings. As a result, the small margins and thin paper of the red books were a huge disadvantage.

As for blue v. brown, it's mostly a toss-up for me. I had two brown casebooks (Civ Pro and Crim Pro) and plenty of blue ones (Con Law, Fed Courts, Corporations, Evidence, Trusts &Estates, and Law of Democracy all come to mind). I think I favor the typeface in the blue books, but I wonder how much of that is simply due to exposure.
10.13.2006 7:36am
UIUC 3L (mail):
Blues are a bit too big. The print on the Reds and page color make them too hard to read. I'd rather save my eyes than my back, so I prefer the Blues. Plus, highlighter and ink on the thinner Red pages bleed through making the opposite page difficult to read. And though I appreciate tradition, typeface on the Browns could use an update.

Verdict: Blue, Red, Brown
10.13.2006 8:13am
Andy Treese:
I'll echo Carmen - Dukeminier's text is the best I've seen at using pictures and anecdotes to keep the reading interesting. Still, it's the only "red" I've had and I suspect that it's just a particularly distinctive text. I go with blue, brown, red in order.

I enjoyed a format which Ellen Podgor used in an International Crim Law class. Start each chapter by providing a problem to make students aware of the issues - then go over the materials - then return to the problem. As I recall, the problems weren't at the start of the text but handed out in class. But what the heck - put them in the text. I found that having that hypo at my side when studying the material greatly helpd retention and analysis.
10.13.2006 8:18am
CSorensen:
I prefer Blue for Readability. Foundation also seems to keep their editions more up to date, in my experience and does a better job of drawing attention to the note cases in the latest versions.

I actually like the off-white pages of the Red books for reading, but I don't care as much for the layout of the cases. Red's a close second.

I've only had one class with a West casebook, and the text is not just sadly out of date but there's not even been a supplement produced in years. That gives me a poor impression of the Browns.
10.13.2006 8:51am
Recent Grad:
As a general matter, red is best because of size and readability. I generally concur with the first poster.

The brown ones suck.

The blue ones are hit and miss. As I recall (and I graduated within the last 5 years) Foundation has two series, the blue ones with the red faceplate on the front (which suck) and the straight blue ones with just the gold lettering (which are excellent indeed and which I actually even like better than the reds).
10.13.2006 8:51am
j..:
1. Blue.
2. Brown.
3. Red.
10.13.2006 9:08am
FXKLM:
I didn't notice any consistent quality differences between blue and red, although the brown ones tended to be worse.

My preference was to have a variety so I could easily identify the book I needed at a quick glance.
10.13.2006 9:09am
DJR:
I'll stand up for the red books! I prefered them for their size and general lawschooliness. I like blue next, although conlaw may be the only one of those that I had, and brown the least. It seemed like the binding was very weak on the browns, the paper embarrasingly nonprofessional, and the content often substandard (meandering notes following the cases, e.g.).

Armen: how can you possibly profess not to disagree with anything that has been said when people have stated every possible preference? You can't simultaneously loathe and love the reds while prefering and despising both the browns and blues!
10.13.2006 9:26am
Rex:
Great thread. I've actually thought about this quite a bit, to the point that I can be actively distracted when trying to get through some reading based on issues with the book format. My assessment, divorced from any negative bias toward individual classes:

Aspen (red) -- those who object to the thin pages or smaller margins have a valid point, but in my view Aspen books are the most consistently well-edited and logically formatted. The hierarchical structure of book chapters is key to achieving a good mental organization of the material, and each Aspen book I've used has been extremely clear in its placement of cases, notes, headings, etc. Plus, the typesetting is the most professional, with consistent formatting and highly readable spacing. Overall, my favorite.

Foundation (blue) -- the printing quality is very high, with crisp pages and a good readable typeface. With few exceptions, though, Foundation texts are typically way too long, and with the sturdy binding, much too heavy. In particular, Eisenberg's Corporations and Gunther/Sullivan's Constitutional Law are both absurdly lengthy. Plus, there is less consistency with the chapter layout. Overall, very good.

West (brown) -- there is a large drop-off from Aspen/Foundation to the West texts. Although the pages are thick and the material itself is usually very high quality, the typesetting, spacing, and hierarchical organization are poor. Significantly, West books routinely vary the line spacing between pages, often by as much as 50%; this is simply bad design, and makes for difficult reading. Plus, there is inconsistency in how the cases in notes are presented. Overall, mediocre at best.

Lexis (dark blue) -- the worst by a large margin. Not only is the typesetting cheap and the layout poor, the pages themselves are sometimes reproduced from previous versions so as to resemble photocopies. I've only used a couple of these books, but their aesthetic qualities actually make reading the material quite a bit more difficult.
10.13.2006 9:34am
John Jenkins (mail):
Blue, Brown, Red. The blue and brown books were roughly the same dimensions, but the red ones were always shorter and wider which makes them a pain to fit in a bag. Content-wise, who cares? All the important stuff is coming from the supplements anyway ;-).
10.13.2006 9:55am
NCCU4LE (mail):
I definitely like red the best. I find their layout and organization easiest to follow - especially good examples so far have been Con Law (Chemerinsky), Contracts (Whalley, I think) and Property (Dukeminier).

I find the blues, as some other posters have mentioned, hit or miss. Prosser's Torts book was okay, if a bit meandering. The few other blues i've had weren't good.

I've only used one brown book, and it was categorically awful.
10.13.2006 10:05am
JRL:
Reds for me. I prefer the smaller print and the paper type.

Browns were bad (Chemerinsky; Eskridge, Frickey &Garrett; Vollmar; Dressler; etc.), though I would tend to blame this on the authors more than the color of the cover.

Blue's were solid, especially Contracts and Torts 1L year.
10.13.2006 10:11am
SteveW:
When I was in law school a little over 10 years ago, the dye on the red books would rub off on your hands and clothes. Does it still do that?
10.13.2006 10:19am
Justin (mail):
I actually LOVED Eskridge, and my 4th-5th-6th Amendment brown book was pretty good. Overall, Blue > Brown > Red
10.13.2006 10:34am
Roger:
Do I have preferences? Yes yes yes god yes. Blue > Brown >> Red. The blue and brown ones would be similar except the printing in the brown ones is often kind of amateurish. The red ones suck. The pages are way too thin and ink bleeds in them, so highlighting is impossible. Though the smaller size was occasionally nice.

I had one class that used a paperback casebook from the "Aspen Elective Series". I really liked the paperback format and wonder why it isn't used more often. (But then again, I believe the next edition of that book was hardcover, so perhaps it was just an attempt to bring the book to market more quickly.
10.13.2006 10:34am
Peter (www):
I like the notes in the Aspen books, and the cases are complete rather than just enough to highlight the issue. Each section has a little introduction and the entire thing makes sense. Steve will be happy to learn that the red ink continues to rub off on the hands of law students everywhere. I find the cases in the blue-books are so heavily edited that they fail to hold my attention because the narrative is lost. Westlaw books are the best physical product.
10.13.2006 10:36am
Ronny:
Blue - Brown - Red.

Though I slightly appreciated the lighter weight of Red, the shape and size and color didn't approximate what I thought was the Platonic form of a "lawschool textbook" - it doesn't look as much like a lawschool textbook as does Brown or Blue, and I cared more about that than about the state of my back. Also, there's Red's small margins.

Between Blue and Brown, definitely Blue. The Blue color is more soothing and comforting, yet still stately and professional; it is a more exciting color than boring Brown, without losing any of the gravitas that I want in my lawbook colors. Also important is the dimpled cover of Blue which is more refined, more thoughtful, and more appealing to the touch than the flat cover of Brown.
10.13.2006 10:49am
Spartacus (www):
Blue is best. Although some of their authors suck, some are great, and I like the margin space. You also get more for your money. Red is nice and small and I like the off-white paper, but the black on the spine cracks and the book looks old by the first week. Brown is definitely the worst--most of them are nothing but case excerpts, with little substantive comment, there are too many typoes, etc.
10.13.2006 10:58am
chuckshick:
I preferred the brown ones in law school. I could kick it around in the mud and it still looked new.
10.13.2006 11:01am
n carolina cu sol (mail):
I prefer the blue casebooks for the margins - great for my scholarly commentary. They don't take much wear and tear before their binding gives out, however, and that is a big negative.
10.13.2006 11:12am
nn489:
I've had mostly Blues, and while I'm generally pleased I agree that some are *way* too big to serve as proper casebooks. I've had two Reds, the first of which was Kaplan's crim law and an absolute piece of garbage. It was the worst-edited text of any sort I have ever read, with passages often repeating themselves 5 pages apart and introductory material regularly placed after text developing those ideas. So this scarred me on Aspen. The only Brown I've used is Dobbs torts, which was excellent.

I guess I've been overlooking the phsyical characteristics of the books in favor of their contents.
10.13.2006 11:14am
BSW:
Just graduated.

Aspen was my favorite, both for the red cover and the durability of the binding. Their authors were also top-notch - in addition to those not previously mentioned: K. Brickey at Wash U. in St. Louis on White Collar and Dukeminier on Trusts and Estates.
10.13.2006 11:21am
James Grimmelmann (mail) (www):
There were many exceptions, to this general ordering, but . . .

Red books tended to have the most personality. The Brilmayer/Goldsmith conflict of laws book, the Dukeminier/Krier property book, the Laycock remedies book, and the Balkin/Levinson/Brest/Amar/Siegel constitutional law cinder block are good examples. When done right, it makes the reading experience more enjoyable, and provides a good counterpoint to a professor's teaching style. They're also well-edited and very attractively designed, in my experience. The typeface, page layout, and paper choices work for readability even at some shockingly high text densities.

Blue books, to generalize wildly, are serious and comprehensive. It's hard for me to imagine Hart and Wechsler as anything but a blue book. Similarly for the Gellhorn/Byse administrative law book, which does a remarkable job at editing large volumes of scholarship into hyper-concise one-sentence and one-paragraph notes. There are a lot of quite serviceable blue books, including the Dawson/Harvey/Henderson contracts book and a quite wide range of good intellectual property books

Brown book are a mixed bag. The typeface and page layout are heavy, perhaps clumsy, and they make sustained reading difficult. Quality also varies widely -- I've had good experiences with the Bellia/Post/Berman cyberlaw book and dipped into others to good effect, but there are also some clunkers with brown covers.

The dark-blue Lexis books are horrendously edited. Not only are the design elements bad, but the editing has regularly left horrible mechanichal issues behind. The paragraph indentation, in particular, can be miserable. When a quoted case quotes another case, good luck in having the indenting signal the relative degrees of quotation correctly. Some authors have added some personality to their notes and case selection, but the Lexis books seem in general to share a tendency towards including too many materials that duplicate other materials they include.
10.13.2006 11:23am
Elisheva Schwartz (mail):
Blue. I am an aged law student (51--I may also have mental stability issues ;-)--and my aged joints can't shlep 200lbs of case books around. I get them all rebound in light-weight spiral bindings at Kinkos, 3 to a case book, so I can bring just the part I need at any given time. The quality of the paper and the width of the margins make these perfect for my uses, and the typeface/paper color combination is easiest on my myopic eyes.
Cheers
Elisheva
10.13.2006 11:25am
GMUSL 3L (mail):
Reds were by far the best -- Epstein on Torts, Dukeminier on Property, My Crim Law book as well.

I HATE the blues -- Kraus and Scott on property, Merges and Duffy on Patent Law -- too big and heavy, shiny slick paper that doesn't hold ink.
10.13.2006 12:00pm
Lake View:
I preferred either blue or brown to red. As others have mentioned, the paper quality and margin size in the reds leaves a lot to be desired. And they really detract from a nice, ordered, bookshelf because of their size. I liked the blues the best: I found the formatting consistently superior, the print readable, and the margins helpfully spacious.
10.13.2006 12:04pm
DTF:
2L here. Red are by far the best - I've found them uniformly the best organized. It's easy to find the cases, and then figure out which part is the relevant commentary, and what type of information it is presenting. Blues haven't been as good - it's harder to figure out what is case, what is commentary, and what commentary goes to what case. I've only had one brown, and it was fine.

Reading the other comments, I think liking Red puts me in the minority.
10.13.2006 12:10pm
GMUSL 3L (mail):
err... Kraus and Scott on contracts.
10.13.2006 12:12pm
e:
brown, then red, then blue.

the brown books have better margins and decent paper. they just looks more pleasing to the eyes and gives more room to write in the margins. also, these just look like law books when they are sitting on the shelf.

i hate the small margins on the red and feel the text is too close together, and the paper bleeds highlighter through. but the paper still is nicer than the blue, and i feel like i've had a decent number of "quality" books that use this publisher.

the blues seem bad--terrible shiny thin paper, poor printing of the text, etc. I've also had the least number of blue books--I think only crim and patents.

so for me its mostly aesthetics, influenced a bit by content. if content were my only criteria, the reds seem to be the best. but for overall readability and looks i like brown.
10.13.2006 12:14pm
RMCACE (mail):
Blue/Red tie, with Brown clearly last.

The layout on the Reds is often to enclosed. They often have many, smaller pages which makes for a thicker book which is more difficult to carry. But, the Reds win the content contest. They are the most well organized and present a coherent outline of the subject.

The blue, with its large, shiny pages, is receptive to notetaking and highlighting. Its content is only a small step below that of the Reds.

The browns are just the worst of the three.
10.13.2006 12:18pm
guest (mail):
Interesting that so few of the comments are on content, as opposed to formatting. In my view, Aspen consistently had the best content, followed by Foundation, then by West. As other commenters have noted, there is an enormous drop-off from the second-tier, occupied by Foundation and West (between which there is relatively little difference, I thought, in terms of content) to Lexis, which no self-respecting law professor should ever assign, even if (as was my own unfortunate case) that professor is the author.
10.13.2006 12:25pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Recent grad. The Aspens are in my anecdotal experience generally better organized and have good supplementary materials (esp. Dukeminier Property). The author's "voice" somehow seems to come through better in these, which is a good thing for pedagogical purposes even if you don't agree with the author on some issues. The Bainbridge Bus. Assoc. Foundatation book and Gunther/Sullivan con law are good as well. I don't care for most of the brown books in terms of content, organization or readability. All law casebooks have serious book quality issues (red dye and cheap signature binding with Aspens, behemoth weight and too-shiny paper with Foundation, bad typesetting and general ugliness with brown books), but the publishers likely want to encourage this to put a damper on the used book market, which heavily cuts into their profits--and we all know the add two cases and shuffle a few paragraphs to justify a new edition trick.
10.13.2006 12:28pm
David Krinsky (mail):
I'm surprised at the differences in opinion, but I'll chime in with one more vote for red and against brown.

The red books had the significant advantage of being much smaller and easier to carry (perhaps my being a Metro commuter who lived far from school and did reading on the train is influencing me here).

The blue books were, perhaps, of the best quality, and are the ones I'd prefer now that I have an office. Most of the ones that I've used as references since taking the relevant class were blue, but of course that's partly a matter of content.

The brown ones tended to be just shoddy: all the heft of the blue, but far inferior typography, organizational cues, etc.

(Granted, content trumps form in terms of my allegiances to particular books; I'm talking about form.)
10.13.2006 12:28pm
Mr. X (www):
Red, Blue, then Brown.
10.13.2006 12:42pm
Mr. X (www):
I'm also noting a theme in the Red haters: they all seem to have problems with the paper thickness, margins, and other ancillary issues. I'm suspecting that other Red lovers, like me, appreciate them for the clarity of the writing and editing, the quality of the notes and examples, and the general usability of the content.

In essence, we're talking past each other.
10.13.2006 12:58pm
Mel Woods (mail):
Everyone keeps mentioning the small size of the red books. My comment above was about content. But in terms of size- have any of you seen the RED Con Law Book by Stone? It is packed with useless babble. Its by far the biggest law book I have seen. Every new addition adds more notes but doesn't edit any old ones.
10.13.2006 12:58pm
anonVCfan:
1. Blue
2. Brown
3. Red

Combination of content and appearance on my shelf... The Red books failed on both counts (being ugly, small, and among the worst-written of the casebooks I used), the browns were a mixed bag (advanced civ pro book good, bioethics book bad, overall appearance of book not so great), and the blues were the best-looking and among the most helpful (Schwartz et al on patents, Dwyer + Menell on property)
10.13.2006 1:04pm
Dabadeedabadie:
I like Blue, but write separately to note that the paint from the red box on the Blue books will sometimes flake off (and get stuck on one's hands and clothing).
10.13.2006 1:12pm
anonVCfan:
Mr. X, if we red-haters are less than clear on this point, we believe that the content of the red books sucks, as well. I had red books in contracts, crim pro, civ pro, intellectual property, and evidence. 4 of the 5 were horrible. 2 of the professors apologized for the quality of the textbook and saved the course largely by teaching 50% of the class from outside materials. The thin pages, small size and poor readability just add insult to injury.
10.13.2006 1:12pm
Bryan DB:
Blue, then brown, then red.
When you're highlighting, the ink passes through the pages of the red book far too easily. Also, something about the look of those red books really bothers me.
10.13.2006 1:12pm
Antares79:
Blue and Brown about equal. Red is terrible.

I had Red torts, evidence, and trusts too, and still found those books to be so inferior to the Blue/Browns that I relied heavily on hornbooks for each. Red's paper quality is poor and the layout is crowded. The notes after the cases are almost always in the "unanswered question" format, instead of the "elucidating comment" format.
10.13.2006 1:13pm
Neal R.:
Brown, then blue, then red. For some reason, the red ones always looked somewhat unserious to me.
10.13.2006 1:17pm
Armen (mail) (www):
Armen: how can you possibly profess not to disagree with anything that has been said when people have stated every possible preference? You can't simultaneously loathe and love the reds while prefering and despising both the browns and blues!

Easy. I'm not an economist!!!!
10.13.2006 1:24pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Another good red book: Admin, by Cass, Diver and Beermann. Has a paragraph to the effect that PBS is just a miserable waste of taxpayers' money for the benefit of elitists. Booo, Big Bird!
10.13.2006 1:40pm
nyejm (mail) (www):
My principal complaint with the textbooks are not the color of the covers, but the color of the paper. The red (Aspen) books have yellow-ish pages that make highlighting more difficult to see. The blues and browns have crisp white pages that make it easier on the eyes.
10.13.2006 1:45pm
SCS:
The blue ones seem hardest to manually unbind (via tearing apart). Many of us like to unbind our books so that we can avoid back injury.

Furthermore, for this reason, the binding-side margin should be large enough that the unbound text can be 3-hole punched.
10.13.2006 1:50pm
anon333 (mail):
Wow, more than 90 comments! I assume those of us commenting have already finished our reading assignments for the day.
If I might suggest something not asked for: This question of red, blue, and brown should soon be irrelevant. Why buy casebooks if you can get the cases online? Yes, there are edits in the casebooks, along with notes and questions, but it still seems like online publishing will render highly expensive case books obsolete. Why should law students who are already in poverty be expected to buy books that they don't have time to read thoroughly? Online publishing may help change the financial burden if professors allow students to download cases and find out which paragraphs should be omitted.
I'm curious how many law students (and grads) among previous commenters found themselves saying constantly, "I can't wait to be done with law school so I have time to read these cases, they look interesting." This is especially true if you're on journal, or moot court, or working a part-time job.
That being said, my own preference: brown, red, then blue.
10.13.2006 1:58pm
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick (www):
I loathe the red books. With the exception of Keatings' Sales text (which is actually quite nice), the red books I've had the displeasure of dealing with have universally been poorly laid out and difficult to understand.

The red-book Dukeminier Property text in particular was atrocious, with poor editing leading to multiple place in the book where it would say things like: "You need to know three things about X concept... First, you need to know A... Then, you need to know B." What about the third thing I need to know? Oh, it's just not in the book. :P

My experience with blue books has been just about the opposite. Fisher's Evidence text (which I am slowly working my way through as we speak!) is laid out well with good examples, and the other blue books I've had were also pretty good.

I've yet to be assigned a brown book - they seem fairly uncommon here at Indiana, although I have no idea why.
10.13.2006 2:14pm
JDNYU:
I've only had two non-red books (I'm a 2L now) and I think I prefer the red ones. My brown and blue books had glossy pages that made it too easy for ink to smear. The red ones are also easiest to pick out on my messy floor.
10.13.2006 3:21pm
William Baude (mail) (www):
I've found the blue ones best for subjects where I actually wanted to learn a body of rules, and red ones best where I already knew the basics and wanted interesting avenues for further thought (the Ellickson-Been Land Use book, the Brest-Levinson-Balkin-Amar-Siegel Con Law Book). I can think of a few blue books that belong in the red category (Fiss-Resnik's Procedure). I can't think of any time I have found a brown book useful.
10.13.2006 3:29pm
Matt L. (mail):
Was I the only law student in America who never had a brown book? I saw them but was never actually assigned one.

I slightly preferred red to blue; the reds were smaller and seemed a bit chattier. But not a strong preference. I'm an '04 grad if that affects your sampling.
10.13.2006 4:06pm
Adam:
Red, then blue, then brown. Red looked crispest and were typically best-organized.
10.13.2006 4:15pm
Goober (mail):
I'm embarassed to admit I had a strong aesthetic preference.

Blue, then red, then brown.

But it wasn't until my very final semester that I had a brown book at all, so that might be a weak preference.
10.13.2006 4:32pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Matt L: I can't remember any brown books off the top of my head, either.

But I definitely preferred blue to red.
10.13.2006 6:09pm
RM:
Blue, red, brown.

One thing that always killed me about the red - the black print from the cover always flaked off onto my hands/clothes/desk/etc.
10.13.2006 6:36pm
Grant Hackley (mail):
Red first, blue second, brown third. My preferences derive from the material of the courses in which I happened to have said books, ie, Knapp Crystal Prince for Contracts, Stone Seidman for Con Law, and Dukeminier for Property. Brown book for Tax - I didn't like the book because I didn't like the material therein. Favorite class this semester: Family Law. Shockingly enough, our text is the Aspen book.
10.13.2006 7:17pm
zock:
In my limited experience
Blue, Brown, lastly Red.

Red paper is too thin, has as many typos as Brown.

Brown is functional and gets the material to the reader.

Blue has best readability based on font choice and content layout; aesthetic and clean-looking; easy to read.

OK, red is easier to lug around.

Content quality is dependent on the author(s), and often overwhelms the aesthetic points above.
10.13.2006 7:40pm
phaedral (mail):
The most imporatnt book in my 2l collection so far is the 1l LaFave Crim; chapter two, "Sodomy..." for the way it drives home the reality that there is no such thing as "Black Letter Law," it's all contentious.

That said, from a purely aesthetic standpoint the blue are my favorites; the whiter paper, font choice, the whole package. If I were to write a casebook that is how I would want it to look.
10.13.2006 8:03pm
DJ (mail):
Blue. But most of mine are red. Rats.
10.13.2006 8:39pm
Cathy (mail) (www):
One more comment in the mix...

I never had a brown book I thought about keeping after the class. Both a lack of good content, and a lack of good formatting to make what content was there easily parseable.

I had a couple of blues, particularly recently, that I really liked. Eg, my contracts, evidence, and tax books. But I found some of the editing hit or miss. Eg, my Sullivan Con Law casebook was rife with typos (as if the cases aren't hard enough to read without misplaced commas everywhere...)

I had some very nice, very readable red books (which for some reason, maybe the softness/yellowness of the paper, also made them seem less harsh than the blues), but my objection to them is that they have not been of uniform size, and therefore do not line up impressively on my bookshelf :-(
10.13.2006 9:43pm
Peter Robison (mail) (www):
Blue, then brown, then red.

The binding and paper quality of blue text books is superior to the others, although the browns are a close second. I also like the case citation style under each case name in the blue books. The pages in the red books are a little thin, which lets highlighters bleed through. And the black part of the cover wears off easily, and can get smear on other objects when wet. I have also noticed that the blue text books tend to be more expensive, so you pay for the extra quality.

That said, I prefer quality content to binding and paper preferences. All three colors have plenty of good content in my experience.
10.13.2006 9:56pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
I suggest florescent red yellow and green stripes. This way the rest of us can see a lawyer approaching and move to the other side of the street. ;)
10.13.2006 11:38pm
Cornellian (mail):
I didn't like the red ones. The page size was so small and the book so thick it wouldn't lay flat. The blue ones were good for that. The brown ones were too and if I recall correctly, the brown ones had larger, easier to read fonts as well, so I'd go with brown, then blue, then red.
10.14.2006 3:30am
DR:
Not the red ones! I hate the red ones. There is something wrong with anyone who thinks the red ones are okay. They are just awful. The paper and the size and the everything. I hate them soooo much. I tried to avoid classes with red books. I keep my red books on a different part of my bookshelf, out of view. I hate them. And mistrust anyone who likes them. The blue and the brown are alright, no problems. Just really not the red ones. The people who tell you the red ones are okay are either lying or wrong or playing a joke on you. The red ones are the worst.
10.15.2006 3:59pm
Aaron:
I still have nightmares about the BIG RED BOOK (Con Law--Stone, Sunstein, Seidman, Tushnet) chasing me down an endless corridor, with Prof. Tushnet shrieking "Inconceivable!" at me.

That said, the Blues were great.
10.16.2006 2:28pm
CrosbyBird:
I graduated this May from Fordham, who seems to have some illicit relationship with Aspen. I kept every textbook from my classes because I can't throw anything out and I couldn't justify buying a book and reselling it for 10% of the purchase price.

Content-wise, I have found positives and negatives in all three formats. That seems to be highly related to author and not so highly related to publisher.

I hate a lot about the red books. The covers are really shoddy, and it doesn't take too long with a couple of books in a back for them to rub off and look really worn. The yellowish pages create less contrast (and seem likely to age poorly). The print is smaller and the font less comfortable to read, and the footnotes are poorly managed. Plus the books all tend to be extremely different thicknesses, making it hard to manage multiple texts in one bookbag.

I can't really distinguish to a great deal between the brown and blue texts... I remember liking the format of the brown books a little better, but around 75% of my books were red, so that could be all just based on the author.
10.16.2006 6:01pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
Blue or brown. Never red.
10.16.2006 6:34pm
Amy (mail):
Tie for Red and Blue -- NO BROWN.

Red has the best content; but the print is quite small and there isn't much margin space, so bad readability. Easier to carry though.

Blue is just average -- but due to large margin space, encouraged me to doodle much too often. Also they are too heavy.

Brown has bad binding, crappy paper and below average content.
10.17.2006 3:46pm