I just learned that the extraordinary legal historian Harold Berman just passed away. The New York Times obituary is here. Donald Boudreaux's thoughtful appreciation is here. Berman's magnum opus Law and Revolution was one of a handful of books that truly transformed my thinking about law. It is one of those books that once you read it, it is almost impossible to ever again think about law and especially legal history the same. His insights about the nature of the common law and the spontaneous emergence of the rule of law and personal liberty from the polycentric legal order of the Middle Ages exerted an immense influence on my own scholarship (as probably most evidenced in my article on the "Rise and Fall of the Efficiency of the Common Law"). His work on the intellectual history of the common law is quite extraordinary as well.
One remarkable personal story involving Professor Berman. During the Fall 2001 semester Peter Boettke and I co-taught a class on "The Rule of Law, Freedom, and Prosperity." Professor Berman guest lectured in our class on September 10, 2001. He gave a great lecture and we had a truly memorable conversation over dinner that evening at a now-defunct Vietnamese restaurant in Clarendon (The Queen Bee). He told some fascinating stories about his experiences in the Soviet Union and some of the GMU Economics grad students scandalized him with radical interpretations of his work. An amazing evening. Then we all woke up the next morning to the tragedy of September 11. I believe that Professor Berman finally hired a driver a day or two later to drive him to Richmond, where he and his wife eventually caught a train to Atlanta, finally arriving home three days later. An amazing story.
A true gentleman and an extraordinary scholar. Men (and scholars) like him come along rarely, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet him and to learn from his work.