The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law

In This Review

The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (0)
By Albie Sachs
Oxford University Press, USA, 2009
320 pp. $45.00
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Justice Sachs retired last year from South Africa's Constitutional Court, following a 15-year term during which the court helped define the judicial contours of the post-apartheid state. A lawyer for the clandestine African National Congress who barely survived an assassination attempt in 1988, he would go on to help draft the current constitution. This memoir mixes personal reminiscences with commentary on contemporary South Africa, and also includes brief but eloquent disquisitions on his legal philosophy and excerpts from his most famous decisions. His arguments about the nature of judging and the role of dignity in the law will attract the attention of legal experts. Meanwhile, anyone with an interest in South Africa will appreciate Sachs' justification for explicitly including socioeconomic rights in the South African constitution and his analysis of the logic behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Some readers will disagree with his interpretations, arguing, for example, that the commission's work was undermined by contradictory objectives and inconsistent application and largely failed in its mission of reconciliation. Nonetheless, Sachs emerges from his narrative as an empathetic and humanistic judge deeply committed to a democratic South Africa. And besides, it is hard not to like a man who admits to doing his best thinking in the bathtub.