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Book Review: Contract as Promise, 91 Yale L.J. 404 (1981)


Contract as Promise, Charles Fried's readable and provocative book on the philosophical foundations of contract law, has two attractive features. The first is its attention to legal detail. After setting out a general theory of promissory obligation, Fried discusses a number of specific topics in the law of contracts, including the doctrine of consideration, the rules of offer and acceptance, the consequences of mistake, the nature of duress and unconscionability, and the theory of conditions. The clarity with which Fried states his main thesis and the determination with which he pursues it through the labyrinth of contract doctrine give the impression that even the most technical corners of contract law may not be wholly without redeeming philosophical significance.

Fried makes a powerful case for the view that the law of contracts has a recognizable and distinctive intellectual integrity of its own. Whether he is right or wrong on this score, his book is a useful antidote to the still prevailing realist skepticism that conceives contract law as a body of only loosely connected rules and principles defying philosophical (or any other) rationalization. "Contract law is complex, and it is easy to lose sight of its essential unity." Beginning students will find Fried's unifying hypothesis helpful in organizing their thoughts; seasoned realists may be unpersuaded, but their convictions will be tested and their wits sharpened by his argument.

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