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Charles Black: Gentle Genius, 111 Yale Law Journal 1901 (2002)


Charles Black came to the Yale Law School faculty in 1956 as part of the most extraordinary group of scholars to burst on one school in the history of American law teaching. Fourteen came, essentially together: Alex Bickel, Joe Bishop, Ward Bowman, Frank Coker, Abe Goldstein, Joe Goldstein, Quint Johnstone, Leon Lipson, Bay Manning, Ellen Peters, Lou Pollak, Clyde Summers, Harry Wellington . . . and Charles Black. Of these, Charles was the recognized superstar. It was not just what he had already done, but also the firm intuition that the past was but a glimmer of what was to come that led Gene Rostow—like any great dean as capable of remembering the future as he was of inventing the past—to hail Charles's coming as the crowning event of his new deanship and to name Charles to a specially created university chair, the Luce Professorship. Rostow could do this with confidence for he had understood what we would all soon learn, that Charles was that rarest of creatures—virtually unknown among legal academics—a true genius.

I have known very few geniuses in my life. The word is often used fatuously to describe people of unusual intelligence. But a genuine genius is a quite different animal, almost a separate species. Moreover, a real genius is almost always insufferable. In my life, I have known only one truly gentle, lovable genius, and that was Charles Black.

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