Harold J. Berman: 89, Who Altered Beliefs About Origins of Western Law, Dies

Historians in the News

Harold J. Berman, a scholar whose expertise in Russian law took him to a Soviet courtroom to fight for royalties owed Arthur Conan Doyle, and whose forceful scholarship altered thinking about Western law’s origins, died on Nov. 13 in Brooklyn. He was 89.

His daughter Jean Berman announced his death.

Mr. Berman wrote 25 books and more than 400 articles on subjects as diverse as Russian culture and comparative legal history. They were published in over 20 languages.

He taught for 37 years at Harvard Law School, where he was the Ames professor of law. He then taught for two decades at Emory University School of Law as the Robert W. Woodruff professor.

Mr. Berman relished unexplored intellectual geography. When he decided to study Soviet law as a World War II Army veteran at Yale Law School, there was no one to teach it. So he taught himself, starting with the Russian language.

The language training served him well in Moscow in 1958, in the first case he ever argued. Representing the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, he sought to extract royalties from the Soviet state on millions of Conan Doyle books sold in the Soviet Union. Winning in a Moscow city court, he later lost the case on appeal to a higher Russian Federation court.

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