Over the holidays I received a review copy of Nathaniel Burney’s The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law, an outgrowth from his popular LawComic.net. Having enjoyed seeing the progress of the comic over the past year online, I was eager to get the book in my hands.

It is, in a word, excellent.

Criminal law is a topic which is of great interest to all citizens, not just lawyers. And Burney has done a great job providing a broad overview that is as accesible to a layman as to a practitioner of ten years. It is better, by far, than the textbook I used when I took criminal law in law school. Through a mixture of comics and text, Burney lays out a macro and micro view of criminal law.


The book is broken into 5 categories:

  1. Introduction (What is crime? What is punishment?)
  2. Purposes of Punishment
  3. Guilt
  4. Inchoate Crimes
  5. Defenses

Within each category are chapters on specific aspects of criminal law: mens rea, necessity, solicitation, etc. As opposed to explaining what these terms mean through dry text or volumes of case law (which is how lawyers learn about them), Burney creates characters and paints vignettes that do as good a job. You’re certainly not going to become a criminal defense lawyer after reading the book, but you will have a much better understanding of criminal law than 95% of the general public.

Screen shot 2013-01-04 at 10.41.34 AMAnd while Burney does his best to make it entertaining (and it is), there is still a fair amount of reading to be done. Peanuts, this is not. You’re going to get wall-of-text’ed from time to time, but that is to be expected with the daunting task of explaining the nuts & bolts of criminal law in comic form.

As I said earlier, the book is excellent. Highly recommended for law students, lawyers, anyone with an interest in criminal law.

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If Amazon is out of stock, you can try buying it direct from the publisher as well.

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