Tom Bingham's The Rule of Law (Allen Lane, £20) is a triumph and a tragedy - our leading exponent of post-Denning jurisprudence died shortly after publication of this elegant, clear-thinking essay on constitutional fundamentals. Judges who can write as well as they think are rare in Britain, with its anti-intellectual legal traditions and (unlike the US) its disengagement between the profession and the universities. (Law lords should be encouraged to retire early, and to academia.) Typically, the year's most readable book about the English common law came from an American history professor - Habeas Corpus: from England to Empire (Harvard University Press, £29.95). The legal wonder that Britain bequeathed the world has unlocked prison doors for so many who have been wrongly detained; Paul Halliday tells the story for general readers, and lets the lawyers grub around his copious footnotes if interested in the technicalities. For the finest addition to humanitarian literature, read Hitch-22 (Atlantic Books, £20). Reviewers retailed the gossip, and failed to note the passion behind the polemic.