Name: Joel Richard Paul
Home: Sausalito, CA
Birth: New York City
Education: Harrison public schools in Harrison, New York; Amherst (B.A.) summa cum laude in history, economics, and political science; London School of Economics and Political Science, General Course; Harvard Law School, J.D.; Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, M.A. in Law and Diplomacy concentrating in law and development.
I came from a modest public school background and wanted an academically rigorous environment. I was attracted to the idea of a small college in an idyllic setting. I was especially interested in American history, and Amherst had an aura of history as well as a supremely gifted department in history and American Studies. When I visited Amherst I heard the great Professor Latham lecture in the Red Room in his class on constitutional history. A student made the point that Senator Joe McCarthy was a tool of the oil industry, and Latham challenged the student: “Where did you read that?” The student could not answer. Latham looked like he was about to devour the student and told him never to make an assertion without evidence. Then Latham brightened, “Do you know where you read that? You read that in my book!” I was sold.
Most memorable or most influential class at Amherst?
American Diplomatic History with Professor Gordon Levin.
Most memorable or most influential professor?
Professor Bill Taubman who supervised my thesis and Professor Earl Latham who inspired me to teach constitutional law.
I’m writing a new book on Daniel Webster’s tenure as secretary of state and continuing research on the impact of globalization on labor and environmental standards.
God by Reza Aslan. His mastery of theology, anthropology, and ancient history is breathtaking.
Gordon Wood. I first read his book, The Creation of the American Republic, in Professor Robert Gross’ brilliant class on the American Revolution. It shaped my views on American Exceptionalism and our Constitution. I continue to admire his work.
What has your path looked like to becoming an author?
I had written law review articles and books on trade policy for 20 years when my sister dared me to write something she would want to read for a change. I was writing a book about the history of international law at the time when I discovered the private papers of Silas Deane, a Connecticut shopkeeper who in 1775 was sent on a secret mission to France to persuade Louis XVI to arm the Americans against the British. That led to my first popular history, UNLIKELY ALLIES, which told the incredible true story of how Deane succeeded with the help of the French playwright Beaumarchais, and a transgender spy, the Chevalier d’Eon. That book launched my career as a popular writer, and I’ve now turned it into a musical that we’re hoping to launch later this year.
Tips for aspiring writers?
I typed the first draft of this book in about four weeks spread over seven years, but I spent seven years thinking it through. Writing isn’t about typing; it’s about reasoning.
Joel Richard Paul is a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of California Hastings Law School where he was also the former associate academic dean for graduate and global programs. He previously taught on the law faculties of University of California Berkeley, Yale University, the University of Connecticut, Leiden University (Netherlands), and American University.
Before teaching he practiced law with an international firm in San Francisco and worked in presidential campaigns. He was the first openly gay man hired on a U.S. law faculty. He has drafted federal trade legislation, advised the Clinton presidential campaign on trade policy, brought the first challenge to the military’s ban on gay service members before the U.S. Supreme Court, worked on affordable housing policies in California, and testified before Congress numerous times, including his testimony in 1991 corroborating Professor Anita Hill’s testimony concerning Justice Clarence Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
After graduating Amherst, he studied at the London School of Economics, Harvard Law School, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His books include UNLIKELY ALLIES: How a Merchant, a Playwright and a Spy Saved the American Revolution, which was named one of the best books of 2009 by The Washington Post. He recently finished writing a musical based on UNLIKELY ALLIES. He lives outside San Francisco.
Learn more about Without Precedent on Joel's website.
Photo credit: Scott R. Kline