Book Review: The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance

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Underhill, Kevin. The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance: And Other Real Laws that Human Beings Have Actually Dreamed Up, Enacted, and Sometimes Even Enforced. ABA Publishing, 334 pages. $22.95 (paperback).


A few times a year, patrons will call the reference desk at my library and ask if Maine has any silly or wacky or funny laws. The staff of the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library is loath to call any work of the Maine Legislature wacky, which makes this a particularly difficult question to answer. It was with much anticipation that I received my copy of The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance by Kevin Underhill, a book I hoped could be a reference for my patrons in search of wacky or silly or funny laws. Also, I was generally excited about any book about law with a cryptid on the cover.

Instead of immediately searching the index for Maine laws, I decided to start at the beginning and read the chapters in order. The book, written by Kevin Underhill of the legal humor website loweringthebar.net, starts with an introduction and disclaimer and proceeds by devoting a chapter each to various laws, starting with ancient Sumer and ancient Babylon; proceeding through pre-modern times;  then examining United States federal, state, and municipal laws; and concluding with modern laws outside the United States. The book ends with a bibliography section, an acknowledgement section, and endnotes. There is no index.

Each chapter provides the text of a law, some humorous discussion of the text, and a citation to the law. Underhill is most successful when he gives context to the plain text of the laws and makes what appears to be a wacky law more understandable and more accessible to modern readers and/or those who aren’t legally trained. For example, he provides context about the historical value of a shekel from the Code of Hammurabi (p.11). Also, sometimes the laws he chooses to highlight, such as a law about trees and neighbors from the Code of Justinian (p.27), show that some of the legal struggles we have today are not far from those of ancient times. In addition to the text, there are a few images of the primary source documents or photographs of objects mentioned in the laws, which help bring the subject matter to life.

While the text is accessible and well researched, it falters at times because it is blatantly trying too hard to be funny. The true humor of the book is in the laws themselves, and at times the author’s commentary detracts, not adds, to the comedy.

Despite the occasional groaning and eye-rolling, I am in awe of some of the research in the book. For example, according to the text, three states have official state neckwear (p.86). I appreciate that someone, the author or his researcher or a law librarian, compiled a 50-state survey of official state neckwear!

While the endnotes provide guidance on how to find the cited laws and provide a trove of legal ephemera, the author fails to provide footnotes to matters he asserts in several chapters, which would have provided additional information for readers. For example, in the chapter about Oregon designating an official state microbe (pp. 207-8), there is discussion of two other states considering this issue, but there is no further citation to substantiate this claim.

Disappointingly for my patrons, the book did not mention any wacky Maine state laws. However, public law librarians in many other states will be thrilled with this collection. Overall, I would recommend this book for public law libraries, legal humor collections, or a gift to the lawyer in your life who appreciates the zaniness of law, legal history, or legal humor.

© Nicole P. Dyszlewski, 2014. Senior Law Librarian, Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library, Augusta, ME. nicole.dyszlewski@legislature.maine.gov

Comments

Catherine wrote,
on May 04, 2014 at 4:33 PM:
I put this one on my beach reading list! It will surely be a good deal of fun as well as informative.
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