I admit that I wasn’t certain that Samuel Freeman’s book on Rawls would be terrific. Two reasons. First, it is very long, and I imagined that a good introductory text would be less than 462 pages long (514 incl gloassry and notes). Second, although I’m a huge admirer of Freeman as a philosopher, all his work that I’d previously read is aimed squarely at scholars; he works on exceedingly difficult questions, makes complicated arguments, and although the pay off is always, in my experience, more than worth the effort, I never expect undergraduates, for example, to be able to make that effort.
But Rawls (UK) is a triumph. A brilliantly careful, utterly transparent, account of Rawls’s thought and an admirable presentation of the state of the debates around Rawls’s work. The amazon reviewer who says “this is the one” gets it right. Forcing students to read Rawls is the right thing to do; but I shall never again force them to read him without providing Freeman’s text as indispensable help.
When I started reading it I was in the midst of a glut of work, and kept trying to put it down so I could get on with things, but couldn’t. It is, as it should be at this length, comprehensive—chapters on each of the two principles, on the OP, on the basic structure, and a wonderfully clear chapter on the importance of stability, and what it is that stability consists in. Then a chapter on Kantian constructivism, which really helped illuminate (for me, at least, but I have always been unsure about this) the relationship between the Dewey lecture and the later work, two chapters on political liberalism and one on the Law of Peoples. I guess the book is intended primarily as a companion in a comprehensive course on Rawls’s work—read all three main books, and Freeman’s so that the students can tell what is going on. But the first six chapters alone justify the (low) price of the book (so it is useable alongside A Theory of Justice or Justice as Fairness alone) and I can’t imagine teaching Rawls to undergraduates again without using it. Highly recommended.