As Swift defined it ""the law is a bottomless pit,"" and James Forman has taken upon himself the monumental task of exploring it. His discussion embraces the worldwide development of legal systems from their beginnings in a primitive state of Hobbesian disorder to present trends in the areas of negligence, civil liberties and international law with additional chapters on the nature of punishment and suggestions for court reform. The marshalling of so many complex topics into a readable if not always orderly, narrative is something of an achievement, and the text is liberally sprinkled with case studies and historical comparisons which bespeak wide-ranging research. Most satisfying are the capsule discussions -- of the pros and cons of the jury system, of evolving definitions of insanity, of capital punishment. But in tracing broad historical trends Forman is prone to generalizations; speaking of the execution of Charles I he says, ""On that occasion was born the notion that there could be treason against the laws and institutions of a country, and not merely against the ruling power."" Likewise, the trend of his arguments are not always clear; if the Soviet court is ""to some extent a political instrument"" and ""not intended as an impartial buffer between the citizen and the state,"" how then can it be that in Russia ""much depends on the judge's integrity?"" Forman's unifying theme is respect for the law and sanguinity about its ultimate ability to change human society for the better, and despite the fact that he occasionally risks being overwhelmed by his subject, this tone of judicious optimism plus a wealth of intriguing specifics will reward the steadfast reader.