Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives

Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives


Publication Date



A hidden set of rules governs who owns what – explaining everything from whether you can recline your airplane seat to why HBO lets you borrow a password illegally – and in this lively and entertaining guide, two acclaimed law professors reveal how things become “mine.”

“Mine” is one of the first words babies learn. By the time we grow up, the idea of ownership seems natural, whether buying a cup of coffee or a house. But who controls the space behind your airplane seat: you reclining or the squished laptop user behind? Why is plagiarism wrong, but it’s okay to knock-off a recipe or a dress design? And after a snowstorm, why does a chair in the street hold your parking space in Chicago, but in New York you lose the space and the chair?

Mine! explains these puzzles and many more. Surprisingly, there are just six simple stories that everyone uses to claim everything. Owners choose the story that steers us to do what they want. But we can always pick a different story. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality. As Michael Heller and James Salzman show – in the spirited style of Freakonomics, Nudge, and Predictably Irrational – ownership is always up for grabs.


Business | Economics | Intellectual Property Law | Law






New York, NY


“This delicious book will guide you through the confusing maze of ownership disputes that bedevil our daily lives. Who owns your ‘private’ information, your Netflix password, your yard's airspace, and the chair of your deceased parents that you and your sister now both want? It’s often unclear: read and prepare yourself!”
Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Mine! is one of those rare and treasured books that make you feel smarter and change the way you see the world. So much of the news I read just makes more sense now. I haven’t had an experience like this as a reader since Freakonomics. The authors deliver a rollicking good read, filled with amazing stories about the secret rules of ownership and why they work in unexpected ways. This is way too much fun for an important book by leading minds in their field.”
Barton Gellman, three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Angler and Dark Mirror

“Who knew there are hidden rules of ownership controlling our lives? I didn't until I read this fascinating, illuminating book. I’m very glad I did.”
Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Pre-Suasion

“A delightful, often funny, book that brings to life the hidden but essential assumptions about how we own things – or imagine we do. It is filled with one irresistible and revealing story after another where the secret turns out to be who owns what, from Adam and Eve to the birth of barbed wire. Mine! will challenge how you think about everything from the groceries in your shopping cart to concert tickets on a scalping site. Make Mine! yours.”
Charles Fishman, author of One Giant Leap and The Walmart Effect

“A fascinating discussion of what ownership is, what it isn’t, what it might be. It’s immensely clarifying, beautifully written, and perfectly timed – and it might improve the world to boot.”
Cass R. Sunstein, co-author of Nudge and author of Too Much Information

“Heller (The Gridlock Economy), a professor of real estate law at Columbia Law School, and Salzman (Drinking Water), an environmental law professor at UCLA, examine how competing principles of ownership shape human behavior in this illuminating account… They stuff their survey with intriguing legal cases and historical lessons and display flashes of wit. Readers will gain fresh insights into the law and society from this entertaining and instructive guide.”
Publishers Weekly

“Who owns what underlies human conflicts, economic development, innovation, and international relations. With vivid stories and memorable insights, Heller and Salzman decode legal rules about ownership much as Freakonomics decodes economics and psychological rules of incentives.”
Martha Minow, Former Dean, Harvard Law School


Also available as an eBook.

Watch Michael Heller talk about Mine!, HFS Faculty Book Series Event, February 23, 2021.

Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives

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