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America on Trial: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation Hardcover – May 14, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Warner Books; First Edition edition (May 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446520586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446520584
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,263,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harvard professor and prolific author Dershowitz takes readers on a tour through some of the most celebrated-and intriguing-cases in the U.S. during the past 300 years. He begins with the most famous case in American colonial history-the Salem witch trial, which resulted in the deaths of 19 people-and continues through the current day, with the not yet decided case of the 9/11 detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Many of the 60 or so cases are famous (the Dred Scott decision, the Rosenberg trial), but others have been forgotten. Not surprisingly, the number of cases increase as he approaches recent history, and while there are some scandalous cases from the past, the majority of headline-grabbers, such as the O.J. Simpson trial and the Jean Harris-Scarsdale Diet doctor murder, are contemporary cases. Although the book has a cursory feel at times (each case runs only about six pages), Dershowitz displays a keen sense of history to go along with his knowledge of the law: he features cases that highlight changes in American history, and he misses little. He follows a simple format: listing the basic facts of the case, then offering his critique. Regarding the current Supreme Court, for example, he says he is "angry" that in the Bush-Gore decision, the court "took it upon itself to elect anyone at all." Those curious about the history of law will find this primer a good place to start.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"As with all his books, this one is stimulating and enriching."

Customer Reviews

Clearly an innovative book and a compelling read.
J. Robinson
Here Dershowitz includes the Salem witch trials as well as the cases of John Peter Zenger and the Boston Massacre.
Steve Reina
Dershowitz relies too much on what the principals says and less on his interpretation.
Melissa McHugh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Sanchez VINE VOICE on August 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I am a strong admirer of Alan Dershowitz. I especially enjoyed his books The Genesis of Justice, and Reasonable Doubts (O.J. Simpson case). Unlike those books, America on Trial tries to do way too much. It is more like his Contrary to Popular Opinion book, where he presents many of his earlier published commentaries on the law.

Unfortunately, I found the writings in the current book to lack the cohesiveness and well considered analysis found in the earlier book. Granted, this is not true for every case that he presents. However, he includes far to many cases for which he simply wants to inject a personal opinion. In so doing, he misses opportunities for more developed theories of particular cases. Frankly, many of his comments on some of these cases could have been presented in a paragraph.

I understand that he is trying to explain various aspects of American law by using an assortment of cases. But, his points become obscure and sometimes repetitive by having too many cases in a format that reminds me of Reader's Digest, or U.S.A. Today.

In sum, there is not enough in this book to be useful for serious students of law or history, and too many cases for the casual reader. I hope that this is not a sign of the dummying down of Dershowtiz.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Melissa McHugh on August 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
Here's what I liked:
- The introduction is incredibly well written and does exactly what an introduction is supposed to do. It made me excited to read the book. It talked about ancient, historical and global influences on the American legal system.
- Dershowitz has a great handle on American history and how it affected the legal cases at each step of history.
- I appreciate that it's not always about the big cases. For every Dred Scott, Lizzie Borden and OJ Simpson, there's John Webster, Stanford White and Abrams vs. United States.

What I didn't like
- Later introductions are less about legal history than they are about general US history. That's not useful to me. It became boring and began to drag.
- Discussions of the cases are too short, quotations are too long and too frequent. Dershowitz relies too much on what the principals says and less on his interpretation. For cases that I'm not familiar with, he doesn't bother to state the facts of the crime.

I love love love old legal cases and Dershowitz knows his stuff. He's been involved in a lot of the best current cases. He shines when discussing legal complexities of the early 20th century and I really enjoyed the earlier chapters. I just wish the case discussions had been more in-depth and there had been more of them! I feel like it was too brief, and he really only skimmed the surface. It could have been so much better.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Professor Dershowitz claims that he has read the original trial transcripts of more criminal cases than anyone else. That's entirely possible because most legal scholars focus on appellate opinions that set new case law. What he found will shake your view of how well the American justice system has been working. But it's well worth having the feet pulled out from under your assumptions that all is well in the legal world. Only in that way can we hope to make needed improvements.

The book is formatted to select a few cases from each period in American history in order to capture the social and legal issues of the day. Each section is preceded by a brief essay summarizing the cases and then followed by mini-essays on some of the cases mentioned in the brief essay. The best of these materials correct popular misconceptions about famous trials, lawyers and judges.

The cases from the last three decades are probably a little too extensive, but because Mr. Dershowitz played a role in many of them, I think he can be forgiven for including so many.

If you are a person who believes that the U.S. Constitution cannot be changed in meaning except by an amendment, you will probably hate this book. Mr. Dershowitz believes that laws need to evolve to match the times and to correct historic wrongs . . . such as slaves being counted as a 3/5 person for purposes of the House of Representatives in the original version of the Constitution, even though the slaves had no right to vote.

If you are a big fan of Justice Scalia, you will definitely hate the book's end where Mr. Dershowitz unloads on the justice in no uncertain terms.

I was glad that I had read the book because I, too, had some misconceptions that I needed to lose.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ballerina on December 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
Who else but Alan Dershowitz could deftly put in context America's greatest landmark trials and legal controversies that shape the nation in a thorough and succinct Prologue on the foundations of American Law?

It is almost like a refresher course in history and philosophy, the foundation of all knowledge, hence we are given a quick rundown on the "..stories of the Bible, with the accounts of famous Greek trials such as that of Socrates, with the infamous Continental Inquisitions against Joan of Arc and Galileo, with the British prosecution of Thomas More, and with the notorious regicide and treason trials of Europe.." and the American legal system which is "..based on a written Constitution, judicial review and most important, the separation of church and state."

He argues that trials can tell us a great deal about the passions, conflicts and attitudes of the time and "America on Trial" represents the episodic history of the nation "..viewed through the prism of our most dramatic and influential public court proceedings."

Don't miss the comprhensive list of all the crucial thought-provoking cases dated back from the Colonial era to the Millennium and the future, including of course, not only the familiar, such as Leopold and Loeb, Scopes, Martin Luther King Jr, Claus von Bulow, Mike Tyson, The Beating of Rodney King, OJ Simpson, The Clinton Impeachment, Bush v Gore right up to the Guantanamo but much much more!

Dershowitz, the renowned civil liberties lawyer and Harvard Law professor who is best known as America's most outspoken lawyer of last resort, presents this first class, highly readable book with insightful analysis.
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More About the Author

ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ is a Brooklyn native who has been called 'the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer' and one of its 'most distinguished defenders of individual rights,' 'the best-known criminal lawyer in the world,' 'the top lawyer of last resort,' and 'America's most public Jewish defender.' He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg. While he is known for defending clients such as Anatoly Sharansky, Claus von B'low, O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Mike Tyson, he continues to represent numerous indigent defendants and takes half of his cases pro bono. Dershowitz is the author of 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including 6 bestsellers. His writing has been praised by Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, David Mamet, William Styron, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Elie Wiesel. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide, in numerous languages, and more than a million people have heard him lecture around the world. His most recent nonfiction titles are The Case For Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can be Resolved (August 2005, Wiley); Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (November 2004, Basic Books), The Case for Israel (September 2003, Wiley), America Declares Independence, Why Terrorism Works, Shouting Fire, Letters to a Young Lawyer, Supreme Injustice, and The Genesis of Justice. His novels include The Advocate's Devil and Just Revenge. Dershowitz is also the author of The Vanishing American Jew, The Abuse Excuse, Reasonable Doubts, Chutzpah (a #1 bestseller), Reversal of Fortune (which was made into an Academy Award-winning film), Sexual McCarthyism and The Best Defense.

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