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A Highly Accessible Masterpiece
on July 2, 2002
Every once in a while a book is published that has a wide appeal to the general public even though it is written for a specific, professional audience. _The Art of Cross-Examination_ by Francis Wellman is just such a book.
But, this book is not new and today it does not have a very wide readership outside the field of law. Perhaps this is because of a marketing failure on behalf of its publishers or perhaps it is due to a lack of reviewers pointing out the value it offers to a general audience. Whatever the case may be the fact remains that this book _is_ worth reading--by the professional attorney _and_ the average man or woman on the street. The purpose of my review here is to show, in essence, why.
_The Art of Cross-Examination_ teaches its readers how--meaning: by what methods--the truth can best be reached given conflicting stories or observations (whether they result from dishonesty, or from a failure to properly identify the truth).
One of the things readers will learn from this book is how to--and when or when not to--ask the questions that will lead one to the truth, whatever that turns out to be in each case. You will learn the methods and the proper manner of cross-examination and then you'll learn how both of these apply in differing contexts (such as when cross-examining an expert or a perjured witness).
As in all great non-fiction books Wellman presents what is being taught clearly, building in each chapter on what was learned in the previous one. More importantly, the author presents his case for how a proper cross-examination should be conducted by reference to numerous, often-humorous, and always-dramatic instances of successful cross-examinations. It is because of this, that an attorney young in years (if he or she reads this book carefully) may be experienced in knowledge well beyond his actual age. And this, I think, is the major reason why it has--quite properly--become a classic in the field of law.
One example of the type of instances Wellman cites in his book ought to be sufficient to show how instructive _and memorable_ they can be. This particular instance is a humorous case where the author himself is cross-examining the witness. The suit was brought against the Metropolitan Street Railway after two of the company's electric cars collided. I will let the author, in his own words, explain the rest.
"The plaintiff, a laboring man, had been thrown to the street pavement from the platform of the car by the force of the collision, and had dislocated his shoulder. He had testified in his own behalf that he had been permanently injured in so far as he had not been able to follow his usual employment for the reason that he could not raise his arm above a point parallel with his shoulder. Upon examination ... I asked the witness a few sympathetic questions about his sufferings, and upon getting on a friendly basis with him suggested that he be good enough to show the jury the extreme limit to which he could raise his arm since the accident. The plaintiff slowly and with considerable difficulty raised his arm to the parallel of his shoulder. 'Now, using the same arm, show the jury how high you could get it up before the accident,' was the next quiet suggestion; whereupon the witness extended his arm to its full height above his head, amid peals of laughter from the court and jury."
This example is but one of many. What it shows is, not just the value this book has for budding attorneys, but also its appeal to the general public. In many ways it offers the same value as do the numerous stories about dumb criminals that we hear almost daily on radio programs or in the newspapers. Yet, for my own part, this book is decidedly better--for its emphasis is not on the stupidity of common criminals but on the intelligence and skill of heroic lawyers.
_The Art of Cross-Examination_ is thus a book for those who want to see great minds at work (and discover what made their success possible). It is a book that entertains as much as it instructs--and because of this has appeal to those both within and outside of the specific audience for which it was written. In short, if you are intrigued by the drama of the courtroom or seek to one day take an active part in that drama, you will love this book.
(Note: the book, however great, is not without faults--and I do not therefore endorse it unconditionally. The author makes some glaring errors in his descriptions of human nature that I cannot agree with and I do not subscribe to his belief that _absolute_ certainty is impossible to us as humans. These faults--and a few others of less grave consequence--detract from the overall value of the book but they do not mar its value too much. And thus, my enthusiastic recommendation of this book, albeit with this minor note of caution.)