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The Fall of the House of Zeus: The Rise and Ruin of America's Most Powerful Trial Lawyer [Kindle Edition]

Curtis Wilkie
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“Over the past four decades no reporter has critiqued the American South with such evocative sensitivity and bedrock honesty as Curtis Wilkie.”
—Douglas Brinkley
The Fall of the House of Zeus tells the story of Dickie Scruggs, arguably the most successful plaintiff's lawyer in America. A brother-in-law of Trent Lott, the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Scruggs made a fortune taking on mass tort lawsuits against “Big Tobacco” and the asbestos industries. He was hailed by Newsweek as a latter day Robin Hood, and portrayed in the movie, The Insider, as a dapper aviator-lawyer. Scruggs’ legal triumphs rewarded him lavishly, and his success emboldened both his career maneuvering and his influence in Southern politics--but at a terrible cost, culminating in his spectacular fall, when he was convicted for conspiring to bribe a Mississippi state judge. 
Here Mississippi is emblematic of the modern South, with its influx of new money and its rising professional class, including lawyers such as Scruggs, whose interests became inextricably entwined with state and national politics.
Based on extensive interviews, transcripts, and FBI recordings never made public, The Fall of the House of Zeus exposes the dark side of Southern and Washington legal games and power politics: the swirl of fixed cases, blocked investigations, judicial tampering, and a zealous prosecution that would eventually ensnare not only Scruggs but his own son, Zach, in the midst of their struggle with insurance companies over Hurricane Katrina damages. In gripping detail, Curtis Wilkie crafts an authentic legal thriller propelled by a “welter of betrayals and personal hatreds,” providing large supporting parts for Trent Lott and Jim Biden, brother of then-Senator Joe, and cameos by John McCain, Al Gore, and other DC insiders and influence peddlers.
Above all, we get to see how and why the mighty fail and fall, a story as gripping and timeless as a Greek tragedy.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Former Boston Globe reporter and Mississippian Wilkie charts the meteoric career of lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs in this riveting if labyrinthine account that in Wilkie's telling, involves treachery, professional jealousy, and zealous prosecution. Known as the "King of Torts," Scruggs had made a fortune with class action lawsuits involving asbestos claims in Pascagoula, Miss., and then tobacco lawsuits in the mid-1990s. But with fame and fortune came enemies in the small Mississippi world of law and politics, and also contact with what Scruggs once dubbed "the dark side of the Force," people who carried out business best done behind the scenes. In 2007, while handling a Katrina victims' class action suit against insurers, Scruggs and his associates asked someone to approach a judge in a case filed against Scruggs by a disgruntled former colleague. The intermediary offered the judge money. Scruggs himself was eventually indicted on bribery charges and after a contentious federal investigation pleaded guilty; he's serving a five-year sentence. Wilkie (Dixie) carefully tracks the maneuverings of Scruggs and his associates and enemies in a remarkable illustration of how far the mighty can fall.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Reads like a John Grisham novel….An epic tale of backbiting, shady deal-making and greed ….Masterful.”—Wall Street Journal

"In telling a great legal story about a great legal story teller, Wilkie has produced a page-turning masterpiece that explores power, greed, hubris and the human condition. The Fall of the House of Zeus is a Greek Tragedy set in the modern south. Lawyers, clients, and anyone interested in seeing how the sausages of justice get made will love this book."--Alan Dershowitz

"The legal machinations in The Fall of the House of Zeus read like a real-life John Grisham novel."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Chosen as one of the Best Books of 2010)

"Not since Willie Morris has anyone written so poignantly about the South."--John Evans, proprietor of Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS in Missippians magazine.

Fascinating, breath-holding action…The undisputed accuracy of recorded dialogue will fan embers that will keep this story alive for decades—not only in Mississippi…but anywhere obscene wealth, arrogance, and narrow-mindedness grant us human beings a look into the darkest rooms of our hearts."—Clyde Edgerton, Garden & Gun

"Every bit as engaging as a Grisham thriller..."--Delta Magazine

"Equal parts biography and legal thriller."--Roll Call

"Wilkie's book is well-researched and well-written, and also completely engaging."--Biloxi Sun Herald

"The Fall of the House of Zeus is a riveting American saga of ambition, cunning, greed, corruption, high life and low life in the land of Faulkner and Grisham. These are good ol' boys gone bad with flair, private jets, and lots of cash to carry. Curtis Wilkie, a child of the South and a reporter's reporter, is the perfect match for this wild ride."—Tom Brokaw

"Addictive reading for anyone interested in greed, ...

Product Details

  • File Size: 1186 KB
  • Print Length: 417 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307460711
  • Publisher: Crown (October 19, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003EI2EA4
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,332 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The antithesis of Atticus Finch October 25, 2010
Growing up in the 1960s, I remember my love of Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The novel that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of publication portrayed Atticus Finch as an attorney fighting injustice and bigotry in America's south. Played by Gregory Peck, Finch became a shining example for many of my generation who chose the law as a noble and honorable profession. One-half century later, the legal profession is no longer viewed with the same sense of inspiration. Lawyers, especially trial lawyers, are now considered to be greedy, evil and dishonest practitioners who will take any client for a fee, and are frequent targets of political and media scorn.

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF ZEUS by Curtis Wilkie tells the story of Dickie Scruggs, an attorney whose career represents the antithesis of the fictional Atticus Finch. Both were products of the Deep South, but Scruggs stood for everything that Finch abhorred. Wilkie, a reporter for more than 40 years and currently a professor at the University of Mississippi, was familiar with Scruggs and many of his contemporaries. After Scruggs was indicted by a federal grand jury, Wilkie began working on this book. He interviewed Scruggs, his son Zach, prosecutors, FBI agents and many attorneys. The result is a fast-paced drama that readers might well confuse with a John Grisham novel.

Wilkie's narrative is far more than the story of Dickie Scruggs, however. It is a tale of the modern South, its political past and present, new money, rising professional class and richly held traditions. All of these ingredients are vividly portrayed to weave a story that has substantial parts good and evil as well as success and failure.

Were it not for his eventual downfall, the life of Scruggs would be a modern-day Horatio Alger story.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Curtis Wilkie at his best November 22, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Curtis Wilkie has had a remarkable career as a journalist, from his days as a cub reporter at the Clarksdale Press Register to his work for the Boston Globe and now as a professor at Ole Miss. He is a born story teller and the Fall of the House of Zeus is a wonderful work of contemporary history. Unlike some of the other reviewers on Amazon, I would not compare him to Grisham -- Wilkie is a far better story teller. In addition, he tells a remarkable story about Dick Scruggs, making Scruggs into a human being, not quite Atticus Finch but a sympathetic human being, with real virtues. Congratulations to Wilkie for telling a remarkable story about corruption in politics, about Mississippi, about humanity.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stranger than fiction December 11, 2010
By Msexpat
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If this were a novel, the byzantine plot line would be hard to believe. Wilkie starts slowly, building a solid foundation for the quickening pace which by the end has the reader unable to put the book down. Other reviewers have compared the plot line to Grisham. I say, Grisham should eat his heart out and so should Scott Turow. Zeus is far more exciting than anything either has written. This former Mississippian thought New York politics was complicated and sharp-edged but not compared to the world so ably depicted by Wilkie. Anyone interested in politics, law, the South, and/or a good read should not miss this book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If it were not true, it would be hard to believe November 21, 2010
As a Mississippian who now lives in Georgia, I was mesmerized by a story that included so many people who were so familiar to me. As I read I continually wondered how the writer could know so many intimate details about the nefarious dealings in the shadows of the legal community. Although his research was impressive, the amount of detail could be intimidating; but he tells the story in true "thriller" fashion in spite of the outcome being obvious from the very beginning.

Having sat on one of Ed Peters' juries, I thought he was a prosecutor above reproach, only to learn that he was just as sleazy and underhanded as the other players in the complicated money-swap that resulted from the lucrative class action cases. And yet, Wilkie gave a sympathetic slant to the Scruggs family that had me feeling very sorry for Zach and Diane. By the end, I was very sad that the Mississippi I love has been besmirched by people who could have been great leaders.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars for fans of legal thrillers November 29, 2010
"The Fall of the House of Zeus" by Curtis Wilkie tells the story of Dick Scruggs, a lawyer from Mississippi who comes frfom humble beginnings, achieves his wildest dreams, and nearly loses everything in a legal scandal that ends in his imprisonment.

First off, I was not familiar with Scruggs when I picked up this book, but enjoyed legal thrillers enough to be interested in a real story. And this story pretty much lived up to my expectations.
Scruggs grows up in Mississippi, an only child who lives with his mother. Early on, Scruggs yearns to succeed and is lucky enough to get accepted into the "right" college, where his social circles are greatly enhanced and he is exposed to kids from wealthier families. Shortly afterwards he spends a couple years as a navy pilot, until he decides to go to law school. After graduating, Scruggs uses a connection--a senator friend of his mother's--to get his first two law firm jobs, but both end badly. Scruggs is fired from his first job, because he stands up to a partner who mistreated him. Then Scruggs quits his second law firm job after it's clear that he will never be fairly compensated for his efforts. And that's when Scruggs decides to start his own law firm.

His first success comes when he links up the individual asbestos lawsuits--coming from former employees of a local shipyard company--into a class action, which transforms him into a millionaire. Then Scruggs uses his winning strategy to successfully bring a class action law suit against the big tobacco companies, suing on behalf of states whose government healthcare programs financed the medical expenses of ex-smokers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I like very much how the author described the physical landscape ...
I am married to a plaintiff's lawyer and I have had this book for a couple of years. I read it once, reread it a second time and just now finished it for the 3rd time. Read more
Published 3 days ago by NoXcuses
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fun read.....I knew almost all the characters.
Published 4 months ago by F
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book!
Published 8 months ago by brian
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 9 months ago by Earl Powers
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Knew some of the people involved and was shocked at some of their actions.
Published 10 months ago by Wyllodean Cooley
5.0 out of 5 stars Mississippi politics must read.
A must read. Especially now with all the slime in Mississippi Politics. This book will take you inside the workings of the Mississippi GOP
Published 11 months ago by metoo
5.0 out of 5 stars A Greek Tragedy? How about a Shakespearean tale of love between King...
While Mr. Wilkie has depicted this true story as a Greek tragedy in the land of William Faulkner, a good argument can be made that this tale also has the elements of a... Read more
Published 11 months ago by W. Perry Hall
4.0 out of 5 stars Long and complicated exposing the many characters
I found this book to become almost addictive as it reveals the intricacies of trial law. It shows how out-of-control our legal system can become. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mudge
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
A page turner of a story and well written. A scary look at the judicial system and what can happen when caught up in it. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Peter Davis
4.0 out of 5 stars more intensity
My complaint would be the intensity of the book. Being from Ms , I know how interesting they are. No one should be surprised about the Eastland machine but personalities just... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jodie Howard
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