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The Fall of the House of Zeus: The Rise and Ruin of America's Most Powerful Trial Lawyer Hardcover – October 19, 2010


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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.
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Review

“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, outrageous behavior, epic bad planning and character, lousy luck, and worst of all, comically bad manners.   Wilkie knows precisely where the skeletons, the cash boxes and the daggers are buried along the Mississippi backroads.  And he knows, ruefully — which is why this book demands a wide audience — that the south, no matter its looney sense of exceptionalism, is pretty much just like the rest of the planet."—Richard Ford

"Almost feels like a John Grisham novel…but at no point is it fiction. The Fall of the House of Zeus is a great read."—Desoto Times Tribune

"Riveting….a remarkable illustration of how far the mighty can fall."—Publishers Weekly (starred)

"A meaty biography extolling the rise and fall of an infamously lucrative trial litigator….Wilkie charts his subject’s serpentine legal and political machinations with dense, rich prose."—Kirkus Review
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307460703
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307460707
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #592,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Curtis Wilkie is a great storyteller.
W. Perry Hall
I have known the author for years; excellent in-depth research reflected throughout the book.
Hugh G Lovelady
A great book for lawyers interested in some light reading.
David Levy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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 By Dubitato on 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 By Msexpat on December 11, 2010
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 By MS Gal in GA on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alla S. VINE VOICE on November 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"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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