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The Last Trials of Clarence Darrow Hardcover – June 9, 2009

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From the Back Cover

The courtroom has been a dramatic setting for larger-than-life figures throughout history, but few have attained the almost mythical status of Clarence Darrow. A legend in his own time, Variety called him "America's greatest one-man stage draw." Here was a man whose flair for showmanship went hand in hand with a fierce intellect; a man whose shaky moral compass and staggering conceit collided at all turns with an unrivaled eloquence and an overwhelming compassion for humanity.

Darrow had been one of the most revered lawyers in the country, but in 1924 his reputation was still clouded after a narrow escape from a charge of jury tampering in Los Angeles. At the age of sixty-seven he thought his life and career were almost over, until he was offered an impossible assignment—the defense of the teenage "thrill killers" Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Darrow then went on to earn even more international acclaim in two other groundbreaking cases: a classic standoff against William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee, and the Ossian Sweet murder trial in Detroit. Throughout two crammed and dizzying years, this lion of the court held the Western world in awe as he tackled these three starkly different, history-making cases, each in turn dubbed "the Trial of the Century."

But these trials, as important as they were to Darrow, were not the only events that helped rejuvenate him and seal his courtroom legacy. There was also his enduring relationship with Mary Field Parton, his lover and soul mate, a woman whose role toward the end of his career was larger than many have realized. With fascinating new research and discoveries, including her private journals and letters, The Last Trials of Clarence Darrow is an intimate and riveting depiction of this American icon, one of the greatest lawyers this country has ever seen.

About the Author

Donald McRae is the acclaimed author of five nonfiction books, including Every Second Counts: The Race to Transplant the First Human Heart and Heroes Without a Country: America's Betrayal of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens. He is the only writer to have won the William Hill UK Sports Book of the Year Award twice. In 2005 he was named Feature Writer of the Year for his work in The Guardian. McRae lives near London with his family.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061161497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061161490
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,257,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By G. Ware Cornell Jr. VINE VOICE on July 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At age 59, the courtroom is still central to my identity as a lawyer. Nonetheless I have begun to imagine a world where when the demands of trials will exceed the abilities of my body and brain to endure. The end must come for us all, although its timing remains outside of human or even most medical knowledge. So too the end would come to Darrow-controversial,often despised by his contemporaries, beloved by subsequent generations of trial lawyers.

Here we meet Darrow, the aging, wounded lion of the American bar. Acquitted in California of bribery of two jurors in a murder case, he is back in Chicago over a decade later still looking for redemption. He is 67, and he has acquired against all odds the responsibility to defend "the Case of the Century"-Leopold and Loeb, the brilliant sociopaths who killed a neighbor boy to prove their superiority. The teenaged defendants, sons of the city's Jewish elite, were in the sights of prosecutors whose thirst for judicial blood was perhaps matched only by the howling mob who would have settled for a lynching. There was no doubt about their factual guilt. There remained one question and one question only: should they live or should they be put to death?

Rumors swirled abut Darrow's fee. Some said it was a million dollars. In truth it was much less. That was the sideshow. What was really at stake was the death penalty. To avoid it Darrow took the road less traveled. He pleaded them guilty and threw their fate to the hands of one Chicago judge. His summation, whose phrases still ring out in the defense of capital cases to this day, was the difference, The boys went to prison where Loeb died in a prison hospital following an attack in a shower with a straight razor.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Miz Ellen VINE VOICE on July 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Donald McRae paints a word picture of Darrow in the courtroom, he writes a compelling story. While most people think of Clarence Darrow defending evolution in the famous "Monkey Trial", McRae expands the picture to show the sequence of two other trials, famous in their own time and still resonant today.

The first is the defense of two cold-blooded murderers, Leopold and Loeb, both sons of Chicago millionaires, whose illicit homosexual love affair led them to kill a 14-year old neighbor boy, pour acid on his body and stuff it into a culvert. With the whole nation crying for the execution of the two 19-year olds, Darrow, a staunch opponent of capital punishment, takes the case and succeeds in saving their lives. McRae makes us fascinated with this crime and notes that the wealthy fathers stiff the famous lawyer on his legal fees.

The second trial of Kentuckian John T. Scopes for the teaching of evolution in the Tennessee schools gives us a colorful cast of characters. Although Darrow didn't get his client off, he won in the court of public opinion by showcasing the narrow-mindedness of the anti-evolution forces.

In the third trial, Darrow defends a black man on a charge of murder in Detroit. Dr. Ossian Sweet, a doctor who had studied in Europe, had bought the corner house in a white neighborhood. On the first night in the house, an angry mob congregates outside the house, but nothing serious happens. On the second night, Dr. Sweet, his college student brother, a dentist and two insurance salesmen are in the house to keep watch. Stones are thrown, a window is broken and suddenly a shot rings out from the upper windows of the house.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By LaLoren on October 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I knew more about Clarence Darrow's famous cases--defending Leopold and Loeb, The Scopes Trial, and the Sweets--than I did about the man. Though growing up in a family that was pro-union with an immigrant grandfather who supported the Communist party, was an atheist, and nearly deported under the Palmer Act, I had a vague sense of who he was and what he stood for. Still, I probably wouldn't have considered this book had it not been available to me through the Vine program.

Overall I'm glad I did decide to try it. While I generally prefer my biographies (though this is not technically a biography because it deals only with the end of Darrow's life) a little more straight forward and less inclined toward the dramatic, when dealing with an individual I might not normally read about a slightly lighter treatment makes for an easier read. Former South African Donald McRae did an excellent job of researching, and his dramatic touch perhaps was necessary when dealing with a figure who depended so much on drama to win his cases.

At first I wasn't too keen on references to Darrow's love life with Mary Field Parton, his almost life-long mistress, mostly through her diary entries, especially as she wasn't present for any of the main events. Yet they did serve to provide insights into Darrow's character. On the other hand, telling so much from her point of view left me wondering whether she was his "one and only" or as Darrow's wife Ruby obviously thought, one of many or someone who insinuated herself into his life for personal gain.

What I found most amazing was how in the 1920s this avowed atheist could have so much support in the press defending two obvious sociopaths and the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools.
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