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The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson Paperback – July 3, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kadri's history of the criminal trial in the Western legal tradition presents representative cases, many famous, some little known, to illustrate the approaches, both rational and not, that organized societies have used to deal with law-breaking. One theme is the role of evidence in criminal prosecutions. Medieval trial by ordeal, for example, relied on the direct intervention of God to reveal guilt or innocence. In later epochs, confessions were accorded decisive weight, even if they were extracted by torture, as in the Inquisition and Stalin's show trials. Today, of course, we apply an intricate code of evidence, but, the author says, we still have verdicts based on ignorance and hysteria, and we have celebrity trials where evidence is subordinated to publicity. Much more serious is Kadri's summary of war crimes prosecutions stemming from atrocities in WWII and in Vietnam. Not many of the trials discussed reached objectively just conclusions, but these judicial failures tend to illuminate the dynamics (secrecy vs. transparency, hatred of crime vs. fear of mistaken verdicts) underlying criminal prosecutions. This thoughtful survey by Kadri, a prize-winning travel writer and criminal lawyer in England, helps us understand how far our system has advanced and how far we still have to go. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Unexpectedly lively for a legal history, Kadri's study of the trajectory of the modern Western jury trial bounces from the Inquisition to Nuremberg to O. J. Simpson with an eye for the fundamental (the crucial importance of obtaining a confession, for example); the perennial (political power struggles played out in court); and the absurd (trying corpses, animals, and inanimate things). At times, the author's penchant for the ridiculous threatens hilarity; a passage on "trial by morsel," a medieval ordeal revealing legal truth through swallowing prowess, rivals any Monty Python skit. Yet beneath all the courtroom oddities, Kadri makes a set of deadly serious points about the trial's social function as a public morality play that, through spectacle and perhaps superstition, preserves order by publicly reiterating precepts key to a society's self-image. Nor are his points solely bound to medieval jurisprudence: as shown by Stalin's show trials, the Scopes trial, the Bernhard Goetz case, and others, spectacle is alive, well, and, these days, on Court TV. Entertaining, sociologically perceptive, and highly recommended. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 508 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007111223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007111220
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.3 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,559,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on June 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How did the jury trial system get started?

Surprisingly as a trial attorney, even I didn't know the answer until reading this book. And it turns out the answer starts in ancient Babylon, detours to Mt. Sinai, stops briefly at ancient Athens, has a sojourn in the Roman Empire before finally wending its way through Christendom, the Roman Catholic Church and then ultimately to British common law.

In other words we have managed to inherit our legal traditions concerning the treatment of criminal defendants the same way that we've inherited our other traditions...through the accidents and mis steps of history itself.

And it also turns out that Sadikat Kadri, BOTH London barrister AND member of the New York state bar turns out to be an excellent guide making history about stories and interesting ones at that.

Through his eyes we watch as Socrates mounts his suicidal defense in ancient Athens. We're there when Marc Antony gives perhaps the pre eminent lawyer of all time, Cicero, the death sentence that others including Shakespeare later fantasize about giving all lawyers. We join him in marvelling at the unfilled promise of the Justinian law code, buried for ten centuries under the rubble of the dark ages. We see the first -- otherwise forgettable -- jury trial take place in 1220 England.

And then we watch the trial evolve from a presumption of guilt to one of innocence, a presumption against Defendants failing to talk to today's privilege against self incrimination, and into being basically the replacement for ancient "gladitor justice" where crowds could thrill at the bloodied hands of the victor to today where crowds watched to see if the bloodied glove actually fits.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard McCallum on January 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book, but it will challenge most readers' fortitude. Kadri has produced an exhaustively researched and thoughtfully written history of legal jurisprudence. Chock-full of amazing and amusing stories of trials from Socrates to O J Simpson. And yet...Kadri's style tends to be a little too erudite and convoluted. Heavy going, but worth the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Duck on April 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is full of interesting anecdotes, but it tends to dwell on some topics too long and the prose is not exactly an easy flow, so it turned out to be a difficult read. I cannot say I enjoyed the book that much, even though I was looking forward to the topic.
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