42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2011
After days of deliberation (i.e., engrossing reading), this reader is ready to return a verdict: Judgment for the Author!
And it was by no means an easy case.
Darrow would seem a daunting, perilous task for a biographer. He was born four years before the Civil War, lived into FDR's second term, and in between was a pervasive, dominant force in almost every significant U.S criminal case and legal issue (and plenty other things that captured his boundless interest). Colorful, controversial, narcissistic, fearless, grandiose and thoroughly brilliant, he strode through the 1880-1930 legal landscape like a true Colossus, no-holds-barred, to give a powerful voice to those for whom society had already spoken, denounced and consigned to severe punishment.
He was sensational newspaper fodder, in days when newspapers were rampant but often unreliable. He and his contemporaries (virtually every American figure of note crossed paths somehow with Darrow) left extensive correspondence and writings. Everyone knew of him and had an opinion. The Scopes trial was the first to be broadcast live nationally on radio. Leopold and Loeb captivated the country--and those are just two of Darrow's more famous cases.
How to separate man from myth, fact from hyperbole, and articulate a workable understanding of what drove this remarkable figure?
Enter Farrell-a prominent investigative journalist (suitably here, neither lawyer nor academic), who seemingly leaves no stone unturned in his painstaking search for the essence of Darrow. With a writing style that is concise, cogent and fluid, Farrell succeeds in making Darrow come alive. What emerges in this fresh and colorful account is a portrait of a man both blessed with gifts and riddled with flaws, for whom almost any means--even juror bribery--justified the ends of manacling perceived injustice.
Farrell wisely lets Darrow speak his own great court arguments; the author also draws judiciously from reliable primary sources such as letters, diaries and observations by contemporaries. Farrell is respectful of earlier writers who have tackled Darrow's life in full, but points out where (and why) they missed a mark. This author also deftly weaves in outstanding secondary sources, such as treatments of specific cases. The net effect is a modest but knowing and confident author's tone--quite a feat considering the prodigious effort involved.
The requisite source notes are here, although I would have preferred more separate entries, rather than frustrating "round up" notes. Fortunately, the Bibliography is a reader's dream. Alas, my Kindle version had only limited photograph images (the Darrow Wikipedia page alone was more enlightening in this respect). Also, I found the publisher's bally-hoo of new revelations and "Free Love" lifestyles to be, well, of relatively minor stir in the grander scheme of things.
But these are minor criticisms. I hope other readers will experience the rare joy I had, of setting aside preconceptions/skepticisms about this icon, and letting Farrell completely take over the story-telling reins. It is a memorable and invigorating ride and one I highly recommend.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2011
It's a high honor for a product name to be "genericized." A lot of people call copy machines Xerox machines, tissues are Kleenex, and all gelatins are Jell-O. In the post-World War II generation, many skilled advocates were complimented by being identified as "regular Clarence Darrows." The comparison served as recognition of a man whose career and accomplishments in American courthouses still resonate in the annals and history of the law.
CLARENCE DARROW: ATTORNEY FOR THE DAMNED is a new biography of one of the greatest courtroom advocates in history. Darrow began his legal career as a representative of big business, representing railroads and defending claims of injured workers. In his mid-30s, after a move from Ohio to Chicago, Darrow became a defender of the downtrodden. It was his work supporting the working man in his battle against oppression and government control that caused muckraker Lincoln Steffens to dub Darrow "the attorney for the damned." Darrow accepted the title when he published his autobiography, and the name also was used by Arthur Weinberg for a biography published in 1959.
Taking advantage of newly found primary sources, author John A. Farrell has done more than rehash Darrow's life. After his aforementioned work for railroads, the second phase of his career focused on capital punishment. Darrow became a vigorous opponent of the death penalty. While his first client was sentenced to hang, Darrow would successfully fight in countless cases to avoid the ultimate penalty. His writings and arguments on this issue still resonate in the current debate.
Darrow gained national attention travelling the country defending union leaders charged with murder, conspiracy and other crimes. He secured acquittals for important leaders in the trade union movement. In California, he represented John and Joseph McNamara, who were charged with murder in the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building. While he kept the brothers off death row, his success led the court to accuse him of jury tampering. The criminal charges nearly destroyed Darrow both personally and professionally, but he was able to recover and would eventually take on the two cases that would define his legacy in the courts.
His defense of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, the kidnappers and murderers of young Bobby Franks, was successful in sparing them the death penalty. The second case, the Scopes Monkey trial in tiny Dayton, Tennessee, confronted another issue dear to Darrow's heart. Scopes was charged with teaching evolution in a public school, a violation of a Tennessee statute. Darrow, the agnostic, cross-examined William Jennings Bryan on the Bible and essentially destroyed the arguments of those demanding that scientific advancements could not be squared with Biblical teachings. The Scopes trial was a charade, but for Darrow, the battle between science and religion was important.
Darrow was a rumpled man who relied on his oratorical skills to convince the courts of the just nature of his causes. He had his flaws but never backed down from the fight for justice. John Farrell's biography is a well-written account of a great lawyer and an effective summation of Darrow's story.
--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2011
The remarkable story of a remarkable man. Equal parts cynic and idealist, Darrow was the best courtroom lawyer of his age. Whether he was defending thrill killers Leopold and Loeb or union leaders such as Big Bill Haywood and Eugene Debs, Darrow seemingly got just about every high-profile criminal case of his time. In Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, veteran journalist and Tip O'Neill biographer Jack Farrell brings Darrow to life, warts and all. If all you know about Darrow is as William Jennings Bryan's adversary in the Scopes "monkey trial," read this book. You'll learn about an extrordinary man in an extraordinary time. And you'll never think about courtroom justice in quite the same way.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2011
Among various American icons, Clarence Darrow is one of the most known ones. Darrow was given the unofficial title of "attorney for the damned" by another icon, Lincoln Steffens.
This book is a very interesting one due to the fact that its style of writing is, alas, uncoventional, meaning that it it far from being written in the sometimes dry and official academic style. In fact, it reminds one of (if I may say so) a jazzy way of putting pen to paper.
Darrow's times and historical background were the best and the worst of them. There were the tycoons, the paupers, the rich and the oppressed, the scandals, the anarchists, the expansion of American imperialism (wars included, for sure),the roaring twenties, the corruption scandals, the many scientific breakthroughs, World War One, the riots and lynchings of unfortunate Blacks, you get the idea.
Enter Darrow, the American iconoclast,was the person who fought almost all his life by dedicating his career to defend and save the lives of the poor, the unfortunate,the oppressed, the unfortunate, most of the time by legal means, sometimes by unorthodox ones. Darrow stood for the oppressed and the exploited workers, but sometimes represented the rich and corrupt, like in the notorious Leopold and Loeb case. Darrow was an atheist, a failed writer and a superb orator.
In my view, the best chapter in the book concerns the Scopes case where the essence of Darrow's thinking and philosophy of life spring at you from each page. This is vintage John Farell.
Was he the greatest American lawyer? That is for you to decide. Highly recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2011
I read Stone's biography more than a half-century ago. Like so many others, Darrow has been a hero ever since ... A Mother Theresa, a Saint. Darrow's example, presented by Stone, inspired us and guided our life-choices.
Farrell's biography shows Darrow in a more realistic light: his depression, his disappointments, his infidelities. The two recent Darrow biographies, based on recent historical discoveries, more accurately show Darrow as he was. He was one of us, guided by his principles, courageous, but fallible and human. My kind of guy.
I had the same epiphany with Madame Curie. Her first biography, written a half century ago by her daughter was sanitized: Madame Curie was a saint.
Recently, another version appeared that showed her pain, how she was tortured by depression, yet achieved lasting greatness through her incredible grit and intellect, despite tragedy and disappointment.
I think that revisionist history (defined here as the later, more realistic presentation of a real person's travails) is a good thing, since it serves different audiences.
The saccharine version inspires adolescents, idealists as they chart their life's trajectory.
The later, revised version of these hero's lives warms the hearts of us old dogs who delight in the triumphs of such singular persons over adversity; people whose stories make us smile as we see that they did their very best, yet like us had feet of clay.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2011
This was one of the best biographies of Darrow that I've read. It tells a sufficient amout of his early years and background to acquaint the reader with Darrow. The best parts, however, are those which describe Darrow's ideological fights. His support of unions, safety regulations, the poor and disadvantaged, against corrupt government and most importantly the accumulation of power by the very wealthy over those less fortunate. The description of the Scopes Trial was so vivid that you almost felt as though you were in that hot court room, sweating but listening to every word. It relates the end of William Jennings Bryant and his fall from grace among the evangelicals, which was occassioned by the Scopes trial. The book takes you through Darrows most famous and some not so famous cases and reads like a Dicken's novel.You'll go from one chapter to the next just to see what happens next.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2011
"Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned" is not just the best available examination of Clarence Darrow's extraordinary life and legal career. Many reviewers have noted how John Farrell excels in a deconstruction of Darrow's life, loves and legacy. The backdrop is part of the beauty of the book. It is a portal into a time and place, the Gilded Age world of Chicago, the gangsters and the Free Love proponents. The book is a richly detailed extension of the same world that drew so many readers to "The Devil in the White City" - with Darrow interspersed through some of the events that made that volume so fascinating.
Darrow, "Jefferson's Heir" in Farrell's lexicon, runs through a narrative spine that has so many interesting aspects that many could be (and have been) books themselves. Darrow's role in the famed Monkey Trial is only one of many such stories. Farrell has found many new documents that bring Darrow to life in a very compelling read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2014
A journalist Hutchins Hapwood described Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) as such, "He is radical, idealistic and practical at once... with a marvelous inconsistency of mind." No kidding about the "inconsistency of mind" thing. Man oh man, Mr. Darrow was a jumble of contradictions. Trying to figure out the cynical atheist was more difficult than nailing Jello to a wall. One day he's heroic and the next day contemptible. No question, the iconic attorney was whip-smart and his oratorical skills in the courtroom saved many people's backsides. But, Mr. Darrow also had no problem in using unethical means to win. His attitude that juries made their decisions based upon their feelings and less on facts is not only true, but also applicable to how people vote in elections. I know, I know. It's a very cynical perspective, but read the book and you'll see he pulled many a person's fat out of the fryer based upon his courtroom histrionics.
Mr. Farrell does an excellent job of describing Mr. Darrow as well as the times he lived. Our current legal system still has many faults, but the level of corruption and skulduggery practiced during the late 1800s and early 1900s makes today's jurisprudence seem nearly utopian. Clarence Darrow was involved in many of the time period's high-profile cases. He represented the unfairly maligned Eugene Debs, many despicable criminals, Los Angeles union murderers, various odious corporate barons, the famous Leopold and Loeb, as well as tackled racism and, of course, the Scopes Monkey trial. The author gives a rationale for all the choices Darrow made in taking on a case. During his many years in Chicago, avarice and exploitation by corporations described in the book made my stomach turn. Sweatshops packed with immigrants, child labor abuse, the hellish meat packing industries, and executives hiring the police, politicians and thugs to assault or murder union members should make anyone with a conscience be grateful for unions.
I found Mr. Darrow a most vexing person. I admired many of his heroic stances in representing the underdog as well as being an agnostic and feminist, but his monumental ego, numerous mistresses, and occasional unethical actions left a sour taste in my mouth. Like any good biography, Mr. Farrell shows the many facets of his subject matter and places the reader into the context of the times. I liked the book, but finished the work feeling less optimistic about society as a whole. In today's atmosphere, politicians still use religion as a tool for oppression, corporations steal and abuse workers, and, most depressing to me, the majority of people refute the theory of evolution because it threatens their God. I guess Darrow's cynical nature about humanity is right.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2014
Clarence Darrow didn't move to Chicago until he was 30 years old. He soon got involved in politics and became a city attorney. His next move was to dump his wife and abandon his children for the more exciting life of a libertine mover and shaker. He represented whomever had the money to hire him and fought for big moneyed interests as often as he took the causes of the little men.
But Darrow's politics were always progressive and for the working man. So he ended up taking significant union-related cases and there made his name. When a union thug committed a crime, the state would charge the union leaders. They would let the actual perp off if he would testify that he was set to the crime by the union boss. Darrow would come in and get the acquittal. He was as good as there ever was at cross examination--getting the witness to admit weakness and contradict himself/herself on the stand. And his opening and closing arguments are legendary.
Darrow approached cases non-technically. He thought juries would do the right thing if they liked the defendant and saw the social justice purpose behind the acquittal. He blatantly played to the jury's prejudice and made grand sweeping societal arguments that I find hard to believe would be allowed in today's courtrooms. He also was allowed time to make such a case. Many of his cases lasted months in the courtroom--unheard of today.
In addition for fighting for unions and workers, Darrow was one of the first ACLU lawyers fighting for minorities rights. He was a true friend of the downtrodden and oppressed.
I was surprised to learn that Darrow was a very strong advocate for free love. After his divorce he had many lovers, many at the same time (who know about each other) and promised them all he would never marry again. When he did marry again, some of the women were very upset and even came to his home to yell at him and his new wife for the betrayal. His remarriage didn't stop him from continuing his free-love practices. His second wife Ruby put up with it, not always happily. But he clearly was what we would call today a lecherous old man.
A good book, not great, but good. Lots of text from trials which I liked to hear as an attorney. But the book was more an account of a series of trials with a few quotes from letters to lovers interspersed than a masterful biography giving you a true sense of the man. Worth the time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2013
Many readers of this Journal will know the name Clarence Darrow. He is best known in regards to his defence of John Scopes in the infamous "Scopes Monkey Trial" in 1925. But his career was very much highlighted not because of this case, but his previous trials relating to the defence of labour-related court matters and capital crimes in various jurisdictions throughout the United States. He dealt with matters that were considered unwinnable. Thus gaining the reputation of being the "Attorney for the Dammed".
The book was listed as one of the most notable 100 books by the New York Times in 2011 and has made Farrell, a former investigative journalist for the Boston Globe and the Denver Post, hot property for writing biographies for political figures. Having won a number of awards for previous books written as a Whitehouse Correspondent, Farrell's reputation started in the 1980's, when his reporting resulted in Congressional hearings on national matters as resources and Native Indian issues. In 1990, his reporting resulted in a congressional hearing that reviewed the ineffectiveness of the Patriot missile in the first Gulf War. This was just after his reporting resulted in the resignation of a number of municipal judges for corruption.
The book has been written from archives that have been previously unreleased, including correspondence and writings from Darrow and his friends, trial transcripts, newspaper articles and essays. Included is a brilliant set of images that show Darrow from his youth to the height of his career. Much of the information has been supplied by the Darrow family themselves.
Farrell's book describes in detail the early life of the Darrow from the time of his birth in 1857 to his desire to represent the most vulnerable in US society. Darrow was descended from freethinkers, his father Amirus Darrow was known as the "village infidel" with his mother being a defender of woman's suffrage and female rights. After graduating from law school, Darrow made his mark in the labour movement of the time and from a criminal perspective, was against the death penalty. As an atheist and freethinker, Darrow took on many trials not touched by other solicitors at the time. Darrow defended over 50 criminals for murder and only lost one matter (his first murder trial) to the death penalty. Farrell's book discusses many of these cases and the use of his oratory skills in closing arguments which sometimes lasted for days. It was these speeches that today captivate many in the legal profession as some of the best speeches ever given in a court room. This is strength of Farrell, his ability to describe conversation and speech in the court from the relevant sources. But his style also lets him down in regards to analysis of his trials. Farrell is a journalist, and this shows in sections of his writing. Farrell's writing tends to leave a gap in the information in regards to the effects of his actions at major criminal matters and the Scopes Trial. Farrell jumps from one matter to the next in a biographical manner, but fails to really address what the effects of his trials were, thus mitigating the opportunity for the reader to fully appreciate the ramifications of his actions, speeches and writing.
But, refreshingly, Farrell also takes aim at many of Darrow's failings and ultimately his end. In particular the fact that he lost all his money in the depression and after his death in 1938, Darrow's wife Ruby, was forced to sell their apartment, library and many possessions to pay for the funeral and prepare for retirement. The books that Darrow used at the Scopes trial were sold for several hundred dollars; the knife used by Darrow to sharpen his pencils whilst defending inmates from the death penalty, sold for $1.50. Even the scattering of Darrow's ashes was described in sad detail; the lawyer sitting the car because it was raining while Darrow's ashes were scattered, like a person disgrading a piece of rubbish by his business manager off a stone bridge. It was, in my opinion a sad defining moment. Irrespective of all the good Darrow had achieved in his life, the ending was so irrelevant to his outstanding life. This is what many books on Darrow fail to achieve, but Farrell does.
The book shows in a clinical style the methods used by Darrow in the court room by referring not only to the evidence of the matter, but the environmental influences, mental issues and other non-police related areas of knowledge. Hence, Judges and the court gained an education in regards to the defendant, but also an education in regards to crime and the reasons between good and bad. It was these speeches in particular that influenced many a court and appeals court that resulted in only one death penalty. Of interest, the reviewer, working in law enforcement now sees many of these factors bought into court on a regular basis, but in the 1920's, this was revolutionary.
The Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, in the state of Tennessee, was perhaps the greatest trial of Darrow's career. Farrells book again, like all other aspects of Darrow's life, clinically shows all aspects of the trial from the inception of the offence, the politics, and the people and then the trial itself. Farrell illustrates the trial well, how it was moved outside of the court house onto a grass area in front of the court. The reporters from across America, the interviews and the overall circus that the trial ended up being. But it also provides a interesting account of the circumstances surrounding the teaching of evolution by Scopes as a result of a barbershop discussion. But the book provides a valuable essay on the context of the trial as a result of Christrian extremist and the war against Darwinism. The introduction of the "Butler Bill" in Tennessee in 1925 made it illegal to teach Darwin evolution in schools, or any other theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation for that matter. Hence, science was being put out the door and replaced with creationism supported by state law. Included in this law was the teaching of biology (evolution) geology (earth is greater than 10 000 years ols) and any other subject from the humanities that was in opposition to creationism or the bible.
The book discuss how the ACLU, in it's opposition to the Butler Act looked for a client that was willing to teach evolution, that client was founding John Scopes. Wat may not be known is that the person that bought the changes against Scopes, F.E. Robinson, was also the local chairperson of the school board and actually supplied the biology textbooks from his business ! History tells us that Darrow lost the trial and the teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution in a school, but reversed on appeal. But it should be remembered that the reasons for winning the appeal was not done on constitutional grounds, but dismissed the case completely. The opportunity to create a long-lasting precedent to prevent the teaching of creationism over evolution was lost to Darrow. It should be noted that the movie "Inherit the Wind", which was filmed many years after the trial, Darrow was portrayed by Spencer Tracy. Readers of this journal are no doubt aware that this trial was the first of many trials testing science and faith in schools, which is still going on today in 2012. This review will not go into the details of the Scopes trial, that is for a article (or collection of articles).
Darrow has been portrayed by two movies, four plays and six books, but this book takes a different route in the life and times of Clarence Darrow. Without looking into the specific effects of Darrow in his trials, the book just deals with Darrow from a personal perspective using many materials not previously referred to. In reading the book, the reviewer found that sometimes, the writer appeared to lose his way, but in re-reading sections, the writer tended to refer to matters not previously referred to. This gives the impression that the book was part of a larger work and requires many assumptions on part of the reader, hence, this book is one that cannot be read in isolation as the stand alone book on Darrow. To understand Darrow is to read many books, including the many books that go in-depth about his specific criminal trials.
Would I recommend this book as an addition to the sceptic's library? Unless you have other books on Darrow or on evolution trials, or are interested in legal biographies, the book only provides little additional information to the body of knowledge on evolution. If you are interested in biographies, most certainly it would be an enjoyable read. As stated, the images are excellent and the source material impeccable, but Farrell tends to write like a journalist, not as a biographer.