Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John A Farrell

Clarence DarrowBeyond his rout of Bryan in the Scopes ”monkey trial,” Darrow spent much of his career defending communists, the insane, blacks, bootleggers, young men, union leaders, alleged rapists, corrupt politicians, anarchists, and the poor. He saved the lives of the McNamara brothers, who pled guilty to the bombing of the Los Angeles Times – and then was himself accused of bribing jurors.

Farrell’s magnificent biography shows why and how Darrow was so successful, often by uncovering weaknesses in evidence and appealing to higher justice and compassion from the jurors. Farrell has presented several of his famous cases wth such drama that even if I knew the outcome I read them with suspense. Excerpts from Darrow’s courtroom speeches illustrate his eloquence. All this is set in the context of the large issues fought during his lifetime: union battles starting in the 1890s, the gangs of Chicago, Prohibition, violence against blacks. the communist movement, and, central to Darrow’s thinking, the struggle to preserve the rights of the individual.

I found this an exceptional book. You can read it as a series of courtroom dramas, as a biography of a human being who was able to do enormous amounts of good in spite of his many failings, or as a reflection of a turbulent period in American history, all written as an engrossing story. And the issues that Darrow contended with are still with us today. As he warned, “No era of the world has ever witnessed such a rapid concentration of wealth and power as this one in which we live. History furnishes abundant lessons of the inevitable result.”

Reviewed by Sarav


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