8.04.2013

what i'm reading: clarence darrow, attorney for the damned, by john a. farrell

I last wrote about Clarence Darrow in early 2012, after reading a piece by one of my favourite New Yorker writers, Jill Lepore. Two new biographies of Darrow had been published, and Lepore wrote a tribute to the great defender, and mused on the state of North American labour movement.

Lucky for me, Allan found a copy of one of those books - brand new, in hardcover - on one of his used-book jaunts. I'm more than halfway through John A. Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned and still haven't gotten to Darrow's most famous triumph.

As I wrote earlier, throughout my life and my self-education, all the way back through childhood, I kept stumbling on Clarence Darrow. And the more I learned of him, the more I loved and admired him. Is it any wonder? Darrow was: an outspoken atheist, a radical death-penalty abolitionist, the greatest defender of organized labour and the rights of working people the US has ever seen, and an anti-racist in a time when segregation was absolute and violently enforced. He questioned and subverted all of society's institutions and conventions, including monogamy, marriage, and the subjugation of women. He didn't play by the rules, because he believed those rules were corrupt and designed to serve the interests of wealth and property.

Farrell serves up Darrow's triumphs and his defeats, his idealism and his trickery, his genius and flaws and contradictions in equal measure. The research is masterful, the writing is elegant, the pacing exciting. I don't usually quote book publicity material, but in this case, it's accurate.
Amidst the tumult of the industrial age and the progressive era, Clarence Darrow became America’s greatest defense attorney, successfully championing poor workers, blacks, and social and political outcasts, against big business, fundamentalist religion, Jim Crow, and the US government. His courtroom style — a mixture of passion, improvisation, charm, and tactical genius — won miraculous reprieves for men doomed to hang. In Farrell’s hands, Darrow is a Byronic figure, a renegade whose commitment to liberty led him to heroic courtroom battles and legal trickery alike.
Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned is an opportunity to be amazed and inspired - and perhaps to contemplate radical solutions to remake our world.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

You might next try Darrow's letters, which have just been published ("In the Clutches of the Law"), where you can read Darrow in the original. I am betting you will be even further entralled!

allan said...

We also have an older book that includes the text of many of Darrow's closing arguments, called Attorney for the Damned.

laura k said...

I have thumbed through that first "Attorney for the Damned" that Allan mentioned. It's overwhelming - in a good way. I will try the letters one day, too. Thanks, Unknown. (?)

I plan on reading Orwell's published letters, as well, as part of my goal to read everything Orwell published.