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Book Title: The Story of my Life (Classic bestseller)|
The author of the book: Clarence Darrow
Date of issue: July 5th 2015
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Format files: PDF
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Reader ratings: 3.7
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This was required reading for my Social Justice class, and I was actually pretty excited to read it. Darrow is a famous legal figure and I was primarily familiar with him because of his defense of John Scopes in the "Scopes Monkey Trial." I was pretty disappointed in the book, but I did learn a lot about Darrow.
I had no idea how many major cases Darrow had been a part of! Everything including defending coal miners during a strike for better working conditions, men accused of murder despite not fitting any of the facts of the crime except being black, men pulled into large espionage rings after WWI under the guise of national security, teachers who discussed evolution, and many others. It really is an impressive list with a high success rate.
A later biographer described Darrow as the "attorney for the damned," and that is pretty accurate. Darrow believed fully that every life was worth defending and he was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, which is why he took on many cases where the defendant was clearly guilty. In fact, Darrow actually seems to not believe in any kind of penalty. He believed that fate and destiny completely controls our lives and that we are helpless to change our course or make different decisions. So, because we have no option, we cannot be held responsible for our actions. I thought a lot of it was b.s. I firmly agree that background and circumstances have a vast impact on the course of someone's life, but I do not believe that it replaces free will.
I also thought he was borderline racist/sexist. Maybe more than borderline. He stated that he had not problems with blacks or other minorities, but it could not be helped that white men were just better. He painted minority defendants with the brush of guilt but gushed about how white defendants were justified in their actions.
The writing just had this tone of superiority and ego that did not sit right with me. Then, on top of that, must of the second half (at least the last third) delved into these philosophical ramblings on religion and travel and education and the penal system. It was just odd. And freaking boring. And self-indulgent. Even though the rest of the book was more focused on cases and his legal/political work, he rarely focused on the circumstances surrounding the case, the facts, or the outcome, but instead it was this very skewed view. I took many grains of salt with this book.
But, none of those things detract from the fact that he did defend both the innocent and the guilty in hundreds of cases during his time. He was the most famous lawyer of his time, and he was one of the greatest orators that the legal field has probably ever seen. He worked for over 50 years on big cases and small ones, and helped as many people as he could. He is etched in history.
Most of all, this book made me want to read something about him that is biographical in nature and more objective. Perhaps Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned.
Bottom line: read about Darrow and learn about this important historical figure. But don't get the information from the horses mouth.
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Read information about the authorin 1857, Clarence Darrow, later dubbed "Attorney for the Damned" and "the Great Defender," was born. For a time he lived in an Ohio home that had served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. His father was known as the "village infidel." Darrow attended the University of Michigan Law School for one year, then passed the bar in 1878 and moved to Chicago. There he joined protests against the trumped-up charges against four radicals accused in the Haymarket Riot case. Darrow became corporate counsel to the City of Chicago, then counsel for the North Western Railway. He quit this lucrative post when he could no longer defend their treatment of injured workers, then went on to defend without pay Socialist striker Eugene V. Debs. In 1907, Darrow successfully defended labor activist "Big Bill" Haywood, charged with assassinating a former governor. His passionate denunciation of the death penalty prompted him to defend the famous killers, Loeb and Leopold, who received life sentences in 1924.
His most celebrated case was the Scopes Trial, defending teacher John Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., who was charged with the crime of teaching evolution in the public schools. Darrow's brilliant cross-examination of prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan lives on in legal history. During the trial, Darrow said: "I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure--that is all that agnosticism means." Darrow wrote many freethought articles and edited a freethought collection. His two appealing autobiographies are The Story of My Life (1932), containing his plainspoken views on religion, and Farmington (1932). He also wrote Resist Not Evil (1902), An Eye for An Eye (1905), and Crime, Its Causes and Treatments (1925). His freethought writings are collected into Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays. He told The New York Times, "Religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don't believe in either" (April 19, 1936). D. 1938.
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