Book Review: Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned

Clarence Darrow was a great man, but not always a good one. Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John Farrell, is a good book but not a great one.

Some famous trials in Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned

Darrow won fame as a trial lawyer – one of the greatest defense attorneys of all time. Perhaps his most famous trial is the Scopes “Monkey” trial, where Darrow defended John Scopes, who had deliberately violated a Tennessee law that forbade the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Darrow’s primary opponent was William Jennings Bryan. While Scopes was clearly and deliberately guilty, Darrow put Bryan on the stand and made him look like a fool. He did this before an audience and a judge who were solidly against him.

Darrow also defended the Scottsboro boys, a group of Black teens in Alabama who had been accused of gang raping a White woman: This case, which generated many trials, led to a thorough re-working of trials in the south, and the end of all-White juries.

But Darrow defended people who were clearly guilty, often conceding guilt but arguing against the death penalty. Perhaps Darrow’s most infamous clients were Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy, highly intelligent college students who killed a child because they “felt like it” and who felt that their brilliance exempted them from all moral codes. Darrow had them plead guilty, and argued the case before a judge, rather than a jury – arguing only that they should be given life in prison, not death.

Darrow defended more ordinary criminals, as well, including many Chicago gangsters; and he wasn’t above taking on clients from the “other side” of the political spectrum. Part of this was that Darrow often needed money: He took many cases for low or no fee, but nevertheless earned a lot from many trials. But Darrow was a horrible investor, frequently losing large sums on strange schemes.

So, as the title has it, Clarence Darrow was indeed Attorney for the Damned, and Farrell does a good job of portraying these trials.

Personal life of Clarence Darrow

Attorney for the Damned is not just a book about Clarence Darrow’s trials. His personal life is also delineated. Darrow grew up in rural Ohio, he was the child of freethinkers who supported women’s suffrage and other liberal causes. Clarence Darrow was a corporate lawyer before turning to trial work. In addition to his trial work, Darrow was the author of six books, including an autobiography, and was a famous speaker on political and philosophical issues.

Darrow was highly attracted to intelligent and pretty young women, and many of them were attracted to him as well. He was notoriously unfaithful to his wife, and also developed some enmities with former allies, including is one-time partner, Edgar Lee Masters.

Strong and weak points of Attorney for the Damned

Attorney for the Damned does a good job of setting the overall mood of each trial and of the times
Darrow lived in. It could give longer excerpts from Darrow’s famous arguments, and at times it is easy to get lost in the long list of characters.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about this great lawyer.

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