Throughout my life and my self-education, all the way back through childhood, in books and movies, I repeatedly stumbled 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 U.S. 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.
Naturally, I was eager to read John A. Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned. 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. (This review originally appeared here, on wmtc.)