Drawing on untapped archives and full of fresh revelations, here is the definitive biography of America’s legendary defense attorney and progressive hero.
Clarence Darrow is the lawyer every law school student dreams of being: on the side of right, loved by many women, played by Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind. His days-long closing arguments delivered without notes won miraculous reprieves for men doomed to hang.
Darrow left a promising career as a railroad lawyer during the tumultuous Gilded Age in order to champion poor workers, blacks, and social and political outcasts against big business, Jim Crow, and corrupt officials. He became famous defending union leader Eugene Debs in the landmark Pullman Strike case and went from one headline case to the next—until he was nearly crushed by an indictment for bribing a jury. He redeemed himself in Dayton, Tennessee, defending schoolteacher John Scopes in the “Monkey Trial,” cementing his place in history.
Now, John A. Farrell draws on previously unpublished correspondence and memoirs to offer a candid account of Darrow’s divorce, affairs, and disastrous finances; new details of his feud with his law partner, the famous poet Edgar Lee Masters; a shocking disclosure about one of his most controversial cases; and explosive revelations of shady tactics he used in his own trial for bribery.
Clarence Darrow is a sweeping, surprising portrait of a legendary legal mind.
Farrell's (Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century) latest book is an immensely personal ode to a fearlessly progressive maverick lawyer, larger than life socialite, and fiercely independent gentleman. Darrow's financial setbacks, domestic volatility, and public scandal seem trivial when compared to his consummate performances in the dock, where his overarching articulations, witticisms, and wisdom occasionally belied deceit. Making a name for himself in a late nineteenth century Chicago plagued with crime and bloodshed, American industrialism, and the railroad boom could have set him up for life. Instead, he chose to tackle social unrest, using his intellect and eloquence in the "defense of the underdog," representing gangsters, psychopaths, and crooked politicians with miraculous, if not always just, results. Darrow was an early proponent of Civil Rights, dealing with graphic cases of related atrocities, which Farrell meticulously relays. A master of the lengthy closing argument, Darrow cited Freud and Nietzsche in his radical and dramatic courtroom speeches, none more so than the infamous Monkey Trial in which he ridiculed closed-minded religious fundamentalists in championing "academic liberty, free thought, and scientific inquiry." Though Darrow was a man who walked with kings, he never lost the common touch, and Farrell's biography finally does him justice.