Friday, March 7, 2014


A review of Great American Trials: 201 Compelling Courtroom Dramas edited by Edward W. Knappman (1994)

(Rating 4 of 5)

My parents got me this book as a present one Christmas in the late 1990s.  At the time I was thinking about what I might want to do with my life and it crossed my mind I might want to be a prosecutor—that didn’t happen.  Nevertheless, my parents bought me this book which is a fascinating piece of American history.  Great American Trials spans the trials of Anne Hutchinson and O.J. Simpson.  In this book several prominent Americans are featured here as defendants such as Aaron Burr, John Brown, Andrew Johnson, and Al Capone.  The famed lawyer Clarence Darrow makes several appearances in the book.  The book is full of criminals, victims, the guilty who were brought to justice, the guilty who escaped justice, the wrongly accused who were exonerated, and the wrongly accused who were condemned.

Clarence Darrow, almost the star
Each case is divided into three sections.  They begin with a historical summery about the defendant and the world that they lived.  The second section goes into the case itself, describing how the court, prosecutors and defense attorneys’ actions all affected the outcome of the trial.  The final section of the case talks about the aftermath.  What happened to the defendant and how that case affected the nation’s culture and judicial system are discussed when needed.
The two most hated young men in the early 20th century

In the end, Great American Trails presents over 360 years of history and 200 trials into a book just over 900 pages long.  It nevertheless is a quick read, because you are presented with one fascinating case after another.

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