I'm reading the autobiography of Clarence Darrow. It's very good. Darrow is an excellent writer -- not in a writerly way, but in the way of someone who spent his life using the power of words, written and spoken, to achieve his ends. He has an easy, conversational and frequently amusing style that makes reading each page a pleasure and the thought of reading the whole 300 or 400 pages no burden.

What Darrow wanted to accomplish, it seems to me, was the practice of law in its idealized conception -- representing those with cases that seemed to be hopeless, those who couldn't pay, those whom society had turned against. Darrow also worked at less lofty legal heights -- he was the chief lawyer for the city of Chicago for awhile -- but it seems to have taken on some cases that many lawyers would have avoided.

One thing that has jumped out at me so far, a bit more than halfway through the book: Darrow relates various courtroom victories, including gaining acquittals for men facing serious charges and managing to glean life sentences for guilty men facing the death penalty. But in one case he talks about, the accused has a strong alibi -- he was at work, as some of his co-workers testified, when the crime was committed -- but he gets convicted anyway and sentenced to life in prison. Darrow is convinced the man is innocent, but seems to shrug off the conviction, even seeing some good in his avoidance of the death penalty. Why the different attitude? Because the man is black and tall, and someone saw a tall, black man in the company of the murdered woman who is the subject of the case, and as Darrow says, early in the 20th century, that was enough to ensure he'd be convicted.

Darrow mocks belief in God -- calling it "foolishness" -- and expresses his support for socialism, even though he doesn't describe himself as a "socialist." I wonder if a man like that could be as famous and respected today as Darrow was in the early decades of the 20th century.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

@trafficstatic.

0
0
0
0
0

Projects editor

Load comments