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Gideon's Trumpet

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  1,430 ratings  ·  130 reviews
A history of the landmark case of James Earl Gideon's fight for the right to legal counsel. Notes, table of cases, index. The classic backlist bestseller. More than 800,000 sold since its first pub date of 1964.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1964)
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Supreme Court (History & Fiction)
10th out of 79 books — 94 voters
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Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
453rd out of 2,877 books — 4,936 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,395)
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Matt
A lot of different things helped push me down the road to law school. There's that scene in The Verdict when Paul Newman tells Charlotte Rampling about justice("See, the jury believes. The jury wants to believe...All of them...say, 'It's a sham, it's rigged, you can't fight city hall.' But when they step into that jury box...you just barely see it in their eyes..."). There's also the (as yet unrealized) promise of financial security. Maybe the most noble motivator I had was Anthony Lewis's Gideo ...more
Russell
I read this book before I went to law school. It was supposed to be the inspiring story of how we all came to have the right to an attorney.

I thought it was dull and was actually the story of how a florida redneck who was arrested for burglary got in touch with a bunch of high powered attorneys with an agenda.

Appellate law is not interesting even when it is novelized.
Kressel Housman
For those who don't know, Gideon v. Wainwright was the landmark Supreme Court case that established the federal requirement for criminal courts to provide defense attorneys for the indigent. In other words, it's the reason we have public defenders today.

The case began when Clarence Gideon, a poor white man sitting in a Florida prison for petty larceny, wrote to the Supreme Court that his 14th Amendment right to due process of law had been violated because the court that convicted him didn't prov
...more
Tom
A very good read. Definitely gets one all rah-rah democracy and rah-rah constitution yet with nuance and thoughtfulness. Also, not one-sided as Lewis does a good job of showing Ass’t Attorney General Jacob as a sympathetic guy who really did believe that everyone has a right to counsel but ultimately believed more in states’ rights. I felt bad for the guy sending out a letter to all 50 states asking for an Amicus Brief to support Betts v. Brady but ending up getting Amicus Briefs from many of th ...more
Frank Stein

After reading this book, I understand why it has become a law-school staple for generations. First, and importantly, it's short, always necessary in book assignments. Second, it provides a concise and solid overview of how the Supreme Court "did its own work" in Brandeis's phrase (down to some now antiquated details, such as the dumbwaiter that carried briefs up and down in the head Clerk's office).

Third, and more importantly, the book puts real human stories at it's center. There is Clarence E
...more
Roger
May 27, 2010 Roger rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: law
"...Gideon is something of a 'nut,' [and:] his maniacal distrust and suspicion lead him to the very borders of insanity. Upon the shoulders of such persons are our great rights carried."

I'm a public defender for prison inmates. When I read the statement above in the epilogue, I was amused and relieved to learn that Gideon was a lot like many of my own clients.

zltg
There is no illusion at all that Gideon is a hero or he did not owe his victory entirely to the legal and social momentum, which were outside of his control and already pointing to overturn Betts. But it is also worthwhile to remember the facts here, that man like him, an outcast at the very bottom of the society, had the tenacity and courage to pursue what he deemed just and not gave up hope. My eyes got wet when first looked at Gideon's pencil-written petition for cert on prison mail paper. Th ...more
Catherine Woodman


I have always been a reader, and whenever possible, I have tried to read what my children are reading. It started out with 'The Hungry Caterpillar', progressed to the Harry Potter series and now I am immersed in British Victorian novels and socio-political classics (which it turns out that I am no better at deciphering in my 50's than I was in my 20's) . So when my eldest son decided to go to law school, my husband and I encouraged him to read some of the recommended classics in the history of l
...more
Judy
The news this week of the death of Anthony Lewis at age 85 was enough to send me scurrying to the bookcase to dig out my copy of Gideon's Trumpet and reread it. Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in Florida on a charge of breaking and entering and he was forced to represent himself at his trial because he couldn't afford an attorney. Gideon felt that this was a violation of his constitutional right to be represented by counsel and while he was in a Florida prison he sat down and wrote a petition ...more
kimberly
Nov 30, 2007 kimberly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lawyers, those fascinated by justice and the mysterious supreme court
Shelves: law-books
Often, I am discouraged with my profession. The slow-moving machinary of the judiciary is not perfect, but both Gideon and To Kill a Mockingbird remind me why I'm a lawyer. I wish I had read Gideon before starting my clerkship. For one reason, we had an entire right to counsel issue that I would have understood better after this book. Additionally, it discusses the role of a law clerk and how the judicial system works. Dude, this is more helpful than my staff attorney manual!
But most of all, I
...more
J
No one today would argue against the fact that Gideon v. Wainwright had a positive impact on the legal system. People should have the right to an attorney and this book explains not only why, but also celebrates the fact that a poor prisoner could affect our law. In fact, "How one man, a poor prisoner, took his case to the Supreme Court-- and changed the law of the United States" sits over the title on the wonderfully designed cover of my edition of the book.

However, I got a strange feeling whil
...more
Emily
I didn't realize that this book was written back in the day until the author started talking about how SCOTUS is a bunch of old white guys. Anyway, I enjoyed the read overall and the occasional old-timey aside.

Public defenders in particular will appreciate the coda on Gideon's second trial, where he chose to go pro se on some pretrial motions:
- asserted that double jeopardy prohibited a new trial (it didn't)
- argued that the statute of limitations had run and second trial was unlawful (it wasn't
...more
Ted
Terrific book. I had never read anything about our Supreme Court and this turned out to be a great start. This is a pretty incredible story about one man who, without the help of a lawyer, appealed his case to the highest court in the land and eventually won. The accused's right to a lawyer, and thus due process, would be considered as fundamental as any other. However, up until this case, states had a free hand to decide when an indigent defendant would be afforded one by the state. The author ...more
Denise
I read this because I'm trying to keep my post-law-school, pre-bar-exam brain from turning into gorgeous, laid back mush. It was great. It's very, very readable, with lots of relatively interesting descriptions of the facts leading up to the Gideon v. Wainwright case, and it includes lots of great information about how the inner gears of the Supreme Court turn. Some parts get a little turgid, but it's a book about a legal decision; what do you expect? I kind of wish they'd done a second edition ...more
Diane
Jun 16, 2009 Diane rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: legal
I read this in preparation for a continuing legal education class which will involve discussion of the book. I was not looking forward to reading it as I suspected it would be very dry and difficult to plough through. It was actually a very easy read. The author wrote in a manner which would allow a lay person to understand the Supreme Court appellate process, and effectively personalized the Gideon v. Wainwright decision. I think this would be a great book for law students to read, and is also ...more
Josh Davis
An amazing account of the different that one man can make.
David Eppenstein
Okay, I'm a retired public defender and Gideon is the patron saint of our profession so I can be accused of some bias in reviewing this book. Nevertheless, I have to admit that the average reader would probably find this book about as interesting as watching paint dry. Earlier this year I read a book about the Scottsboro Boys, another event that ended up going to the Supreme Court just like Gideon's did. Unfortunately, this book had none of the drama or suspense that Scottsboro did. The Scottsbo ...more
Stefani
The first book I have read for law school since A Civil Action in 1L that wasn't a case book or supplement.

Whew. Law school should require more books like this. It is the story of how the right to representation for the indigent in all criminal cases was codified by the Supreme Court.

Somewhat uplifting, somewhat depressing.
Amanda
Had to read as research for a loved one who's considering law. Recommended to me by a lawyer I respect. A great read for anyone considering law. Terrific story. If the reader is not a lawyer, it gets dry in the middle, but definitely plow through to the ending of the tale. All true. All heartening.
Text Addict
Still as relevant - alarmingly so, in fact - as when it was published fifty years ago. The last thirty-odd years have shown that even the right to counsel is not sufficient to guard against injustice, but I think I see the times a-chagin' once more, just as they were in the early 1960s.

Clearly and accessibly written, the book certainly presses the idea that "due process" and "equal protection of the laws" are principles worth defending on all fronts - even if the people so defended are not alway
...more
Joe
The Supreme Court and its place in our government is solidly taught. Interesting discussion of its place in the system; ex, why should nine ex-lawyers have such incredible power?

I found myself searching for spirituality, humor, passion, or something. This book could have been written by Sgt Joe Friday.

Recommend for future lawyers or SS teachers only. He tosses around Supreme Court case titles like "Powell vs Alabama" like they're common knowledge. As a non-lawyer, I don't know what "amicus cu
...more
Mskychick
Favorite quotes:
It would be difficult to create a setting as dejected as the locale of Gideon's alleged crime. Panama City is a town in the still largely undeveloped northwest panhandle of Florida. Just outside the city limits is a gigantic International Paper Company plant, it's tall chimneys spewing out sulfurous smoke. Huddled near the plant dense, within sight and steel of the chemical fumes, is the community of Bay Harbor. Community is too grandiose a word for it; Bay Harbor is a bitter, de
...more
Samara
In the early 1960's, Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested for burglarizing a pool hall. Gideon asked for an attorney to represent him at trial, something he could not pay for himself, but his request was denied. In those days, a small handful of states, including Florida where Gideon lived, had no procedure for routinely assigning counsel to indigent defendants in felony cases. The rule established by the Supreme Court some 20 years earlier was that to fulfill the constitutional right to counsel re ...more
Adam
Beautiful!

I've long known of this book and likely long avoided it presuming that I knew the entire story of Clarence Earl Gideon. He was a poor man convicted of a crime without an attorney, whose case resulted in the Supreme Court decision expanding the right to counsel that we presume is part and parcel of our criminal legal system. But that is only a small piece of the full story.

Anthony Lewis brings Gideon to life, both the case and the person. The book beautifully recounts Gideon's tale, bri
...more
Lauren
An excellent account of the famous Supreme Court case that mandated a defendant’s right to counsel, Gideon’s Trumpet also provides background on the Supreme Court and its procedures and traditions to help set the stage. For a book about a Supreme Court case that delves into some of the nitty-gritty legal arguments, it’s remarkably readable.

My one (tiny) complaint: How I wish there was an updated edition of Gideon’s Trumpet with an afterword about the current state of American criminal law and th
...more
Tung
This book discusses the significance of a single case: Gideon v. Cochran, a 1962 case that overturned an earlier case (Betts v. Brady) and established that everyone had the right to an attorney for criminal cases, and if you couldn’t afford an attorney, it was the court’s obligation to provide you one. The book details the judicial context during which the case was argued, how it was argued before the Court, and why the particular arguments mattered. Overall, it’s a nice primer on how the Suprem ...more
Alice
A dry, dated (think Warren Court, with issues of racial equality still in the center of national consciousness) account of the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, regarding the right to counsel for the indigent.

The book was very informative - not hard to do, since I knew next to nothing about the case - but the author made arguments in the vein of The Inevitable Tide of History Was On Gideon's Side, so I was a bit skeptical. The book also ends with a high-falootin', shmaltzy chapter - misp
...more
Adam Yoshida
A Classic Read from a Bygone Era

For some reason Lewis' book reminded me, more than anything else, of the classic works of the old DC novelist Allen Drury, who wrote about life in Washington in this era. Most specifically, it does so in the way in which it is filled with confidence in the public men of that city and the institutions of American government itself.

The prose is brisk and clear, as to be expected from a journalist of that era. This is worth reading.
William
There are times when you pick up a book not what to expect and you discover an unexpected treasure. This is one such book.

There are so many good things about this book. First, it restores your faith in our system. It provided great insights into how the Supreme Court works.

It also shows that even the people who are down and out in this country can have the system work for them.

The story told in this book shows one of the many reasons why the United States is truly an exceptional nation.
lamesalmon
Great overview of the history of the constitutional right to counsel. Engagingly written, with a good balance of storytelling narrative and exploration of fundamental legal principles.

Since this was published in 1964, it's also somewhat dated in some of its language and commentary. It was particularly striking to me to read the casual references to "the men of the court" and "the men who are clerks". This was, of course, wholly accurate for the time, but it was also subtly alienating for me, re
...more
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