Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned
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Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  277 ratings  ·  60 reviews
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 m...more
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published June 14th 2011 by Doubleday (first published June 4th 2011)
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Ed Smiley
Darrow is a gargantuan figure, every bit as amazing as his reputation, and this is a wonderfilled biography. Darrow is skeptical, generous and venal, idealistic and cynical, shrewd and reckless, oversexed and loving, progressive and corrupt: a plethora of personality traits tumbling out upon an amazing event-filled life. But if that just seems like a grab bag of random characteristics, Farrell writes with a deft precision, and a fine attention to detail, as well as allowing ample space for Darro...more
If you are poor, a mobster, a racist, a union member or an oppressed minority there was one lawyer that you would look for if you got in legal trouble during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. That lawyer went by the name of Clarence Darrow.

Darrow received his law admission in Ohio but moved to Chicago where he made his name. He started as a lawyer in Chicago city government where he came under the tutelage of one of the great liberal thinkers of the era, John Altgeld. Altgled impressed up...more
Exhaustively researched and compelling biography of a fascinating and complex man. Farrell does a great job of focusing his story on what the reader would likely care most about: Darrow's work and cases. He is masterful at keeping the early life history brief, only really providing the depth and detail needed to understand the man and put his public and private life in an meaningful context.

To borrow from Whitman, Darrow contained multitudes. Farrell paints a potrait of the man and his often con...more
Andy Miller
This was a well written, thoroughly researched and balanced biography of Clarence Darrow. It is also clearly a book for that time, partly due to Darrow's involvement with the people and the issues from the 1890s through the 1920s.

The sections on Darrow's trials were as suspenseful as any crime novel you could read. Especially interesting were the sections on the trial of Wobblies for the bombing murder of an Idaho politician. Darrow goes head to head against William Borah who later becomes a pro...more
Statues and busts have advantages over the heroes and icons they depict. Any imperfections are superficial, unlike human flaws. Their character is fixed, not subject to further research and analysis. But anyone who insists folk heroes must be paragons of virtue ignores the reality of human nature. Even -- and perhaps especially -- those with shortcomings possess the attributes necessary for significant accomplishments.

Proof of that is seen in John A. Farrell's new biography of attorney Clarence...more
Clarence Darrow has fascinated me for years. My father is a lawyer and I always tried to imagine that he was some sort of Clarence Darrow crusading against the corporations, the racists and the anti-evolutionary forces if necessary.

I decided to read this book because my father mentioned that he wanted a copy. I figured it would be great book for us to talk about. We haven't done that yet.

Farrell gave me a great appreciation for the complex man that was Clarence Darrow. Yes, he was an amazing la...more
David Raffin
One of my favorite scenes in this book is when Darrow is in the south and sits in on a rural southern courtroom to get a feel for the area because he has an upcoming trial. He sees a simple minded man being railroaded and he lunges forward saying, "I'm going to defend that boy!" and his friends drag him out of the courtroom. This book follows Darrow's life through the ups and downs, the big trials and a taste of the little ones done for next to nothing. Long but authoritative rather than dull. T...more
David Schwinghammer
Without a doubt the greatest influence on Clarence Darrow's career as "Attorney for the Damned" was his father, Amiris, a furniture store owner in Kinsman, Illinois. He was the town radical who had a hard time making ends meet, but somehow always found money for books, which he passed on to his precocious son.

Darrow began his career in Chicago working for the city and spent six years dispensing legal advice for the railroads, as Abraham Lincoln had done before him. He quit when his mentor, Willi...more
Bob Koch
Good but not great. A hard slog. Wanted to move on to something else. Wanted to know a little more about the period of time. Also wanted to learn a little more about Darrow.

How to get the damn book off currently reading list??? Wasting time.
Rich Wilkens
Clarence Darrow was a fascinating, complex person. He had sympathy for all, finding something to defend and even love in people others found easy to hate. He believed that in a cruel, cruel world not every action, not every decision and not every crime was entirely under the control of the perpetrator. To execute human beings in a world so full of environmental inducements seemed unfair to Darrow, especially when the defendant was hampered by mental illness or slowness. Likewise, he defended lab...more
Evan Dossey
An excellent and, it seems, very candid look at an icon of American justice.

It includes robust looks at his most important legal triumphs. The McNamara case, the Haywood trial, Snopes, Sweet, and, of course, Leopold & Loeb, are all provided lengthy chapters.

But you can find those written up in many, many books.

"Attorney for the Damned" takes the time and effort to explore the Darrow who lived between those events, the rascally philosopher whose love for money and attention drove him to take...more
Brad Hodges
"And it is for this, gentleman, that I am here today, because I haven't condemned, I haven't judged; I have loved my fellow man; I have loved the weak; I have loved the poor; I have loved the struggling; I have fought for their liberties, for their rights, that they might have something in this world more than the hard conditions that social life has given them."

So said Clarence Darrow, while he was on trial for bribing a juror. He would escape prison, and go on to become a great folk hero. Even...more
Sara Van Dyck
Beyond his rout of Bryan in the Scopes ”monkey trial,” Darrow spent much of his career defending communists, the insane, blacks, bootleggers, young men, union leaders, alleged rapists, corrupt politicians, anarchists, and the poor. He saved the lives of the McNamara brothers, who pled guilty to the bombing of the Los Angeles times – and then was himself accused of bribing jurors.

Farrell’s magnificent biography shows why and how Darrow was so successful, often by uncovering weaknesses in evidence...more
Marc Weitz
I finished this book feeling like I knew little more about Darrow than when I began. Sure, it's 450 pages (minus notes) of Darrow biography, but it was just a collection of stories about Darrow rather than a narrative about his life. Clarence Darrow is renowned to be one of the greatest attorneys ever. His specialty was criminal defense, particularly of those loathed by society, such as Leopold and Loeb, hence the title. However, he often stood up for the rights of those disaffected and took cou...more
I am haunted by the ghosts of the breaker boys. At the beginning of the twentieth century, little boys of 10 and 12 worked six days a week for ten-hour days perched over coal chutes from which they plucked bits of rock. Clarence Darrow, at the time the most famous attorney for the coal miners, described the fate of one such boy as follows:

One day his little companion who always sat beside him leaned too far over as he picked the slate. He lost his balance and fell into the trough where the lumps
Irving Koppel

The author of this work has obviously unburdened himself of a great deal of research into Mr.Darrow's life. The work is quite exhaustive in not only examining Mr.Darrow's life,but also into
the cases which he undertook and usually won. Defending everyone from striking coal miners to crooked
politicians to the school teacher accused of "teaching evolution", Darrow encompassed the many changes
which were occurring in America from the last third of the 19th Century through the first third of the
Clarence Darrow was a man of contradictions. He fought for the underdog and would bribe witnesses and jurors to create a level playing field in the "justice" of his times. He could speak without using his notes for hours on end getting close to the jurors and claiming the attention of everyone in the room. He would take little to no money to fight cases for the labor movement and civil rights. "In 1901, Darrow had created a stir in Chicago by asking: "Is there any reason why a white girl should...more
Jim Twombly
Incredible! I first got interested in Clarence Darrow by watching the movie "Inherit the Wind" as a child. In spite of his very human flaws, Darrow was a true American hero. Much criticised by contemporaries for seeming to abandon his principles, the one key principle driven home by this book is that every one deserves the best legal defense, regardless of their guilt or innocence. Darrow stuck to that principle through all the trials documented by Farrell. Sure, he took money from business inte...more
Adam Ford
I just finished Farrell's biography of Clarence Darrow.

Clarence Darrow didn't move to Chicago until he was 30 years old. He soon got involved in politics and became a city attorney. His next move was to dump his wife and abandon his children for the more exciting life of a libertine mover and shaker. He represented whomever had the money to hire him and fought for big moneyed interests as often as he took the causes of the little men.

But Darrow's politic...more
Slow to start but after the first 1/3 I couldn't put it down. Darrow's complexity was well documented here. The book does not glorify him or demonize him but does document the ways in which he was treated both ways by the public. While he did so much to advance labor and civil rights, he could be really slimy both legally and in terms of his view of women, not mention his sometimes ethically questionable legal tactics. One of these stars is for the way I, as an attorney, appreciated the book. I...more
A brilliant glimpse into the life of an incredible man. As Farrell points out early on, Darrow was indeed a man of great contradictions. Yet throughout the book you're drawn to feel the many tensions at play in his life that could easily lead to seeming contradictions, all in the name of some greater cause.

Darrow lived a rollercoaster of a life. As a lawyer, he was often in the media, at the helm of noteworthy cases. Yet, he seemed to live in constant fear of debt and with enemies around every c...more
The first third if this biography is a bit plodding but once we get into Darrow's first major cases the book becomes very interesting. The Gilded Age was a time when being a labor lawyer meant being a criminal defense attorney. The incidents of violence between labor and management are startling in how they are forgotten today. Even the degree of savagery with respect to the racial lynchings is gone (with the one exception of Emmitt Till). I work near the LA Times building for example and had no...more
What a fascinating book! Don't be fooled by the fact that I appear to have taken nearly two years to read it. I lost my original copy long ago and just recently got around to ordering another. This book was a glimpse into the life and mind of one of the greatest (and most controversial) figures of our time. You can read the synopsis to find out what the book is all about, but let me just tell you that I found it to be very interesting and enlightening. It doesn't paint Darrow as some kind of dem...more
Ideally, this would be a 4.5 star book, but I'll give it the bump. Beyond the famous Scopes trial, good labor liberals know Darrow defended the McNamara brothers in the LA Times bombing case.

He also defended the poor. Mobsters.

And, rich people presumably politically conservative. And, despite his acquittal on charges, he may well have tried to bribe jurors in the McNamara case.

Darrow was sui generis, in other words, and this book shows that well.

He was also a freethinker, a womanizer and more.

Clarence Darrow was an interesting man. He was an attorney for the damned, and for the American labor movement at the turn of the 20th century. Ultimately he bested Bryan at the Scopes trial, at least in the press and public opinion, if not in the courtroom. But he was far from a saint, which makes for a more interesting, if less clear story. He was tried twice for jury tampering, which the book leads one to believe he probably committed (or at least was capable of committing). There is some cou...more
I think I have probably read most of the currently-available biographies of Clarence Darrow, so I was not likely to leave this one unread. Darrow is one of my heroes. He is a perfect hero in that he was a crusader for the downtrodden while a deeply flawed and tormented individual in his personal life.

I liked this book on several levels. First, as mentioned, Darrow is a huge, flawed character which makes for good reading. Second, in the United States we seem to have forgotten the great struggles...more
Finishing this biography, I get the feeling the best description one could really give to Darrow is contrarian. He seems to have infuriated allies and detractors alike over the course of his life. He was strongly anti-death penalty, and a hopeless womanizer. What I didn't get was any strong sense of the man beyond that. Also, in the last quarter of the book, the direct quotes from Darrow's court statements/speeches that ran to pages got a bit tiresome. Yes, I understand that it was one of Darrow...more
Peter N.
If you read only one book about Darrow, make this the one.

Farrell's research is meticulous; the prose is quite good; the many stages of Darrow's personal and professional lives render reading an enjoyable "page turner" and never a labor. One definitely comes away feeling confident what made Darrow tick (and tock). Besides, a reader can skip a chapter if the particular case is of no interest--but it's difficult to conceive that happening, as Darrow's career spanned the great societal upheavals o...more
Jennifer P.
I liked the book quite a bit. The writing was engaging and it seemed that the book was well researched. It did seem to get a bit repetitive about his courtroom tactics and histrionics but I suppose that most people stay in the same groove patterns for most of their lives. Very interesting person, but not very likable. I question his motives for defending some of the people he represented. Leopold and Loeb for instance. The only reason that they were not executed was because of Clarence Darrow. T...more
Joe Willie
An American character of mythic proportions who lived through a time of dramatic societal upheaval in the U.S. Conflicted and flawed, he took heroic stands that were ahead of his time: against capital punishment, institutional prejudice and governmental efforts to squash free expression. He fought for the working man in the face of inhumane industrialization, a time when the labor conflict resembled open warfare. You'll recall episodes of Darrow's life from high school history -- the Scopes tria...more
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