Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Gideon's Trumpet” as Want to Read:
Gideon's Trumpet
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Gideon's Trumpet

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,546 ratings  ·  220 reviews
Gideon's Trumpet is the story of this extraordinary case, from the night of June 3, 1961, when the Bay Harbor Poolroom was robbed, to the moment that Clarence Earl Gideon walked out of the Panama City, Florida, Courthouse a free man, on August 5, 1963.

Gideon's plea to the United States Supreme Court was deceptively simple: he had been denied a lawyer at the time of his tri
Paperback, 277 pages
Published April 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1964)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Gideon's Trumpet, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Gideon's Trumpet

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,546 ratings  ·  220 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Gideon's Trumpet
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 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
Nov 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jul 25, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Frank Stein
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing

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
Catherine Woodman
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it

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
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
The Law is never perfect. It's development is always detrmined by the thinking of the time. Once a principle is considered inapplicable at a certain stage of life, the experts are normally called in to give an opinion as to the relevance of it. This was the case when Gideon filed a motion at the United States Supreme Court arguing that his rights was infringed by a Florida court when he was denied Counsel during his criminal trial.

Abe Fortas, acting for Gideon had to translate his arguments int
Dec 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.

May 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
An interesting book for the details it gives into how the Supreme Court works. We get details on how petitions are made, how clerkships work, how briefs are formulated. (Some of these details are dated and inaccurate for today, and unfortunately a modern reader not familiar with the Supreme Court would have no idea. For example, the composition of lawyers arguing cases before the Court has narrowed a lot.)

The subtitle is rather misleading, though, even though Lewis tries to back it up:

> The ca
Betsy D
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting and thought-provoking oldie. Very well written, it brings the case alive, and the Supreme Court even more so. Gideon was an "irascible" 50+, hard-gambling, four-time felon. In the penitentiary for the fourth time, he tried to appeal his case--this time he was innocent, he said. He should have had a court-supplied lawyer. In 1963, his hand-written, ungrammatical appeal got to the Supreme Court, which had previously ruled that only Federal cases and death-penalty cases w ...more
Sep 08, 2019 rated it liked it
There is very little here of interest to a non-lawyer. Over fifty years old so understandably dated in many ways but of course the sclerotic judicial system is actually largely the same. I wanted to read it because I’m a civil rights lawyer and it’s a “classic” of the genre.

Gideon himself was remarkable—the reprints of his letters and trial testimony show a clear, honest, impassioned self-advocate. And I very much enjoyed the tellings of how Abe Fortas prepared for the case, and the few genuine
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A cool book. Written in the 60s and in both style and substance sometimes its REAL obvious, but its also thekind of clearly formatted non-fiction that comes from good research and an honest enjoyment of the subject. A look at the american justice system when it works
Nov 06, 2020 marked it as dnf-zone
I couldn't do it. I was drowning in details. ...more
Gideon's Trumpet: How One Man, a Poor Prisoner, Took His Case to the Supreme Court-And Changed the Law of the United States explore one of the significant court cases in American jurisprudence, Gideon v. Wainwright. Anthony Lewis writes about the case that gave everyone the right to an attorney whether they can afford it or not. This is part History, Law, and the great American crime novel. He looks at not only the case, but the history of the right to a lawyer and surrounding times diametricall ...more
Andrew Velzen
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
There are many things I dislike about Gideon's Trumpet.

First, this book is more of a legal history book than an actual story. The inner workings of the case are recounted in a very overly formalistic way as if you are reading a high school history book. Further, this book isn't really as much about the case as it is a history of the Supreme Court (including its minutiae and jurisprudence) from about 1930-1960.

Second, I really don't understand who the target audience is for this book. The author
Nov 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, law
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
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Of course I've known about Gideon vs. Wainwright since I was in high school in the 1960s, and I studied the case in law school and taught it in my Constitution and Law class - but I had never read Anthony Lewis' classic until now. In language that any reader can readily grasp, he not only paints a portrait of Gideon, the real human being whose criminal conviction was overturned, but he also provides an elegant perspective on the historical and legal evolution of the Supreme Court's thinking on t ...more
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, law
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
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is on my son's AP Gov reading list. I got about halfway through it when my son commandeered it and inhaled it in two days. I finally snagged it back and finished it. It tells the fascinating story of a man in jail in the early sixties who had been denied representation in his original court case. He eventually worked his way to the Supreme Court and fought for man's right to counsel. It's a little dry at the beginning as it lays the foundation of the case and describes the members of the Su ...more
Jun 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Mar 09, 2010 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Josh Davis
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An amazing account of the different that one man can make.
Dec 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Gideon's Trumpet How One Man, a Poor Prisoner, Took His Case to the Supreme Court-And Changed the Law of the United States by Anthony Lewis
A Call For Justice and Due Process of Law For All Regardless of Wealth
In order for a civilized society to function properly, there must be laws regulating the influence of the government to ensure it does not overstep into the daily life of citizens. The Constitution, for example, has been the backbone of American society since its detachment from the monarchy in Britain. Only after 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified, were Americans guaranteed “certain inalienable rights” like the f
Adam DeBord
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
A relatively simple man of limited means sat alone in a prison in Florida. He is there as a result of a robbery of the Harbor Bay Poolroom in Panama City, which he claimed to be wrongfully convicted. This conviction was the result of his lack of legal representation in court. He couldn’t get one because at the time the court system operated under Betts v. Brady, which did not mandate court appointed counsel for any crime that wasn’t Capital.

He decided to take a Hail Mary throw and write to the
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Civil Action
  • One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School
  • Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams
  • The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court
  • The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
  • Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck
  • The Paper Chase
  • The Buffalo Creek Disaster: How the Survivors of One of the Worst Disasters in Coal-Mining History Brought Suit Against the Coal Company--And Won
  • Let It Snow
  • The Blithedale Romance
  • The Swimmer
  • Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong
  • Law in the United States (American Casebook Series)
  • Among the Thugs
  • Trinity
  • Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution
  • Why in the World: Adventures in Geography
  • Last Train to Stratton
See similar books…
Anthony Lewis was an American intellectual and columnist for the New York Times.

Related Articles

We asked Alice Bolin, author of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession, and journalist-turned-crime novelist Laura...
100 likes · 49 comments