Play Book Tag discussion

The Story of My Life
This topic is about The Story of My Life
10 views
Archive: Other Books > The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow -- 3 stars

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow
3 stars

This was required reading for my Social Justice class, and I was actually pretty excited to read it. Darrow is a famous legal figure and I was primarily familiar with him because of his defense of John Scopes in the "Scopes Monkey Trial." I was pretty disappointed in the book, but I did learn a lot about Darrow.

I had no idea how many major cases Darrow had been a part of! Everything including defending coal miners during a strike for better working conditions, men accused of murder despite not fitting any of the facts of the crime except being black, men pulled into large espionage rings after WWI under the guise of national security, teachers who discussed evolution, and many others. It really is an impressive list with a high success rate.

A later biographer described Darrow as the "attorney for the damned," and that is pretty accurate. Darrow believed fully that every life was worth defending and he was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, which is why he took on many cases where the defendant was clearly guilty. In fact, Darrow actually seems to not believe in any kind of penalty. He believed that fate and destiny completely controls our lives and that we are helpless to change our course or make different decisions. So, because we have no option, we cannot be held responsible for our actions. I thought a lot of it was b.s. I firmly agree that background and circumstances have a vast impact on the course of someone's life, but I do not believe that it replaces free will.

I also thought he was borderline racist/sexist. Maybe more than borderline. He stated that he had not problems with blacks or other minorities, but it could not be helped that white men were just better. He painted minority defendants with the brush of guilt but gushed about how white defendants were justified in their actions.

The writing just had this tone of superiority and ego that did not sit right with me. Then, on top of that, must of the second half (at least the last third) delved into these philosophical ramblings on religion and travel and education and the penal system. It was just odd. And freaking boring. And self-indulgent. Even though the rest of the book was more focused on cases and his legal/political work, he rarely focused on the circumstances surrounding the case, the facts, or the outcome, but instead it was this very skewed view. I took many grains of salt with this book.

But, none of those things detract from the fact that he did defend both the innocent and the guilty in hundreds of cases during his time. He was the most famous lawyer of his time, and he was one of the greatest orators that the legal field has probably ever seen. He worked for over 50 years on big cases and small ones, and helped as many people as he could. He is etched in history.

Most of all, this book made me want to read something about him that is biographical in nature and more objective. Perhaps Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned.

Bottom line: read about Darrow and learn about this important historical figure. But don't get the information from the horses mouth.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I studied Clarence Darrow in a Criminal Justice class. He was borderline racist/sexist but considering the times it's not shocking. But it is interesting when we go back and read about historical figures, some so prominent in their fields, yet they still make us cringe by words they spoke or actions they took.
All that aside he left a mark and did some great things. Great review.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments Rachel wrote: "I studied Clarence Darrow in a Criminal Justice class. He was borderline racist/sexist but considering the times it's not shocking. But it is interesting when we go back and read about historical f..."

I am a big proponent of judging people based on the social and cultural norms of their era, so he probably wasn't as racist or sexist as other people of that time! I think what really bothered me was that he was so passively condescending to women and minorities while in the next sentence claiming that he was 100% fair and open-minded. And, again, he probably was for his era, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

What I really found interesting was all of the talk of him bribing jurors and that he actually was on trial for that. That was actually illegal and didn't bother me in the slightest given the time! Everyone bribed jurors at that time, even the government.

Interesting that Darrow is a staple in Criminal/Social justice classes! Did you read a book about him or was it just a collection of readings in the class? I am interested in reading something more objective about him.


message 4: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2667 comments Great review, Nicole. I definitely think I’d prefer to read a more objective view - great men (or women) seen through their own eyes are often rather painful. But the intimate view of the cases would be fascinating, as you say.

I get the opposition to the death penalty (shared!) but his theories on lack of any penalty seem unusual - were they based on any particular philosophical theories at the time?


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments KateNZ wrote: "Great review, Nicole. I definitely think I’d prefer to read a more objective view - great men (or women) seen through their own eyes are often rather painful. But the intimate view of the cases wou..."

It seems to be based on more of his personal beliefs. He was a mixture of anarchist, socialist, and rebel from his religious upbringing. He didn't come straight out and say that he opposed all punishment, but there were multiple chapters on how (and I am paraphrasing) he thought that men were incapable of changing their fate and how they were not responsible for their actions/sins because they could not have taken another path.

He said that he didn't think that crime could be punished or deterred through the judicial system, but instead these criminal acts were predetermined by the person's place in society, education, and circumstances. Which, again, the person had no say in because it was fate. Basically, this prevented anyone from actually making the decision to commit a crime, taking away the mental intent that underscored punishment.

I admit that the first half of the book didn't come right out and say it, but he had random thoughts or sentences that made you think twice. Then, the second half of the book was packed full of chapters of him waxing poetic about his beliefs! lol


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Nicole R wrote: "Rachel wrote: "I studied Clarence Darrow in a Criminal Justice class. He was borderline racist/sexist but considering the times it's not shocking. But it is interesting when we go back and read abo..."

We read collections of his readings in two different classes. One criminal justice and another in one of my Sociology classes. In my Sociology class we read more about his thoughts on human nature. That people cannot change their fate, the path that was chosen for them basically. Now while I do believe that there are those in society who are not given the same "rights" as others, such as a better education, better life, better home I don't believe that people can't change their paths. So many have done it. But I can agree that the separation of socioeconomic classes can make life much more difficult for people. I thought he was genius at times and other times I just didn't agree with him. But what an orator he was. And at the time a revolutionary in law. We can definitely take a lot of what he wrote and learn from it. He was certainly ahead of his time.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments Rachel wrote: "Nicole R wrote: "Rachel wrote: "I studied Clarence Darrow in a Criminal Justice class. He was borderline racist/sexist but considering the times it's not shocking. But it is interesting when we go ..."

Interesting that you read more about his deterministic viewpoints! I have only read his book, and we talked about the shades of that in his book, but it sounds like there is lots more out there on that aspect. I will have to poke around a bit.

But your comment: "But what an orator he was. And at the time a revolutionary in law. We can definitely take a lot of what he wrote and learn from it. He was certainly ahead of his time." TOTALLY agree with this. I didn't think his book was as well written as some of his opening and closing legal arguments were, but there was definitely passion and conviction in everything.


back to top