AMERICA ON TRIAL: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation—from the Salem Witches to the Guantnamo Detainees

Alan M. Dershowitz, Author . Warner $30 (608p) ISBN 978-0-446-52058-4

Harvard law professor Dershowitz discusses several dozen cases that he believes provide insight into the transformation of the country and its legal system from the colonial period to the present. As the broad historical sweep of the project suggests, he is forced to compromise by simplifying events that are, by their nature, complex. Consequently, readers familiar with these legal cases will find many of his conclusions one-dimensional. The following observation, drawn from the prologue, gives a sense of how rudimentary the historical treatment often is: "The American colonists were generally familiar with the stories of the Bible." Although Dershowitz claims to have read more trial transcripts than any other living lawyer, his recounting of the legal proceedings is remarkably lackluster. The whole enterprise has more than a little scent of student research about it, supplemented by observations that those familiar with the author's various hobbyhorses willrecognize: his contempt for Justices Scalia and Thomas, whom he implies would have voted to uphold slavery had they participated in the Dred Scott decision; his own self-aggrandizement as he offers critiques of other lawyers, such as Clarence Darrow and Robert Bennett; and his love for the cliché masked as insight—"[T]he acquittal of a guilty murderer may also constitute a miscarriage of justice." While the book reminds readers of many interesting cases that have lapsed into relative obscurity, it is not the place to look for their elucidation. Agent, Helen Rees. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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