cover image The Trial of the Century

The Trial of the Century

Gregg Jarrett, with Don Yaeger. Threshold, $29.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-9821-9857-2

Clarence Darrow’s “unyielding commitment to civil liberties and intellectual freedoms” takes center stage in this brisk account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial. Fox News analyst Jarrett (The Russia Hoax) notes that after Tennessee enacted a bill banning the teaching of evolution in public schools, the ACLU looked for a state educator willing to test the law in court. With the encouragement of a local businessman who wanted to bring publicity to Dayton, Tenn., science teacher John Scopes agreed to incriminate himself, setting the stage for a legal clash between Darrow and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant. Arguing that “any discourse over evolution was protected speech,” Darrow struggled to make headway against a hostile judge and a prosecutor who claimed that the teaching of natural selection necessarily “denie[d] the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible.” Though Scopes lost the case and was ordered to pay a $100 fine, the ruling was overturned on a technicality and Darrow “ultimately prevailed in his efforts to preserve intellectual freedom and the advancement of science,” according to Jarrett. Though Jarrett sticks to familiar ground, it’s a colorful and dramatic retelling. Those new to the case will be especially rewarded by this solid look back at one of the most consequential free speech debates in American history. (May)