When it comes to folk heroes, there's a tendency to emphasize the good and overlook the bad. While that may make them better standard-bearers, it can ignore the human traits that made them who they are.
John A. Farrell's new, in-depth biography of attorney Clarence Darrow leaves no doubt Darrow was subject to as many frailties and flaws as any other human being. Relying on correspondence and other documents prior biographers did not have, Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned shows the public and the private man, warts and all.
Darrow rightfully became known as a champion of the underdog and was viewed, quite accurately, as both a radical and a rebel. To a great extent, he was a product of his times and its movements — progressivism, free love, and trade unionism. Farrell examines the role Darrow played in each, whether personally, politically or as a lawyer. The book's descriptions of Darrow's trials and tactics reflect that Darrow's style and effectiveness were bolstered by practicing in an era preceding uniform codes of evidence and in which closing arguments could stretch out over days.
Much of the book focuses on the cases that made Darrow the most famous lawyer in America — Eugene Debs, labor leader William Haywood for the assassination of a former Idaho governor, two other labor leaders for the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building, Leopold and Loeb, and, of course, the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial." As Farrell points out in an endnote, four of these five cases were dubbed crimes or trials of the century by the press. And while Darrow was famous when he arrived for the Scopes trial, "by the time he left, he was an American folk hero."