Before the twentieth century was three decades old, there had already been at least three trials of the century, and Clarence Darrow was the lead attorney for the defense in all three of them: the thrill kill trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, the Scopes’ "monkey trial," and perhaps the less well-known trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet and others for murder in a Detroit racial incident. These are the three trials that make up the bulk of Donald McRae’s The Last Trials of Clarence Darrow, and this fact is both the book’s strength and its weakness. While it is true that the detailed stories of the each of the trials make for fascinating reading in and of themselves, it is also true that each one has been written about numerous times. There is little that is new to say about them.
Indeed there are recent excellent books on all of them. John Theodore’s Evil Summer: Babe Leopold, Dickie Loeb, and the Kidnap-Murder of Bobby Franks (2007) is a comprehensive study of that case. Edward Larson’s Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (1997) is an exhaustive study of the Scopes trial. Kevin Boyle’s Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (2004) provides an intensive look at the Sweet case. McRae’s book goes over most of the same ground in much less detail, while focusing his attention on Darrow’s role.
It is not that the other books fail to do recognize Darrow’s importance — they certainly do. It is more that they don't make it the central concern of their narrative. They are all as much interested in the social and intellectual contexts of the trials as they are with the details of the cases. For McRae, it too often seems that the trials are more about Clarence Darrow than anything else. For readers unfamiliar with the three trials, McRae provides most of the significant information; for readers who want a more exhaustive account, the other books would be more likely to suit their needs.