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Publishers Weekly, 2004-05-17 Harvard professor and prolific author Dershowitz takes readers on a tour through some of the most celebrated-and intriguing-cases in the U.S. during the past 300 years. He begins with the most famous case in American colonial history-the Salem witch trial, which resulted in the deaths of 19 people-and continues through the current day, with the not yet decided case of the 9/11 detainees at Guant namo Bay. Many of the 60 or so cases are famous (the Dred Scott decision, the Rosenberg trial), but others have been forgotten. Not surprisingly, the number of cases increases as he approaches recent history, and while there are some scandalous cases from the past, the majority of headline-grabbers, such as the O.J. Simpson trial and the Jean Harris-Scarsdale Diet doctor murder, are contemporary cases. Although the book has a cursory feel at times (each case runs only about six pages), Dershowitz displays a keen sense of history to go along with his knowledge of the law: he features cases that highlight changes in American history, and he misses little. He follows a simple format: listing the basic facts of the case, then offering his critique. Regarding the current Supreme Court, for example, he says he is "angry" that in the Bush-Gore decision, the court "took it upon itself to elect anyone at all." Those curious about the history of law will find this primer a good place to start. Agent, Helen Rees. (May 14) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly, 2004-04-12 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 clich? 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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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