Clarence Darrow is best remembered as the defense attorney in some of the most famous (and infamous) cases in American legal history. With his brilliant closing argument that saved the thrill killers Leopold and Loeb from the gallows and his impassioned defense of John T. Scopes’s right to teach evolution in the classroom, Darrow became a legend even in his own time. But such a towering reputation often obscures the man behind it, and attempts to shoehorn him into a single political party due to his long association with the labor movement have only further muddled his legacy. As the historian Andrew E. Kersten shows in this insightful biography of America’s most celebrated lawyer, neither Darrow’s courtroom performances nor his politics define his career or enduring importance. Going well beyond the familiar story of the socially conscious lawyer and drawing upon new archival records, Kersten reveals that Darrow was an iconoclast driven by the rising interference of corporations and government in ordinary working Americans’ lives. In the face of the country’s inexorable march toward modernity, Darrow dedicated himself to smashing systems of social control, fighting for liberty and individualism everywhere he went.
Andrew E. Kersten is a professor of history in the Department of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. He is the author of Race, Jobs, and the War; A. Philip Randolph; Labor’s Home Front; and The Battle for Wisconsin (e-book).