Clarence Darrow for the Defense

By Irving Stone

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Book by Stone, Irving

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Book details

Paperback, 339 pages
December 1st 1971 by "Signet"

(first published 1941)

Original Title
Clarence Darrow for the Defense
0451134524 (ISBN13: 9780451134523)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


This book has been out of print and my parents bought me a used copy. My father said this was one book that influenced his choice of career and it did the same for me. Stone has a way of writing as if he was in his subjects' heads.


I read this book when I was in my early teens and was deeply impressed by Clarence Darrow's work as a lawyer and advocate for social justice. It's a terrific story that I highly recommend to anyone.

Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma

I enjoyed this book very much. I had a lot to learn in the legal arena from Darrow's life and ideologies. Darrow, a united states attorney and pitted one of the best criminal Lawyers in Chicago and by extension America.

He build his name by defending the working class who turned against him after settling tge McNaras case with the state. However, Darrows insight and the ability to get the best for his clients is at the center of this decision.

He was also charged with attempted bribery of jurors which led to him to nearly quit the legal profession. His reputation and brillianxe iz what enabled him to build back his practice and get new clients. He believed that everybody deserved to be represented by an attorney. Everybody deserved a second chance. The state, he believed, was the biggest violators of human rights.

He was known as America's greatest pleader due to his persuasive closing arguments which earned a lot of acquittals for his clients and even himself when he was in the prisoner's dock.

As an attorney he never relied so much on legal technicalities but the facts of a case.


When I think of Darrow, the phrase that springs to me is ‘hero for the downtrodden, hero for the downtrodden…’ Sometimes he harkens an image like Christ or an image of Lincoln or Socrates or Emerson or whomever's life is denoted upon a crusade for humble truth. And by god, that’s what makes him a hero, the simplicity of his fight. As a friend of his explained him:

Freedom is a favorite word with Darrow. When he wished to express a favorable opinion of someone he would start by saying, ‘He is for freedom.’

His logic was controversial, but honest and challenging. His condemnation of the state, absolutely liberal in the sense that it purports absolute equal justice:

if the state saw fit to incarcerate the breadwinner to protect itself, then it was also the duty of the state to support the man’s family, clothe and feed the children, keep them in school. For no unorthodox theory was more derisive laughter brought down upon him that for this last.

He had progressed from the role of the gadfly, which stung people into thinking, to the point where he was now one of the coutnry’s most effective antidotes, an antidote on the points of stuffiness, moralism, lethargy. Watching his audiences, even as he had watched the expressions of his Kinsman, OH audiences, he found that he had to transpose his adage of “The truth shall make you free” to read, “The truth shall make you mad.” But he did not mind making people mad; he was not afraid of their anger, resentment, hatred. He enjoyed wading in where the going was the thickest. Perhaps if he could make them mad enough he might make them mad enough to start thinking for themselves.

He would have liked to write across the sky, in black ink for the daytime and white ink for the night, “Difference of opinion doesn’t make the other fellow wrong.”

This book is great at letting on to the impeccable character of Clarence Darrow. Darrow was such a significant part of so many crucial trials of the last century: The indictment of Eugene Debs, the Bill Haywood trial, the Scopes-Monkey trial, The Leopold and Loeb trial and even the pushing of the National Recovery Act through legislation in the 1930’s.

What makes Darrow so incendiary, so brilliant and wonderful is his ability to impress sound morality into his quizzical rhetoric. He constantly questions the status quo be it fierce criticism of the judicial system or apostasy towards the interpretations of religion. He was a white man who fought for blacks, a lawyer who fought against corporations, a purveyor of justice who fought for life imprisonment over the death penalty, and an agnostic who crusaded for sense over dictation. He was to the utmost: a hero for the downtrodden.

What makes this book so good, like Team of Rivals, is it follows the mode of autobiography but at the same time succintly lays down a moral philosophy which the man followed throughout his course in law. Darrow was a man shaped by the plight of humanity and the injustice of the world. With brilliant rhetoric that indeed did free innocent people from biased executions all over the country.

A notable chapter is called “Who will Prosecute the Prosecution?” It is an account of Darrow’s defense of members of the Western Federation of Miners in Idaho, including Big Bill Haywood. The prejudice that these radicals faced put in line with their quality of life being put on the table by Darrow is a mesmerizing portrayal of where the psychology of radicals comes from, and a plea to make some kind of redemptive movement to fix it. Here are some excerpts from the trial

Darrow had a very specific way of winding through the idea of guilt, presenting it as a facet of the conditions of life. In an article called “Darrow at the Defense Table” a Chicago lawyer who had watched him in action writes: “In a tight place Darrow would shrug his shoulders and talk to the jury somewhat like this:

“ ‘Maybe. Perhaps. You can’t tell. It all depends. Neither you nor I know. Why take a chance? Give the accused the benefit of the doubt.

“ ‘Suppose the defendant did err. What could you expect rom the environment he grew up in? Was he really responsible?

“ ‘Would you have acted differently that the defendant under the circumstances? Is he to be imprisoned because he did the natural thing you would have done, were you in his place?

“ ‘The question is not how the provocation would affect you or how it would affect someone else. The question for you to determine is “How did it affect the defendant with his particular mental, moral and physical make-up?” Nobody is all good or all bad. Criminal! That word is loosely used. Many are out of jail who should be in it, and many imprisoned should be on the street.’

“The state was interested in only the bad things the accused had done. Darrow would ask, ‘What about the good deeds?’ The state would dwell upon the victim of the crime. Darrow would draw a picture of the members of the defendant’s family affected by the verdict. The state would emphasize the jury’s sworn duty to convict if the facts proved guilt. Darrow would stress the jury’s solemn duty to understand the defender.”

“Maybe. Perhaps. You can’t tell. It all depends. Why take a chance?”

I have been giving accolades to this brilliant thinker when really my best advice is to just pick up the book. If nothing else, it gives you an insight to someone who really used the initiative of a trial by jury to exemplify a morality that was (and is) being built in precedence by every case declared “guilty” or “not guilty.” Darrow understood that each criminal case is not just for the individuals currently being tried, but for a whole mess of individuals who have the potential to be in the same shoes as these unlucky defendants. His cross-examination was expert, due to his prescience, his sixth sense, by means of which he divined those things the witness so determinedly was concelaing behind his words.

His talent in finding a liar was what made him such a good lawyer. It was said he “stunned the judge, the jury, the press and the spectators. He left the witness in a state of panic, little short of hysteria, with a cross-examination which satisfied the people that [the] prosecution was political in origin.”

It all relates to his quest for truth though, his siphoning of the corruption inherent in our legal system which lives until today. He was one of those few quixotic soldiers for the law who wanted simply to make things right for people, to make things fair and equal; and thus, beautiful…

“As a propagandist, I see no chance to grow weary of life. I am interested in too many questions that concern the existence and activity of the human race. I have more and more come to the firm conviction that each life is simply a short indivdual expression and that it soon sinks back into the great reservoir of force, where memory and the individual consciousness are at an end. I am not troubled by hopes and still less by fears. I have taken life as it came, doing the best I could with its manifold phases, and feel sure that I shall meet final dissolution without fear or serious regret.”


At times the writing was lacking, and yet overall, the story was wonderful. Darrow was a great man, the American Ghandi. Defender of the working man, African Americans, open thought and discussion, and life long opponent of the death penalty, he was the greatest orator of his time, and one of the best minds. Through his efforts defending the Constitution and the rights of people the conditions for the working man improved preventing the US from becoming a nation where a small group had all the wealth and power, where the government only represented business interests, and the working man was a virtual slave. Through his efforts, fundamentalist restrictions against scientific and philosophic inquiry failed, and the groundwork for equal rights and access to the protection of the Constitution for African Americans began. Outstanding lecturer, debater, and legal mind, he was one of the greatest Americans in history, and this book on his life aptly illustrates a man whom I was first introduced to by the movie Inherit the Wind, with Spencer Tracey acting as Darrow, Frederich March as William Jennings Bryant, and the Scopes "monkey" trial was brought to life. I didn't know that he helped get Leopold and Loeb sentenced to life instead of death. I learned much not only about Darrow, but about American history. A fine book.


This took me forever to read. When I force myself to read something because it's "good for me," I usually don't remember it very well. I fear that this fits into that category. Now, that I know more about that era and the strife that lead to litigation, maybe I'd enjoy the book more.

p 7: "The end of wisdom is the fear of God; the beginning of wisdom is doubt."


I recall checking this out of the city library in my youth when I aspired to be an attorney like Darrow, who could hold the rapt attention of a courtroom for hours without relying on notes (using only run-on sentences like this one, I'm sure).

A fitting book #500 for my list!

Lauren Licitra

What an amazing, empathetic, brilliant man. If ever I needed my human rights protected, I would want Clarence Darrow...For the Defense!

Luka Ruklić

„There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.“

This excerpt, found in the vast Goodreads quote collection was the thing that piqued my interest and brought my attention to this book. In the source section, it mentioned Clarence Darrow, a name that I did not recognize, and Irving Stone, the name I recognized instantaneously. The latter I have already known for his outstanding historical fiction novels about Michelangelo and Van Gogh, to name a few.

Motivated by that quote and an epic sounding title, I went on a book hunt. I managed to find a 1971 edition sold on a Craigslist-like site, paid an insane shipping fee, and clicked the Order button. A week later, in my hands I held a worn out, beaten, yellow-paged tome that smelled of the days past. A book that in parallel tells two intertwined stories.

One of the stories is about America at the chasm of centuries. Not the America that we see in our history books, the land of infinite promises and the cradle of freedom. This book shows the other side of that shiny coin. It depicts „those who spin in darkness that other man may be clothed“ - the working people, the immigrants, the outcasts – the lowly of the low. All those who used their own hands and built and produced and in return were treated without a shred of human dignity. Their shifts were never shorter than 12 hours. Their children became a cheap labor force. They were underpaid and afraid will food and a shelter be waiting for them tomorrow. And above them, stood the employer, like „the medieval king who ruled by divine right and whose omnipotent will was not to be questioned.“

Those people were readily prosecuted, discarded, and harassed. Those people rarely had anyone to stand up for them. And that is the second story this book tells. The tale of one of the greatest attorneys that ever stood up for the defense.

He was giant in both stature and character and later in life known under a picturesque nickname: Old Lion. He was a kind and good-natured man, but despite that still hated by many. That lot labeled him as a heretic, an agnostic, a pagan, and an anarchist. Like his clients, he was often marginalized, prosecuted and obstructed every step of his way. Yet, that did not stop him to always go over and beyond the common amounts of empathy to save even the guilty from prison. He was a fierce opponent of the death penalty, a champion of science, and a magnificent orator who could keep his audience under a spell for hours on end.

Clarence Darrow fought for those who had no one else. He defended even the people he disliked, sacrificing himself and his reputation in the process. The imperfect nature of men was clear to him and by nurturing that thought, he became a living embodiment of the old adage: „Hate the sin, love the sinner.“. He always appealed for the greater cause in mind. His topic was often the fight against greed, cruelty, and ignorance. He was a teacher with a lawyer's degree and educated the jury instead of persuading them. To this day, the speeches he produced are regarded among the best that the American courtrooms have ever heard.

He was a truly unique man and reading this wonderful story Irving Stone tells about him might string some very deep emotions. It can make you cry out for injustice you just witnessed or yell out in triumph when the truth is uncovered. And of course, with this book, you are bound to learn a lot of history and see how some things that happened a hundred years ago are eerie similar to things happening today.


Entertaining, but long. Might be more rewarding to read some of Darrow's own writings to get the flavor of his personality. As a socialist and an agnostic he doesn't fit into the easy models of American character such as Jefferson as politician or Edison as scientist. Half of the people hate him, the other half love him. After reading this bio, he might still be an enigma to you. The problem being he is already too far back in time and an exercise of imagination is required to understand his role in the major issues of that era. For a defense lawyer, Darrow is pretty good, but the things he is defending are not always good or easy to resolve. He does what others reject doing, representing the little guy and earning little money while doing it. When his own integrity is put in question all he can do is what he has been doing all along in his career, fight for the underdog. Popularity with the public breeds envy and retribution. Being in a league of your own means standing alone when the mob comes to lynch you. Not a very good place to be standing in. Reminded me of a boxer's memoirs. I hit him with left jab and then I hit him with the right one. Unless you're a big fight fan, it gets a little tedious going round by round with him. He's up. He's down. He's victorious. He's defeated. There is no middle ground here. He's either the good guy or the bad guy. You can't be both!