The Trial in American Life by ProQuest


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desire to repair the wounds created by this event for the credibility of America’s
traditional narrative of “Victory Culture.” Now, as the War on Terror drags on,
shaped in part by the catalytic effects of U.S. hypocrisy in preempting interna-
tional nuclear proliferation while failing to abolish its own obsolete and dan-
gerous nuclear arsenal, we should consider how this “wisdom” is taken up as a
resource for other debates in other settings.
Bryan C. Taylor                                  University of Colorado, Boulder

The Trial in American Life. By Robert A. Ferguson. Chicago: University of
  Chicago Press, 2007; pp. ix + 400. $29.00.

In this highly readable study, Robert Ferguson offers critical analysis of the
rhetoric of criminal trials in American culture from the earliest days of the
republic, starting with the trial of Aaron Burr, through the late 20th cen-
tury, including the 1990s trials of O. J. Simpson, Louise Woodward, and Joel
Steinberg. Ferguson traces the roots of the arguments made in court to the
historical moment in which the trials are held, and also observes the impact of
the trials on contemporary American popular and literary culture. His aim is
to draw attention to three dimensions of criminal trials that attract widespread
attention through journalism and political debate: (1) a spread of conflict, (2)
surprise or a turn of events, and (3) iconography.
   Ferguson’s analysis is focused on six landmark trials, each of which illustrates
his three dimensions vividly. For example, he first discusses the 1926 “Scopes
Monkey Trial,” in which all three dimensions seemed to be at work simultane-
ously. The conflict over teaching evolution, which continues to this day, is seen
to have spread widely enough across the United States that a trial in Dayton,
Tennessee, became the object of national attention. Prominent journalists such
as H. L. Mencken attended and offered commentary on the trial, which tran-
scended the plain matter of whether John Scopes violated state law by teaching
evolution in his elementary school classroom, which he clearly did. Instead,
the trial came to represent the conflicts between modernity and tradition, reli-
gion and science, and the regional cultures of the southeas
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