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Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion [Paperback]

Edward J. Larson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 3 2006
In the summer of 1925, the sleepy hamlet of Dayton, Tennessee, became the setting for one of the 20th century's most contentious dramas: the Scopes trial that pit William Jennings Bryan and the anti-Darwinists against a teacher named John Scopes into a famous debate over science, religion, and their place in public education That trial marked the start of a battle that continues to this day-in Dover, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Cobb County, Georgia, and many other cities and states throughout the country. Edward Larson's classic, Summer for the Gods, received the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1998 and is the single most authoritative account of a pivotal event whose combatants remain at odds in school districts and courtrooms. For this edition, Larson has added a new preface that assesses the state of the battle between creationism and evolution, and points the way to how it might potentially be resolved.

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If you haven't seen the film version of Inherit the Wind, you might have read it in high school. And even people who have never heard of either the movie or the play probably know something about the events that inspired them: The 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," during which Darwin's theory of evolution was essentially put on trial before the nation. Inherit the Wind paints a romantic picture of John Scopes as a principled biology teacher driven to present scientific theory to his students, even in the teeth of a Tennessee state law prohibiting the teaching of anything other than creationism. The truth, it turns out, was something quite different. In his fascinating history of the Scopes trial, Summer for the Gods, Edward J. Larson makes it abundantly clear that Truth and the Purity of Science had very little to do with the Scopes case. Tennessee had passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, and the American Civil Liberties Union responded by advertising statewide for a high-school teacher willing to defy the law. Communities all across Tennessee saw an opportunity to put themselves on the map by hosting such a controversial trial, but it was the town of Dayton that came up with a sacrificial victim: John Scopes, a man who knew little about evolution and wasn't even the class's regular teacher. Chosen by the city fathers, Scopes obligingly broke the law and was carted off to jail to await trial.

What happened next was a bizarre mix of theatrics and law, enacted by William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Though Darrow lost the trial, he made his point--and his career--by calling Bryan, a noted Bible expert, as a witness for the defense. Summer for the Gods is a remarkable retelling of the trial and the events leading up to it, proof positive that truth is stranger than science. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Few courtroom dramas have captured the nation's attention so fully as that played out in 1925 when Tennessee prosecuted John Scopes for teaching evolutionary science in the classroom. Seventy years later, Larson gives us the drama again, tense and gripping: the populist rhetoric of Scopes' chief accuser, William Jennings Bryan; the mordant wit of his defender, Clarence Darrow; the caustic satire of the trial's most prominent chronicler, H. L. Mencken. But as a legal and historical scholar, Larson moves beyond the titanic personalities to limn the national and cultural forces that collided in that Dayton courtroom: agnosticism versus faith; North versus South; liberalism versus conservatism; cosmopolitanism versus localism. Careful and evenhanded analysis dispels the mythologies and caricatures in film and stage versions of the trial, leaving us with a far clearer picture of the cultural warfare that still periodically erupts in our classes and courts. Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making Monkeys Out of Americans May 6 2003
Format:Paperback
This the ultimate book on the Scopes trail and its depressing impact upon the US. If you are expecting a straight read about the forces of repression and ignorance battling the forces of science, reason, and tolerance you will be sadly disappointed. The Scopes trail had nothing to do with basic biology. It was a battle of lawyers, made for and persued by them for their own, at times rather personal motives.
This books chronicles the advent of trial in the Chemists Shop in Dayton Tenessee when a few leading citizens --- neither clever or passionate Darwinians, nor particularly blathering, foaming at the mouth fundamentalists --- unabashed opportunists who wanted to put an declining town on the map with the trial of the century. Scopes over sodas with both sides decides that he will "have a go" at making it a test case as to whether evolution can be taught in Tennessee -- so much for the repression.
From these humble beginnings starts a third rate farce with everyone wanting to get in on the act. Some were legitimate entities, such as the ACLU lawyers -- very dedicated and committed people -- perhaps the true heros of this saga. But others such as Darrow and Bryan, although obviously acting from deeply held emotions offered no basis to defend their beliefs. Darrow offerred little evidence of what we would know as natural selection, and Bryan could not defend his belief in a Biblical interpretation of the creation ofthe earth as given in Genesis.
The real argument became a legal one with Bryan defending the rights of the majority to teach whatever taxpayers thought they wanted to teach (whether it was correct or not!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping journallistic account! Aug. 6 2002
Format:Paperback
Edward Larson has done us a favor by writing on an often both neglected and misunderstood piece of history in the Scopes trial. The author handles all involved with an even hand minus the kid gloves so often used in the name of 'objective' journalism. Criticism (and praise)is given to all parties when it is deserved.
One glaring problem. The reader quickly picks up that, in Larsons view,- and I tend to agree- the case became more about evolution versus creationism than about whether Scopes violated the Tennessee antievolution law or even the constitutionality of the law itself. So the problem becomes that, in Larsons desire to give us a journalistic account of the trial, he never comments on the issues of law involved. For instance, we know that the defense read the antievolution law to prohibit teaching evolution ONLY if it's account differs with the bible. The defense's challenge was that evolution can be taught in accordance with biblical creationism. Hence, Scopes broke no law. Although the scholars to prove this were never able to testify, it would've been nice to hear comments on legal issues like this one.
I also could've done without some of the tedium of the pre-trial explanation. Some of the detail was repetitive. I'm not sure how many times we needed to be reminded of the fact that the ACLU did not want Darrow's name associated with the trial.
Still, this is a great read that moves like a legal-thriller of the first rate. At last, an author has found a way to give scholarly treatment and serious attention to a trial looked on by many as a joke.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Monkey Myths July 13 2002
Format:Paperback
It is incredibly ironic that the Scopes trial, promised by both the prosecution and the defense to be a battle for the truth, is represented in popular & religious culture and, most unfortunately, taught in classrooms in a largely false manner. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in History for good reason; it is the first (and best) attempt to accurately reflect not only the Scopes trial but also the events before it and the three-quarters worth of a century that followed.
As one who fell asleep while trying to watch "Inherit the Wind," I find the truth far more rivetting. The bredth of the defense team.. and the strong convictions and performances of Arthur Garfield Hays and Dudley Field Moore are entirely bypassed in popular history.
The only fault with the work is Larson's apparent effort to be so objective that no one is offended. This causes him to refrain from defending Darrow from years of attacks for his "cross-examination" (outside the presence of the jury and ultimately stricken from the record) of Bryan. The prosecution-- and Bryan in particular-- had promised/threatened/guaranteed a showdown.. to prove that evolution was false, especially if one accepts a literal reading of the bible. The reason Bryan was called to the stand and Darrow was able to question him as he did without the jury present is because the PROSECUTION changed strategies. Unable to find a single competent scientist to support its view, the prosecution was forced to argue against Malone's efforts to show that christianity and evolution were compatable. By keeping out the evidence of the defense's religious and scientific experts, the only defense left was to demostrate the absurdity of Bryan particular views.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but favors humanistic view
Sadly, it is only too true that in modern-day America, to get a truly lucid view of facts and history one often has to look to secular scholars. Read more
Published on Feb. 17 2004 by Suppresst
4.0 out of 5 stars History as Myth, a careful reinterpretation
I come to the book as part of a self-directed study of the issues involved in the creation-evolution-design debate(CED). Read more
Published on Oct. 23 2003 by R. M. Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Work on The Scopes Trial
This was a very good book. Having the whole fiasco narrated in such detail completely changed my impression of both the defense and the prosecution. Read more
Published on Oct. 9 2003 by Benjamin B. Eshbach
5.0 out of 5 stars The most publicized misdemeanor case in American history
Edward Larson has accomplished something wonderful with this book. In only 266 pages (318 including footnotes and index), he has captured the flow of cultural issues surrounding... Read more
Published on June 14 2003 by Craig Matteson
4.0 out of 5 stars The Monkey Myths
It is incredibly ironic that the Scopes trial, promised by both the prosecution and the defense to be a battle for the truth, is represented in popular & religious culture and,... Read more
Published on June 12 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story
This is the story of the infamous Scopes trial (aka the monkey trial). It starts with a history of the event and the major players and then goes into a fairly detailed description... Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2001 by Marceau Ratard
4.0 out of 5 stars The way it really happened is also a good story
In the 1960 movie "Inherit The Wind", which has been remade twice, a principled teacher stands up for academic freedom by teaching evolution and is arrested for it in a... Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2001 by Pat Dewees
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Narration and Scholarship
Larson does an excellent job of both telling a compelling story and demystifying the Scopes trial. He really brings a systematic approach to his own study of events, and his... Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2001 by Nichomachus
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a true accounting!
Inherit the Wind is good entertainment... but it's entertainment, and only loosely based on facts. Read this book, if you're interested in the true story of the Scopes trial. Read more
Published on July 25 2001 by "ltrent@amgen.com"
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but NOT the definitive history
As all the other reviews will make clear to you, Larson has written a strong narrative history of the Scopes "Monkey Trial". Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2000
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