Darrow's Nightmare by Nelson Johnson

Darrow’s Nightmare

The Forgotten Story of America’s Most Famous Trial Lawyer

Darrow’s Nightmare is not a biography but rather the true story of America’s best-known lawyer, the woman he loved, and the worst two years of their life together (1911-13) when Clarence Darrow stood trial as a criminal defendant. But for the representation of Los Angeles attorney Earl Rogers, Darrow’s career might have ended in the City of Angels.

Throughout most of the first half of the Twentieth Century, Clarence Darrow was one of the best-known persons in America, his name as recognizable as most movie stars, athletes or politicians. In the Spring of 1911, organized labor implored him to represent the “McNamara Brothers” The two young men were union ironworkers charged with the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in the fall of 1910, resulting in the death of twenty employees. It remains the deadliest act of labor terrorism in U.S. history. Darrow’s and his wife Ruby’s trip west quickly became a fight for survival.

Darrow negotiated a plea bargain for the McNamaras with the help of the journalist Lincoln Steffens. A short time later, “Labor’s Lawyer” was indicted for attempted bribery of a juror. Powerful people in the City of Angels didn’t want him to leave town, or ever represent the labor movement again. Absent the representation of a flamboyant, charismatic, and troubled genius, namely, Los Angeles trial lawyer Earl Rogers, Darrow’s career might have come to an end in California. Darrow’s troubles were front-page national news for several months, and then lost to history. Nelson was determined to re-introduce Darrow to today’s world.

“I spent five years researching this part of Clarence Darrow’s life. The trial is a powerful story of a little-known chapter, which could have destroyed the career of the most famous lawyer in 20th century America,” said Nelson.

A fascinating portrait of Clarence Darrow as we’ve never seen him before – as a criminal defendant. In Darrow’s Nightmare, Nelson Johnson tells the riveting tale of America’s most famous lawyer as he fights for his life, marriage, career and reputation. I couldn’t put it down.

As was said of Clarence Darrow’s closing arguments when reduced to print, “more interesting than a novel.” Judge Johnson deftly makes use of trial transcripts to bring to life the worst two years of Darrow’s career by weaving two great stories: Darrow as criminal defendant, and the brilliant lawyer who defended him, Earl Rogers.

I thoroughly enjoyed Darrow’s Nightmare. I was unaware of this facet of Darrow’s life until reading this riveting portrayal. The players and background are set very well and the courtroom exchanges provide a vivid picture of trials in California at the beginning of the 20th Century, truly the ‘Wild, Wild West.’

This is an incredible book — a dramatic story told by a gifted story teller. “Darrow’s Nightmare” is as gripping as a novel. The characters involved in this trial are outstanding. I’ll never forget the image of Earl Rogers, Darrow’s extraordinary defense attorney, dressed in his dapper clothes examining questionable evidence with his lorgnette. Nelson Johnson has a wonderful knack of giving the reader the interesting details while keeping the focus on the larger story.