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Publisher's Summary

The courtroom trial has fascinated human beings from the beginning of recorded history. Trials are theater, trials are history, and the great trials of the 20th century and beyond provide a unique window into American history and the sense of America's enduring commitment to law.

It was Alexis de Tocqueville who, when he visited the new republic for the first time, said that America was a unique country when it comes to law. Every great issue eventually comes before the courts.

With this in mind, esteemed professor and civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz looks at history through the prism of the trial, because a trial presents a snapshot of what's going on in a particular point in time of the nation's history.

What's a great trial? People will often say the trial of the moment. But those trials are often not enduring. The focus of this course is on landmark trials and the important, dramatic aspects of the history of the time in which they occurred.

©2006 Alan M. Dershowitz (P)2006 Recorded Books, LLC

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

I'd rather be able to rate each section.

This is a book that has 5 star segments and 1 star segments. A better title is "Dershowitz talks about cases he finds interesting," but that's not bad in and of itself. Any legal scholar does that to some extent. And when he stops to talk actually about law, he offers some really interesting points, what I think of as the best kind of ideas, the ones that give you new ways to think about things, or help you focus why you disagree. However, a considerable portion of the lecture is also dedicated to "Dershowitz retries cases," which is at best dull, and at worst a cheap act of dirty pool, specifically at the points where it's plain he's just trying to win a lost case by turning around public opinion. The historical parts are about average, where his analysis is solid if a bit unremarkable. So, listen, but feel free to skip parts.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Alan
  • Sunrise, FL, United States
  • 04-13-11

Good lecture series.

Let me start off by saying im a republician and my views are right of center. I knew going into this book that the author was left of center without being etreme so I prepared myself for the inevidable differences of opinion. Alan Dershowitz certainly interjects his opinion throughout the lectures. Nowhere is this more evident then in the section about Bush v. Gore. Mr. Dershowitz deals exclusively with the 5 - 4 decision to halt the recount but doesnt go into the courts rationale for it. Additionally no mention is made of the 7 - 2 decision in the same opinion which clearly ruled that there was a violation of the equal protection clause.

Also, Mr. Dershowitz lists the retrial of Klaus von Bulow as one of the great trials ( Mr. Dershowitz was the appeals lawer for Bulow ) I would have thought the Jack Ruby trial or the Al Capone trial more significant.

Alan Dershowitz is one of the greatest lawyers / educators alive. His lecture series is highly entertaining as well as informative. Buy this audiobook

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Skewed

The cases included in this series were not fundemental and most had no lasting impact on our court system. The cases reviewed were media sensational cases, although all very interesting. I think, however, that the cases were chosen for another reason. Each had some social implication he could champion. While I agreed with his conclusions on the facts of almost every case he chose to review, his opinions marred the presentation.
He defends judicial activism and then condemns conservative judges for doing so. I hope that history will condemn both left and right for this practice.
His treatment of Roe v Wade was fair, but ultimately tainted by a long lecture of his personal views, which I do not share. Most of the justifications for his opinions would not stand up to even a mild scrutiny of logic. The fact that european countries have abolished the death penalty is presented as a reason we should do so.
The only case that was shockingly and irresponsibly misrepresented was the Al Gore presidential vote counting case. He presented no argument, claiming that this was the "worst decision in the 200 year history of the Supreme Court" and that the Supreme Court "may never regain credibilty." Not one actual legal fact or argument was introduced to support this. He cited no law or precedent. He just went on about Sandra Day O'Connor's alleged preference for who would win as though that made her incapable of fairness or legal reason. Mr Dershowitz is billed as a professor, but is clearly just a lawyer trying to persuade.
There is a wealth of cases both state and federal which actually did change our legal system. None of my top 10 were in this book.
While I did learn details about some cases I would not have otherwise looked into, if you are interested in cases that actually did change our legal system try "Men in Black" by Mark Levin.
I love the Modern Scholar series and will not let this deter me from enjoying other installments

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Worth it, but not a must listen

I really enjoyed this lecture series. Like some other reviewers, I found some of the choices of which cases to include a little odd. Some of the cases, if you know much about them already--Leopold and Loeb, Saccho and Vinzetti--are kind of superficial and uninteresting. And some of Dershowitz's points are just not that interesting--that S&V got a bum deal because they weren't well connected. Shocking, shocking that that could happen. But Dershowitz has enough interesting insights and perspectives and just interesting personal stories to make the series interesting. For example, Scopes, of Scopes monkey fame, wasn't just teaching evolution, he was teaching eugenics. Ethel Rosenberg was almost certainly innocent while Julius was almost certainly guilty, and the prosecutors knew it and sought the death penalty against her to put pressure on him. The great majority of appeals, contrary to our impression, are rejected; and often, whatever the law says, you must convince a judge not just that an error was made in the original trial, but also that there's a reasonable chance that the person really is innocent, in order to have an appeal heard. Oh, and the police framed OJ. Which is not to say that he wasn't guilty--he was--but the police also undeniably planted evidence.

Dershowitz has a great deal of force of personality, and is a great lecturer. Add to that the number of interesting points Dershowitz makes, and I think it merits buying and listening to this audiobook, but it's not a grand slam.

I can't end this without remarking on how amusing it is to listen to Dershowitz contort himself during the OJ section, explaining how it would be inappropriate of him to speculate in a case he helped defend about the actual guilt or innocence of the defendant, and then to hear him go on in at least two more cases he personally defended to say that he genuinely believes the person was in fact innocent.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Very Good, but...

Echoing some of the previous reviews, some of the cases included would beg the question of whether these were "courtroom battles that changed our nation" or just "courtroom battles that I was involved in." That being said, with the exception of two cases, it is extremely interesting and informative. Very much worth listening to.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

A mixed bag

Parts of this book are thought provoking and interesting. Other parts left me wondering why they were included. I felt like the instructor was singing his own praises a bit. Still, my understanding of how courts cases proceed has been enhanced.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Rachel
  • YAKIMA, WA, United States
  • 05-03-14

I'm a bit disappointed, I guess

The book was interesting enough in particulars, but I guess I wasn't expecting so many of the cases to be ones with which we're all fairly familiar. It was interesting to hear some of the stuff that went on behind the scenes or after the verdict, and I suppose this information flushes out our understanding of Roe V Wade, The Scopes Monkey Trial and the Mike Tyson trial, but I didn't find the impact of most of the cases mentioned to be particularly compelling. As for the interesting cases (Roe v Wade and Scopes), the author didn't reveal much I couldn't have guessed about the impact or repercussions of these cases.
Maybe I was expecting more of a history of the supreme court or then evolution of jurisprudence in the US.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Tina
  • Marion, IN, United States
  • 03-23-11

Awesome!

I always want to know why. This book gives me the whys of the most captivating trials of the past 100 years. Very interesting!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Marcus
  • Brasília, Brazil
  • 06-21-18

The Development of Law in America

Law in America is at some degree a judge made law. This course provides a glimpse in some of the most important Supreme Court’s decisions and traces its understanding of the Constitution. The various approaches of its text are exposed and linked with political facts and manifestations of others branches of government. Professor Friedman describes the Supreme Court jurisprudence in a clear and enlightening way.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Significant American Judicial Decisions

Read with enthusiasm by its brilliant author, Alan Dershowitz, I was humbled by the amount of teaching that goes on in this book.

It opened my eyes to how interesting the judicial process can be when it is discussed by someone who really understands it, and is able to explain it in a way any literate, interested person can understand.

An important read for all Americans, or anyone who wants to understand much of American judicial history, described in a way that puts into a perspective relevant to all.

It made me want to share it with a review; I think this is my first one.

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • allison
  • 04-24-17

terrible

absolutely terrible. I only listened for a hour and the monotony of the author is enough to make your ears bleed