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1998 Pulitzer Prize Winner

cover Summer for the Gods :
The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion

by Edward J. Larson
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Hardcover, 336 pages
Published by Basic Books
Publication date: June 1997
Dimensions (in inches): 1.09 x 9.56 x 6.49
ISBN: 0465075096

    Amazingly, no book has been published for forty years, based on primary scources, about this landmark court case on religion, science, and education. It is all the more amazing that the topic continues as controversial. But the advantage has shifted. Although those who demand that Christian creationism be taught in schools are still out there, and still vocal, their cause is no longer in the ascendency. For, despite any moral victory gained in the Scopes trial, John Scopes was still found guilty, and had to pay a $100 fine for teaching evolution.
    These days, the fundamendalists are on the defensive, routinely losing their battles to have "Creation Science" given equal billing with evolution. That they have retreated to this position, rather than demanding censorship for the Theory of Evolution, shows a basic shift in the way people think.
    It is good to see a new book on the Scopes Trial not only written, but winning the Pulitzer Prize. It will perhaps shed some light on the other big issues of the day concerning education and religion, like prayer in school, and government education vouchers for private religious schools. Larsen has also written on the related subjects of eugenics, as a manifestation of the conservative theory of Social Darwinism, and euthanasia, which the several trials of Dr. Kevorkian have brought to public consiousness.

Reviews and an interview with the author

Other Books by Edward J. Larsen:

Sex, Race, and Science : Eugenics in the Deep South ~ Ships in 2-3 days
Edward J. Larson / Hardcover / Published 1995
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Sex, Race, and Science : Eugenics in the Deep South ~ Ships in 2-3 days
Edward J. Larson / Paperback / Published 1996
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A Different Death : Euthanasia & the Christian Tradition
Edward J. Larson, Darrel W. Amundsen / Paperback / Published 1998
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(Not Yet Published -- On Order) Available in May. You can order now.

Trial and Error : The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution
Edward J. Larson / Paperback / Published 1989
(Publisher Out Of Stock)
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Books on Evolution and Creationism:

The old question of "Which came first, the chicken or the egg," actually has a simple, unambiguous answer. The trouble is that there are two simple, unambiguous answers, and which is correct depends largely on the world view of the person answering. For the scientist, the answer is, "The first true chicken egg came before the first true chicken, since the egg was laid by the almost-chicken that preceded it in the evolutionary process." For the fundamentalist Christian, the answer is equally obvious--"The first chicken was created by God, and then laid eggs to produce more chickens." This is the crux of the problem. There is no real debate, because the two sides to the Evolution/Creation problem start with different outlooks, assumptions, and philosophies.

The Origin of Species : By Means of Natural Selection
or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

by Charles Robert Darwin
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Paperback/New American Library/August 1991

Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist
by Adrian Desmond, James Moore
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Paperback/W.W. Norton & Company/June 1994
ISBN: 0393311503
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Animal Species and Their Evolution (Princeton Science Library)
A. J. Cain / Paperback / Published 1993
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Abusing Science : The Case Against Creationism
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Philip Kitcher / Paperback / Published 1984
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But Is It Science? :
The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy

(Frontiers of Philosophy)
Michael Ruse (Editor)
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Paperback, 406 pages
Published by Prometheus Books
Publication date: August 1996
ISBN: 1573920878

Huxley : From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest
by Adrian Desmond
Though I don't care for the title's implication that science is a religion, this is a good biography of Thomas Huxley, who helped popularize the Theory of Evolution.
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Hardcover, 832 pages/Addison-Wesley Pub Co/October 1997
ISBN: 0201959879

The Monkey's Bridge :
Mysteries of Evolution in Central America

by David Rains Wallace
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Hardcover, 304 pages/Sierra Club Books/October 1997
ISBN: 0871565862
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Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes
by Stephen Jay Gould
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Paperback/W.W. Norton & Company/April 1994
ISBN: 0393311031
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The Darwinian Revolution : Science Red in Tooth and Claw
by Michael Ruse
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Paperback/University of Chicago Press/August 1981
ISBN: 0226731650
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Books on the Scopes Trial and other Court Cases

Six Days or Forever? :
Tennessee V. John Thomas Scopes

by Ray Ginger
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Paperback, 258 pages/Oxford Univ Press/1974
ISBN: 0195197844
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Books on Eugenics:

The Nazi Connection:
Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism

by Stefan Kuhl
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Hardcover, 166 pages/Published by Oxford University Press
Publication date: February 1994
ISBN: 0195082605
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The Eugenic Assault on America : Scenes in Red, White, and Black
by J. David Smith
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Hardcover/Published by George Mason Univ Pr Trade
Publication date: January 1993
ISBN: 0913969532
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Books on Euthanasia:

Arguing Euthanasia : The Controversy over Mercy Killing, Assisted Suicide, and the 'Right to Die'
by Jonathan D. Moreno (Editor)
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Appointment With Doctor Deathby Michael Betzold
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Paperback, 346 pages/Momentum Books Ltd/1993 Read more about this title...

Reviews and Commentary for Summer for the Gods : The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion

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.

Amazon.com Interview

A Real Trial of the Century

The real history of the Scopes trial is even more fascinating than the myth.

In Summer for the Gods, historian Edward J. Larson examines one of the most mythologized trials of the 20th century--the prosecution of Tennessee teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution to students in violation of state law, in which Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan clashed vehemently over the meaning of Scripture--and reveals the fascinating truth that has been obscured by idealized versions from creationists, evolutionists, and the world of stage and screen. A few months before the Pulitzer Prize committee recognized Summer for the Gods as the best history book of 1997, Larson spoke with Amazon.com's Ron Hogan about this landmark moment in American history.

Amazon.com: You've been dealing with the debate between science and religion for some time.

Edward J. Larson: My first book, Trial and Error, which was published by Oxford in 1985, was a history of the creationism/evolution controversy with a focus on the ways that law has attempted to mediate social disputes in America. I followed that controversy from shortly after the publication of The Origin of Species to then-current events.

The Scopes trial is only a tiny part of that overall story, but I've found over the years that more people ask me about it than anything else in the book. I'd moved on to other topics, but a few years ago a colleague suggested I write a book on the Scopes trial. The last historical book about the trial had been Ray Ginger's Six Days or Forever? back in 1958. I knew from my previous research that there had been a lot of new archival resources that Ginger hadn't had access to. William Jennings Bryan's papers were now available, as well as those of some of the other prosecutors, and the ACLU papers were also available; they were essential since it was the ACLU who had instigated the trial. From those materials, I was able to get a fairly complete written record of both sides' trial strategies.

I'd always been fascinated by William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, and what really happened in Dayton is even more fascinating than the legend. The trial itself is such a wonderful event, and not just because of the creation/evolution debate. It addressed much larger issues, such as what Americans conceive of as individual rights, the tensions between majority-driven democracy and individual rights ... there was much more at stake at the trial than the fight between science and religion.

Amazon.com: As you say, the book presents a great opportunity to debunk some of the legends around the Scopes trial. Towards the end, you quote Stephen Jay Gould (from Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes): "John Scopes was persecuted, Darrow rose to Scopes' defense and smote the antediluvian Bryan, and the antievolution movement then dwindled or ground to at least a temporary halt. All three parts of this story are false."

Larson: Stephen Jay Gould is obviously a strong defender of evolution in contemporary America, and if we're just dealing with a straw man version of Bryan at the Scopes trial, a raving advocate of Biblical literalism, then when somebody comes with more sophisticated arguments about design in the universe, we see that as something different and aren't as prepared to respond. Bryan was making quite sophisticated arguments for creationism, and doing it long before Scopes. He was not a fundamentalist; he was a leader in the mainstream Presbyterian church, and he was strongly concerned about other issues besides creationism. Remember, he'd been nominated for president three times. And if we know what really happened, we can draw more relevant lessons for today than we can from the straw men and stereotypes of Inherit the Wind.

Not that Inherit the Wind isn't a wonderful play; it is. But as I point out in the book, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee were more concerned with commenting on McCarthyism than creationism. Joe McCarthy was much more of a bully like the Brady character in the play than Bryan was historically.

Amazon.com: In fact, Bryan was much more liberal than many today give him credit for being.

Larson: One political commentator of the day said that Bryan was the closest thing to a socialist that the American mind could tolerate. You could argue that he was the most radical presidential candidate ever nominated by a major party. He was the father of the modern Democratic party; before he took it over with the famed "cross of gold" speech at the 1896 convention, it was the conservative party, the party of slavery, of states' rights. While the Republicans weren't exactly liberal, they did have moderate and progressive elements such as James Blaine and Theodore Roosevelt, within the party. Bryan led the Democrats into the liberal camp with his arguments against the robber barons, against the exploitation of labor, against expansionism and imperialism. He spoke out for female suffrage.

He was not viewed as a conservative or a traditionalist, but he was always a devout Christian. Christianity provided the motivation for his liberalism, and while he himself was not a Christian socialist, he had ties with various Christian socialists in Britain and America. Christianity was the source of his zeal for labor reform, for pacifism, for anti-militarism.

He was troubled by Darwinism, not so much by evolution itself, but by social Darwinism, which was appealing to some people in big business and the military as a justification for exploiting the "weak." And he believed that the idea that humans evolved naturally, without divine intervention, undermined belief in God. When he began to speak out against teaching evolution, he found that he had attracted a new group of followers, entirely different from those who had been in his camp before. Fundamentalists began to rally to his side in support of this new cause, even though he continued to espouse his usual liberal beliefs. Some of his strongest allies in the anti-evolution movement had never voted for him, and some of his closest allies broke with him on this issue, including Clarence Darrow, who had previously campaigned for Bryan. Many of the ACLU leaders had been Bryan Democrats as well.

Amazon.com: You also write about the tensions between Darrow and the ACLU.

Larson: The ACLU and Darrow had very different ideas about what the case meant. The ACLU deliberately instigated the case; there had never been any intent in Tennessee to enforce the law. They bought ads in Tennessee newspapers volunteering to represent any teacher who would teach evolution so that they could test the constitutionality of the law. The people of Dayton thought it would be a great publicity stunt, and they made an arrangement with John Scopes.

Clarence Darrow felt very strongly that Christianity often led people to become judgmental and too conservative for his tastes. He did not believe in the Bible, though he would waver between calling himself an atheist or an agnostic. He had made a name for himself across America as a debunker of Christianity, and when Bryan joined the prosecution of the Scopes trial, he volunteered his services to Scopes personally, not through the ACLU, who had already arranged for former Supreme Court justice Charles Evan Hughes, a respected progressive Republican, to defend Scopes. Darrow knew that the ACLU's sole concerns in the case were individual liberty and academic freedom. But he wanted to get in there and ridicule the fundamentalists, and he transformed the nature of the trial by his participation.

Amazon.com: The O. J. Simpson trial was called the "trial of the century" in part because of the oversaturation of the media coverage. I was fascinated by your description in the book about the same process taking place during the Scopes trial.

Larson: Both trials were creations of the media. They were both called the "trial of the century" before they even began. Before Bryan and Darrow even set foot in Dayton, you could see the headlines. Of course, they had a "trial of the century" almost every year back then; they'd already had the Leopold-Loeb murder trial, the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, the Fatty Arbuckle trial...

The media wasn't quite as legion as it was in the Simpson trial, but they certainly did everything they were capable of doing. It was the first nationally broadcast trial in American history; they had special telephone lines running from microphones in Dayton all the way to a radio station in Chicago. Over 200 reporters attended, including the best journalists at every major paper in the country. Hundreds of miles of telegraph wire were hung to accommodate the reporters. They were even teletyping from machines set up in the back of the courtroom, so that most major papers printed transcripts of the entire weeklong trial. It was reported afterwards that more words had been telegraphed to Europe about the Scopes trial than about any other event in the history of the telegraph.

A cow pasture outside Dayton was turned into the county's first airstrip so that film companies could fly out newsreel footage shot in the courtroom at the end of the day. They would show the footage that same night in theatres in New York, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago, after which copies were made to distribute nationwide.

Amazon.com: What's your next project going to be?

Larson: My plan is to write a history of the scientific research that's been done on the Galapagos Islands. The most famous research, of course, is Darwin's, which provided the foundation of his theory of evolution, but a lot of work has been done there. In fact, some of the work of just a few years ago is amazing. The Beak of the Finch discusses that research, and when I first saw it, I was afraid that my book idea had been taken. But it doesn't get at what I want to write about, which is the overall history of how one small group of islands have influenced not just science, but the way we think about what life is and how it came to be the way it is. The New York Times Book Review, Rodney A. Smolla:
Edward J. Larson provides an excellent cultural history of the case in Summer for the Gods, though his book is wanting as trial drama.... Bryan's and Darrow's ghosts still haunt us, and the Scopes trial still holds resonance, as we continue to litigate the role of religion in public life and the power of the state to prescribe what shall be taught in public schools. Read Summer for the Gods for that well-told story. For the trial of the century, rent the movie.

From Booklist, 07/19/97:
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.
Copyright© 1997, American Library Association. All rights reserved

For the first time in 40 years, and including never-before-published archival material, this book offers a provocative new look at the notorious 1929 Scopes Trial, the case that sparked a debate over teaching evolution that continues to rage even today.

From the Publisher :
The 1925 Scopes Trial marked a watershed in our national relationship between science and religion and has had tremendous impact on our culture ever since, even inspiring the famous play/movie Inherit the Wind. In addition to symbolizing the evolutionist versus creationist debate, the trial helped shape the development of both popular religion and religious freedom in America. Yet despite its influence on the 20th century, there are no modern histories of the trial and its aftermath. This book fills that void not only by skillfully narrating the trial's events, but also by framing it in a broader social context, showing how its influence has cut across religious, cultural, educational and political lines. With new material from both the prosecution and the defense, along with the author's astute historical and legal analysis, Summer for the Gods is destined to become a new classic about a pivotal milestone in American history.

Customer Comments
vxrk92b@prodigy.com from Bloomingdale, Illinois , 01/20/98, rating=8:
thoughtful treatment of the issues in the Scopes trial.
If your knowledge of the famous Scopes "monkey " trial is based on the movie, " Inherit the Wind", be ready for some debunking of the misconceptions engendered by the film.This is a book about the issues-- scientific, legal, political, religeous and cultura-- that form the basis of the trial and the continuing debate about control of school curriculum and academic freedom.While thoughtful in tone, the drama of the trial, such as there was, comes through.

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