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

Edward J. Larson

Harvard University, paperback edition. 318 pages, 1997

Item# B051
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*** Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History ***

Jonathan Wells' recent book on the scientific Icons of Evolution has been a revelation to many that the house of Darwinism is built on a very weak and suspect foundation. In Summer for the Gods historian Ed Larson reveals that the foundation for one of the foremost cultural Icons of Evolution, the 1925 Scopes Trial, is just as suspect.

The 'Monkey Trial,' as it was nicknamed, was instigated by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge a controversial Tennessee law banning the teaching of human evolution in public schools. What resulted was a trial of mythic proportions. Unfortunately what is remembered about the trial today is more myth than fact. Larson attributes this to two significant sources. The first is the publication in 1931 of the best-selling book Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties and the second is the wide circulation of the 1955 play and the 1960 movie release of Inherit the Wind.� Both media accounts portray the Scopes Trial as the triumph of reason over religion, and yet judging by the debates going on today it appears that the victory cry was a bit premature. Moreover, it is interesting to learn that the fictional work Inherit the Wind was really written as a social commentary against the McCarthyism of the 50's, using the Scopes Trial to draw parallel points from another era.

If you are looking for a detailed account of the trial itself, there are better choices. But if you want to understand the historical, political and religious context of the trial, as well as the myths carried forward by the Inherit the Wind play and the movie, this book is the authoritative source. With almost 40 pages of notes and references it provides a great launching pad for diving into all the details. In fact this would make an excellent class project for a high school or college history class. Work your way through the Summer of the Gods and perhaps the transcripts from the trial and then watch Inherit the Wind starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly and see how well your class does in deciphering fact from fiction.�

Although the authors of the Inherit the Wind play freely admit in the preface that the play is not history, somehow the movie has been indelibly ingrained on the American psyche as a representative account of the 1925 trial. And what teacher will refuse a book from Harvard University Press that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History as your text?

For those looking for a brief treatment of the subject I would recommend Chapter 2 of Phillip Johnson's book Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds.

What People Are Saying:

Edward Larson tells the true story of the Scopes trial brilliantly, and the truth is a lot more interesting than the myth that was presented to the public in Inherit the Wind.

- Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial

Summer for the Gods is, quite simply, the best book ever written on the Scopes trial and its place in American history and myth. The tone is balanced; the research, meticulous; the prose, sparkling.

�- Ronald L. Numbers

Experts will learn much about the background and details of the Scopes trial; the general reader will be drawn into the trial as never before.� Inherit the Wind, step aside!

�- Will Provine, Cornell

From J. Olson - Choice
Considering all the literature written about the Scopes trial, one would question the need for yet another book on the subject. Nevertheless, Larson has done a wonderful job of writing an engaging yet scholarly account of the issues surrounding this trial. Using new archival material from both the prosecution and defense, Larson presents a well-balanced view of the trial and its major players, who are probably as guilty of creating a controversy as they are of resolving one. . . Larson presents a wonderful account of the complex issues embodied in this famous trial. Highly recommended for general readers up through faculty.

From Rodney A. Smolla - The New York Times Book Review �
This Pulitzer Prize-winning account is 'an excellent cultural history of the case.' -- New York Times Book Review

From Booknews
Echoes of the 1925 Scopes 'monkey trial' over the teaching of evolution persist today, as Larson (history and law, U. of Georgia) illustrates in his narration -- based on some new archival material -- of this 'trial of the century' and interpretation of its legacy.

From Publisher's Weekly - Publishers Weekly
The 1925 Scopes trial involving the teaching of evolution has been shaped in current consciousness largely by Frederick Lewis Allen's 1931 book Only Yesterday and the 1960 film Inherit the Wind, based on a Broadway play. Larson explains in this intriguing, lucid history that both sources contained faulty information: the book inaccurately presented fundamentalism as a vanquished foe, while the film more a response to McCarthyism than a reconstruction of the trial inaccurately portrayed the teacher on trial as a victim of a thoughtless mob and the prosecutor, based closely on real-life prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, as a product of that mob. The reality was more complex, reveals Larson. Bryan was both an economic progressive and Christian anti-evolutionist. The American Civil Liberties Union actively campaigned for a plaintiff in a test case, and John Scopes saw the case as a lark. Defense lawyer Clarence Darrow cared less about the ACLU agenda, free speech and academic freedom, than about jousting over the Bible and besting Bryan in court. Though Scopes was found guilty, the judge imposed a minimum fine and the Tennessee Supreme Court managed to overturn the conviction without invalidating the law. Larson, who teaches history and law at the University of Georgia, has ably put the trial and its antecedents and aftermath in appropriate context.

Table of Contents:

Preface

Introduction

Part I
1. Digging Up Controversy
2. Government by the People
3. In the Defense of Individual Liberty

Part II
4. Choosing Sides
5. Jockeying for Position

6. Preliminary Rounds

7. The Trial of the Century

�Part III . . . and After
8. The End of an Era
9. Retelling the Tale
10. Distant Echoes

Notes

Index


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