A Civil Action

( 136 )


"The legal thriller of the decade." —Cleveland Plain Dealer

Now a Major Motion Picture!

In this true story of an epic courtroom showdown, two of the nation's largest corporations stand accused of causing the deaths of children. Representing the bereaved parents, the unlikeliest of heroes emerges: a young, flamboyant Porsche-driving lawyer who hopes to win millions of dollars and ends up nearly losing everything, including his sanity. A searing, compelling tale of a legal system ...

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A Civil Action

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"The legal thriller of the decade." —Cleveland Plain Dealer

Now a Major Motion Picture!

In this true story of an epic courtroom showdown, two of the nation's largest corporations stand accused of causing the deaths of children. Representing the bereaved parents, the unlikeliest of heroes emerges: a young, flamboyant Porsche-driving lawyer who hopes to win millions of dollars and ends up nearly losing everything, including his sanity. A searing, compelling tale of a legal system gone awry—one in which greed and power fight an unending struggle against justice—A Civil Action is also the story of how one determined man can ultimately make a difference. With an unstoppable narrative power, it is an unforgettable reading experience.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
December 1998

The New York Times Book Review declared Jonathan Harr's revealing true story, A Civil Action, "a page-turner. So rich and vivid that it becomes a good deal more than a simple, interesting case study." The critically acclaimed bestseller tells the true story of an obsessed young lawyer who gives up just about everything to fight two prestigious law firms and two of the nation's largest corporations on behalf of the families and citizens of Woburn, Massachusetts, whose loved ones died because they drank the water.

Harr has crafted a tale that demonstrates how truth can be more interesting than fiction. Describing a lawsuit that lasted nine years, A Civil Action reveals that even with the best lawyers and evidence on the victims' side, justice can be elusive, especially when it involves malfeasance by powerful corporations. Read how the unlikeliest of heroes emerges when a young, hotshot, Porsche-driving lawyer takes the case, initially with hopes of winning millions, and ends up nearly losing everything, including his sanity, as he is led to confront connected and powerful interests who will do anything to win.

A Civil Action is considered by many to be the best book ever written on the legal system.

From the Publisher
"Whether in truth or fiction, I have never read a more compelling chronicle of litigation." —John Grisham

"A page-turner. Rich and vivid. . . eventful and gripping." —The New York Times

"Once you start A Civil Action, you probably will not be able to put it down." —Washington Post Book World

Randall Short
This book "chronicles a lawsuit brought in 1986 by eight families in Woburn, Massachusetts, against Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace. The plaintiffs charged that toxic waste on properties owned by the giant corporations had infiltrated town drinking water and caused an outbreak of leukemia."
Time Magazine
Library Journal
In the 1970s, it became painfully apparent that the town of Woburn, MA, was the site of a leukemia cluster. No one, however, initially linked the illness to the water supply or to the chemicals dumped there by the town's two largest corporations. As determined parents began to delve into the cause of their childrens' deaths, they found legal help in the form of the self-assured, no-holds-barred Jan Schlichtmann. What began as a pesky assignment for Schlichtmann becomes a compelling and intricate web of justice, money, big business, and emotion underscored by the notion that this could happen anywhere. Harr's skillful empathy in bringing the listener along on this roller coaster of emotion is enhanced by Alan Sklar's smooth handling of the many legal and medical terms. This best seller will be popular everywhere, even in this lengthy unabridged format. [The recent feature film starring John Travolta received critical acclaim.--Ed.]--Susan McCaffrey, Haslett H.S., MI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Gilbert Taylor
Eyeing readers who flock to fictionalized courtroom drama, Harr bets that dramatized nonfiction can compete for their attention. The case he selected, the standard cancer-caused-by-chemicals charge, is less about the validity of the suit than about the snarling courtroom combat between lawyers. While he spoke with both sides, he spoke most with the plaintiffs' maniacally energetic lawyer, Jan Schlichtmann, who took on the case of families who blamed their leukemia tragedies on city water polluted by two deep pockets, W. R. Grace and the Beatrice Corp., whose experienced trial attorneys usually appear in the narrative whenever Schlichtmann meets them while handling the business of the trial. Schlichtmann is definitely, and defiantly, a high-wire act, as he rejects offer after offer even as his creditors crowd closer to his accountant. Drawn as vividly as a character in a mystery novel, Harr's hero walks the precipice of bankruptcy, pushed toward the edge and pulled back by a carnival of forces, not the least his own ambition and brashness. Entertaining insight to litigation that any law-minded reader will follow from first filing to last appeal.
Randall Short
This book "chronicles a lawsuit brought in 1986 by eight families in Woburn, Massachusetts, against Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace. The plaintiffs charged that toxic waste on properties owned by the giant corporations had infiltrated town drinking water and caused an outbreak of leukemia."
-- Time Magazine
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679772675
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/1996
  • Edition description: First Vintage Books Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 153,883
  • Lexile: 1000L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Harr lives and works in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he has taught nonfiction writing at Smith College. He is a former staff writer at New England Monthly and has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine.

Harr spent nine years researching and writing A Civil Action, which was published in 1995, subsequently nominated for a National Book Award, and awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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Read an Excerpt

The lawyer Jan Schlichtmann was awakened by the telephone at eight-thirty on a Saturday morning in mid-July. He had slept only a few hours, and fitfully at that. When the phone rang, he was dreaming about a young woman who worked in the accounting department of a Boston insurance firm. The woman had somber brown eyes, a clear complexion, and dark shoulder-length hair. Every working day for the past five months the woman had sat across from Schlichtmann in the courtroom, no more than ten feet away. In five months Schlichtmann had not uttered a single word directly to her, nor she to him. He had heard her voice once, the first time he'd seen her, but he could no longer remember what it sounded like. When their eyes had happened to meet, each had been careful to convey nothing of import, to make the gaze neutral, and to shift it away as quickly as possible without causing insult.

The woman was a juror. Schlichtmann hoped that she liked and trusted him. He wanted desperately to know what she was thinking. In his dream, he stood with her in a dense forest, overgrown with branches and roots and vines. Behind the woman were several people whose faces Schlichtmann recognized, the other jurors. The woman was trying to decide which path in the forest to take and Schlichtmann was attempting to point the direction. He beseeched her. She remained undecided. A dream of obvious significance, and unresolved when the phone rang and Schlichtmann awoke, enveloped by a sense of dread.

The man on the phone identified himself as an officer at Baybank South Shore, where Schlichtmann had an automobile loan that was several months in arrears. Unless Schlichtmann was prepared to pay the amount due—it came to $9,203—the bank intended to repossess the car, a black Porsche 928.

Schlichtmann had no idea whether or not Baybank South Shore had been paid in the last several months, but on reflection he felt pretty certain it had not. He told the banker to speak with a man named James Gordon. "He handles my financial affairs," said Schlichtmann, who gave the banker Gordon's telephone number and then hung up the phone.

Schlichtmann was still in bed twenty minutes later when the phone rang again. This time the voice on the other end identified himself as a Suffolk County sheriff. The sheriff said he was at a pay phone on Charles Street, two blocks from Schlichtmann's building. He had come to repossess the Porsche. "I want you to show me where the car is," said the sheriff.

Schlichtmann asked the sheriff to wait for ten minutes. Then he tried to call Gordon. There was no answer. He lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. Again the phone rang. "Are you going to show me where the car is?" asked the sheriff.

"I think I will," said Schlichtmann.

The sheriff, a large, heavyset man in a blue blazer, was waiting for Schlichtmann at the front door. It was a clear and brilliantly sunny morning in the summer of 1986. From the doorstep, Schlichtmann could see the sun glinting off the Charles River, where the white sails of small boats caught a brisk morning breeze. The sheriff handed him some documents dealing with the repossession. Schlichtmann glanced at the papers and told the sheriff he would get the car, which was parked in a garage three blocks away. Leaving the sheriff at his doorstep, he walked up Pinckney Street and then along the brick sidewalks of Charles Street, the main thoroughfare of Beacon Hill. He walked past several cafés, the aroma of coffee and freshly baked pastries coming from their doorways, past young mothers wheeling their children in strollers, past joggers heading for the Esplanade along the Charles River. He felt as if his future, perhaps even his life, hung in the balance while all around him the world followed a serene course.

In the garage bay the Porsche had acquired a fine patina of city grime. Schlichtmann had owned the car for almost two years, yet he'd driven it less than five thousand miles. Throughout the winter it had sat unused in the garage. When Schlichtmann's girlfriend had tried to start the car one weekend this spring, she'd discovered the battery was dead. She had the battery charged and took the Porsche out for a drive, but then James Gordon told her the insurance had lapsed and she shouldn't drive it anymore.

Schlichtmann drove the car back to Pinckney Street and handed the keys to the sheriff, who took out a screwdriver and began to remove the license plate. Schlichtmann stood on the sidewalk and watched, his arms folded. The sheriff shook open a green plastic garbage bag and collected audio cassettes and papers from the dashboard. In the cramped backseat of the Porsche, he found some law books and several transcripts of depositions in the civil action of Anne Anderson, et al., v. W. R. Grace & Co., et al. The sheriff dumped these into the garbage bag, too. He worked methodically and did not say much—he'd long since learned that most people did not react warmly to his presence. But the transcripts made him curious. "You're a lawyer?" the sheriff asked.

Schlichtmann nodded.

"You involved in that case?"

Schlichtmann said he was. The jury had been out for a week, he added. He felt certain they would reach a verdict on Monday.

The sheriff said he'd seen the woman, Anne Anderson, on the television program 60 Minutes. He handed Schlichtmann the garbage bag and asked him to sign a receipt. Then he squeezed his bulk into the driver's seat and turned on the ignition. "Nice car," he said. He looked up at Schlichtmann and shook his head. "It must be a tough case."

Schlichtmann laughed at this. The sheriff laughed, too, and said, "Well, good luck."

Schlichtmann stood on the curb and watched as the sheriff turned the Porsche onto Brimmer Street and disappeared. He thought to himself: Easy come, easy go.

*  *  *  

Two days later, on Monday morning, Schlichtmann dressed in one of his favorite suits (hand-tailored by Dmitri of New York), his best pair of Bally shoes, and a burgundy Hermès tie that he considered lucky. Usually he took a taxi to the federal courthouse in downtown Boston, but since he had no money on this morning, he had to walk. On his way across the Boston Common a man in a grimy coat, his belongings gathered into a green plastic trash bag, approached Schlichtmann and asked for money. Schlichtmann told the man he had none.

Schlichtmann walked on, struck suddenly by the precariousness of one's position in life. In a technical sense he was close to being homeless himself. His condominium association had just filed a lawsuit against him for failing to make a single maintenance payment in the last six months. He was also in arrears on his first, second, and third mortgages. By the time the jury had started deliberating, after seventy-eight days of trial, all the money was gone. "You're living on vapor," James Gordon had told Schlichtmann and his partners. The few dollars that came into the firm of Schlichtmann, Conway & Crowley each week were the result of old business, fees on cases long since settled. It amounted to no more than fifteen hundred a week. Salaries for the secretaries and paralegals alone were four thousand. American Express had filed suit against the firm. There had been no payment for more than four months on twenty-five thousand dollars of credit-card debt. Heller Financial, a leasing company, had threatened to repossess the law firm's computer terminals by August 1. If he lost this case, Schlichtmann would be sunk so deeply into debt that it would take five years, Gordon estimated, for him to climb back to even.

But money was the least of Schlichtmann's worries. Oddly, for a man of lavish tastes, he didn't care that much about money. He was much more frightened of having staked too much of himself on this one case. He was afraid that if he lost it—if he'd been that wrong—he would lose something of far greater value than money. That in some mysterious way, all the confidence he had in himself, his ambition and his talent, would drain away. He had a vision of himself sitting on a park bench, his hand-tailored suits stuffed into his own green plastic trash bags.

In the courtroom corridor at a quarter to eight, perspiring slightly from his walk, Schlichtmann began waiting. He knew this corridor intimately. Usually he stood near a heavy wooden bench, somewhat like a church pew, which was located directly across from the closed door of Judge Walter J. Skinner's office. At the end of the corridor, next to a pay phone, a pair of heavy swinging doors opened into Judge Skinner's courtroom. Schlichtmann had spent hundreds of hours in there and he had no desire to go back in now. He preferred the corridor. The opposite end was a city block away, past a bank of elevators, past a dozen closed doors that led to jury rooms, conference rooms, and offices. There were no windows in the corridor. It looked the same at eight o'clock in the morning when Schlichtmann arrived as it did when he left at four in the afternoon. The lighting fixtures were old fluorescent models, recessed into the ceiling, and they cast a feeble light, like dusk on an overcast day. The corridor smelled of floor polish and disinfectant and stale cigarette smoke.

At around eight o'clock, the jurors began arriving for their day of work. They conducted their deliberations in a small room at the end of the corridor, up a narrow flight of stairs, a room that Schlichtmann had never seen. Some mornings two or three of the jurors arrived together, talking among themselves as they got off the elevator. They always fell silent as they neared Schlichtmann. They might smile, a tight, thin, constrained smile, or nod briskly to him. Schlichtmann looked studiously down at the floor as they walked past him, but from the corners of his eyes he watched every step they took. He studied their demeanor and their dress and tried to guess their moods.

The jurors' footsteps receded. In a moment, Schlichtmann was alone again.

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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, December 21st, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Jonathan Harr to discuss A CIVIL ACTION.

Moderator: Welcome, Jonathan Harr! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Jonathan Harr: I'm doing fine, looking forward to this chat.

Korby from Marlboro, MA: What is your relationship like these days with Schlichtmann?

Jonathan Harr: I don't see him that much, but we talk all the time, especially now that the movie is about to come out. During the case -- and while I was writing the book -- I regarded him as a subject of my scrutiny, which perhaps sounds cold and clinical but is nonetheless true. Since the book's publication, I've relaxed a bit, and we've become friends. I should add that I consider myself friendly with just about everyone I wrote about, the possible exception being Judge Skinner. I certainly bear the judge no animus; but we haven't communicated since the book came out.

Pac87@aol.com from xx: Have you seen the movie version yet? How involved were you with the movie project?

Jonathan Harr: I saw an early cut of the movie last July, and two weeks ago, in L.A., saw the final cut three times in four days. I think Steve Zaillian did a superb job with complicated and difficult material. I honestly think it's a great movie. I had no formal involvement in making it, although I met Steve and we became friends before he started working on the screenplay (he both wrote and directed), and he sent me each draft of the screenplay. We'd talk about the screenplays, but I never wrote a word. I also spent time on the movie set, simply because I was curious, and it's a seductive business -- cameras, lights, movie stars, et cetera. And watching other people work is a lot easier than writing.

Stefano from Woburn, MA: I would like to ask Mr. Harr if he has received any backlash from the court system for his depiction of Judge Skinner and the inadequacies of system. Also, have there been responses that support the view of the system as portrayed in the book, whether they be from professionals in the legal world or from ordinary people? Being from Woburn and attending Suffolk Law School, I have a special interest in this case that has touched the lives of some of my close friends, and this story, which reads like a Greek tragedy, is the greatest piece of nonfiction that I have ever read. Both Jan and Mr. Harr have opened a window into the dark courtrooms of America and have allowed the general public to examine the system which was created to protect them. Unfortunately, this time the system failed. Thank you, Mr. Harr, for a wonderful book that has opened many eyes to the injustices of the justice system.

Jonathan Harr: I'm unaware of any backlash, although God knows, something might be afoot in some quarter. Actually, the reception from the legal community has been very gratifying. It seems that many law schools are using the book in Torts, Civil Procedure, Ethics, Trial Practice, et cetera. I gave a talk at Yale Law School last week, and I'm asked frequently by state bar associations to talk. I've been doing a fair amount of it, but the more I do it, the more I feel writers (this one, at least) should stick to writing and not speaking. I made a conscious effort in writing the book to avoid the authorial voice and pontification. I wanted readers to come to their own conclusions. Thanks for your kind words, by the way.

Cindy from Longmeadow, MA: Do you feel there was justice served by the outcome of this case to both W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods? Is there still any pending litigation? It will be interesting to see if the movie follows the facts -- especially regarding the verdict. Hollywood tends to like happy endings!

Jonathan Harr: Was justice served? That's a complicated question to which I usually give a long answer. The short answer: In part yes, in part no. The Woburn families, after all, did get their case into the courtroom, and there are few countries on this planet where that would have happened. And they got a substantial sum of money (although no sum could possibly compensate a mother for her child). But the system also failed, miserably in my opinion, when suppression and misconduct was brought to the surface by Schlichtmann and then both the judge and the appeals court shrugged their shoulders, so to speak. The movie follows closely the arc of the story as I saw it and depicted it in the book. Hollywood does like happy endings, but Steve Zaillian doesn't.

Kara from Washington, D.C.: I know you probably have no say in this, but why John Travolta? He seems to be an odd choice for the role.

Jonathan Harr: As Jan Schlichtmann would say: Better John Travolta than Danny DeVito. Actually, John's a good choice; he can play the selfish rogue and yet you can see compassion beneath the surface. Check him out in this movie -- he really is good. I think he deserves an Oscar, although Duvall is getting the attention; he got nominated for best supporting actor for the Golden Globes.

John from Rhode Island: What are you now working on? Is a second novel easier?

Jonathan Harr: I'm working on a New Yorker story, due last June, I think. I have lots of ideas for another book, but ideas are cheap. I'm looking specifically at medical research and hope to have something underway by March. Will the second one be easier? I don't know, but the learning curve on the first was sure steep.

Kevin from Baltimore, MD: Mr. Harr, reading this book was like reading a legal thriller. Do you read a lot of legal fiction? Who are some of your favorites?

Jonathan Harr: I read Scott Turow's first book, PRESUMED INNOCENT, which I thought was superb; I've read a few of John Grisham's.... That's about it for legal fiction.

Eugene Chung from Cobb County, GA: Why do you think America loves reading courtroom dramas? What is it about the lawyer that is so unpopular in real life, but is extremely popular in book form?

Jonathan Harr: Courtroom dramas are perfect narratives. All narratives require conflict and resolution, and a case -- a lawsuit -- by its nature has both.

Steve Trapnell from Lancaster, PA: I am a writer myself, and I am curious about how you tracked and compiled the information for this book over such a long time. Did you record conversations? Take notes and then confirm them with participants later? How much access did you have to the people you wrote about, and how accommodating were they?

Jonathan Harr: I don't use a tape recorder. I find you get too much dross, and transcribing them is incredibly laborious (and I didn't have enough money to pay for transcription). I take notes on a reporter's notebook, and I try to type up those notes every evening. I write fast, using my own shorthand. I'm scared of tape recorders anyhow; I'm always afraid the battery will die or I'll flip the tape over and record over what I just recorded. I got great access from Schlichtmann and his firm and the Woburn families. Jerry Facher was quite open, too; so was Bill Cheeseman, personally, but he was hamstrung by his client, W. R. Grace, to an extent that Facher was not. I describe briefly in the endnotes of the book how I went about reporting. For the most part, everyone was accommodating. In 20 years of reporting, I'm always surprised by that. But in my experience, people generally like to talk about what they do and about themselves if they've got a genuinely interested listener

Mike from Santa Clara, CA: I want to express my satisfaction with this book. I thought A CIVIL ACTION was a well-written account of something all too common in America. What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you think this type of case happens too often (maybe not of equal magnitude) in this country?

Jonathan Harr: My first thought is gratitude that you found the book worth your while.... On the matter of environmental contamination in America, it is altogether too common, I've learned. I've gotten calls from people from Seattle to Miami, from L.A. to Maine, who've got problems similar to those in Woburn. My heart goes out to them; some of their stories are incredibly poignant and full of desperation for a remedy. On balance, I think the courts are not the place where we'll find solutions. That will come with an increased awareness of the fact that without clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, we cannot exist as a society.

Gil from Ft. Collins, CO: Are there any regrets, or things long after the book has been published that you would change or switch in your book?

Jonathan Harr: I wish that Judge Skinner could have found it possible, in one way or another, without violating judicial ethics, to spend time talking to me. Purely from a narrative standpoint, I would have liked to see the world through his eyes. A valuable writing technique is to see one's characters through the eyes of another, and I would have liked to depict Jan Schlichtmann as the judge saw him. For reasons not wholly clear to me the judge felt he couldn't give me that insight. If I'd had it, I think my depiction of him would have been more expansive and perhaps more understanding. I consider him a good judge who, nonetheless, I believe, made a mistake in this case.

Jossie from New York City, NY: In the end, would you say this case was a positive or negative experience for Schlichtmann? How do you think this case changed him as a person?

Jonathan Harr: Overall the case was a horrible experience for him. He lost all his worldly goods (and he did care about that stuff, too!) and his faith in the judicial system that he cared about and believed in. He's experienced sort of a "second coming" with the book and the movie, though. I used to think it had changed him quite dramatically, much for the worse, but I think now it was a spell of clinical depression that seemed to go on for several years. My feeling now is that he's back, the same old Jan -- somewhat older, somewhat wiser, somewhat less willing to gamble everything. He is, however, a truly unique character. In that sense, I was blessed as a writer.

Matt Smith from Tates Creek, KY: What to you are Schlichtmann's best attributes? What about worst?

Jonathan Harr: He's a guy with incredible energy, the sort of person who, when he walks into a room, turns heads. He's smart; he genuinely cares about issues like the environment; he's quite funny; he's generous. He's also unrelentingly persistent, which is both a virtue and a flaw, egotistical, a megalomaniac. What can I say? He's become my friend, and I like him in spite of -- maybe because of -- his flaws as well as his virtues.

Moderator: Thank you, Jonathan Harr! Best of luck with everything. Do you have any closing comments for the online audience?

Jonathan Harr: Only that I enjoyed this quite a bit. I guess I like talking about myself and my work as much as the subjects of my reporting like talking about themselves. My thanks for some provocative questions.

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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action. We hope they will enrich your understanding of this fascinating chronicle of an epic courtroom battle.

1. When he hears about the lawsuit, Jack Riley is outraged. "I was born and brought up in this town," he says. "That goddamn land is my life, my blood, because that's where I get my water" [p. 103]. How does this apparently sincere statement square with Riley's actions? Does your sense of Riley's character change after his final appearance in court [pp. 480-483]? Is Donna Robbins's pity for him appropriate, or is it misplaced?

2. How do the attitudes and actions of Al Love, Tommy Barbas, Paul Shalline, and Joe Meola contrast with one another? How important is personal honor to each of them, in the face of possibly losing their jobs?

3. Can you understand Anne Anderson's decision not to go to Toronto with her husband? Was it really in Jimmy's best interest to stay in Woburn? Might it not be dangerous for her non-contaminated children to remain in the highly polluted Woburn area?

4. During the jury selection Facher says, "I think it's very difficult for any woman with small children to decide the case on the evidence rather than emotion" [p. 282]. Do you agree with him? Do you think he is correct in saying that a father with young children might not find it so difficult? As Harr describes it, does the jury selection process, and the role of the various lawyers within it, seem to be a good system that ensures an impartial jury?

5. How important is money in winning a suit? As a general rule, will the party with the deepest pockets win? Do the results of the Woburn case support that theory? Is it possible to present a case well and fairly, even from a position of financial disadvantage?

6. When Beatrice tries to settle before the trial, Schlichtmann wonders whether he is "ethically obliged to inform the families of Jacobs's offer" [p. 290]. Is he so obliged? Do the problems that might ensue from this disclosure justify Schlichtmann's secrecy on this subject?

7. Do you find Schlichtmann's dealings with the eight Woburn families to have been sufficiently fair and honest? Was the case taken out of the plaintiffs' hands, and, if so, was such a method essential for an efficient prosecution? Anne Anderson believed that Schlichtmann was patronizing toward the Woburn families, kept them from having any control over their own case, and used them "simply as a vehicle for his own ambition, for his own fame and fortune" [p. 453]. Do you agree with any of her complaints?

8. Judge Skinner believes that the primary motivation in lawsuits over the death of children is "an overwhelming sense of personal guilt." It is not so much the money the families are after, he thinks, as "to have it said clearly that this wasn't their fault" [p. 273]. Is this an accurate description of the Woburn parents' motivations?

9. Is Judge Skinner biased toward the defense, as Schlichtmann believes him to be? Might there be any truth behind Schlichtmann's suspicions of a conspiracy?

10. The questions that Judge Skinner sets for the jurors ask "for answers that were essentially unknowable.... The judge was, in effect, asking the jurors to create a fiction that would in the end stand for the truth" [p. 369]. Do these questions indeed demand too much from a jury of non-experts? Harr suggests that perhaps the case was one "that the judicial system was not equipped to handle" [p. 369]. Is this true? How else might it be handled and settled?

11. In a trial like the one described in A Civil Action, rhetoric plays an enormous part in a lawyer's ultimate success or failure. Is this fair? What about rhetorical tactics that hinder the other side's presentation of evidence, like Facher's repeated objections? Do all of these courtroom tactics finally serve to reveal or to obscure the truth?

12. Is res judicata—the principle that a judgment must remain once it has been decided in court, even in the face of new and conflicting evidence— a reasonable or an unreasonable principle?

13. After their decision, the jurors each "had some misgivings, but on balance they felt they had done the best they could" [p. 392]. Is that good enough? If not, what might be done to improve the situation?

14. Donna Robbins believes that she and her fellow plaintiffs have succeeded in teaching corporate America a lesson; Reverend Young, on the other hand, thinks that the Grace executives and attorneys have reason to celebrate. With which of these opinions do you agree? Does the final settlement represent a victory, a loss, or a compromise?

15. Schlichtmann says that greed is "our motivating factor" [p. 417], and believes that he has devoted nine years to the Woburn case out of "pride, greed, ambition" [p. 491]. Is it in fact primarily greed that drives these lawyers? What other motivations drove Schlichtmann during the Woburn case? Do you find Schlichtmann to be self-indulgent or self-abnegating? Selfish or honorable?

16. What are your reactions toward Jan Schlichtmann as a lawyer? As a person? Do you find his emotional reactions to events reasonable, or too extreme? Was he traumatized by the trial, or does he thrive on anxiety and chaos?

17. In the Harvard Law Review, Nesson purports that, as summarized by Harr, "the judgments of the courts are meant to reinforce social rules and values and, at the same time, to deter behavior contrary to those rules and values" [p. 236]. Do the courts in fact achieve this end? Has reading A Civil Action changed your ideas about the American judiciary system, and, if so, in what way?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 136 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2008

    The coverup continues to this day!

    There is an incredible story which this book scarcely touches on. Ken Grant, a former Grace employee and who worked as a safety & environmental professional for them when he was suddenly fired just prior to this book coming out, has been rejected by most every major company in New England since this book came out. Grant is a child survivor of the epidemic and abandoned orphan who has been subject to massive attack on many fronts. In the 1980s,Grant acted to protect Woburn citizens from a small firm which dumped toxic chemicals in the back lot. Since this book, he has been made homeless for years, chronically unemployable, and subject to sadistic pretense job interviews, in which the interviewer begins the interview,jumps to his views on Woburn, then refuses him the job. The man has been driven into bankruptcy,homelessness, endured more than a decade without health insurance and been consistently harassed on a major scale financially. Short of outright murder, almost every conceivable attempt has been made to destroy the man. Why? for being a child survivor without his knowledge?

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2005

    This is the middle of the story..

    .. not its beginning and hopefully not its end! This book focuses on a specific point in local history but excludes the economic friction caused by NASA's interest in Woburn, the finding of a 'mystery object' abandoned in a north Woburn garage( which happened to be highly radioactive)and does not discuss the impact on others unknown to the public but whose very lives in some cases have been altered for the worst because of it. One individual worked for Grace and was quickly fired when this book came out. The individual had written their own autobiographical account in which early years in Woburn were included, describing his own struggles as a crippled,sick child confined to a hospital bed for two years with no family history and no diagnosis on entering or leaving the hospital.Only AFTER this was a diagnosis rendered. The boy was treated at most of the hospitals listed herein when the very earliest kids were treated and lived in precisely the neighborhoods where the polluted wells were and whose mother may have been involved in a 1960s citizen's lawsuit sponsored by Michael Gatta to reveal the Woburn water controversy. While at Grace the man was involved with a software development program to help companies manage and control their chemicals. Following his sudden termination with Grace,the man appeared to become the target for a major campaign to discredit him and to make him unemployable.Around this time Omnitech International, a mysterious entity, was testing a new database for tracking in the construction and medical fields- both fields in which this person was employed and employed at those 2 companies which were also clients of Omnitech- a 'litigation preparation service' an audit trail of the individual might reveal linkage between that individual's circumstances and software implementations at successive employers linked all to him. The man,concerned about the complexity and tensions surrounding Woburn of the 1960s, wrote a letter to President Clinton suggesting a solution and to clarify some of its history.The letter was forwarded to the EPA for consideration,as Woburn is a Superfund site.This same man also took steps to stop a small branch office of a company renting space in the industrial park created over the polluted area from disposing semiconductor industry chemical waste in the backlot prior to any Hazard Communications law. For stopping this, the man was forced to resign.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2001

    The fuller picture

    Does the Bulger case have linkage to events described in Jonathan Harr's 'A Civil Action'? What would the government do if Whitey Bulger or any of the other informants had children? Consider this: In 1995 Whitey Bulger disappeared AND Harr's book was released. Harr's book describes companies involved in litigation over a water pollution tragedy in Woburn. One of these companies was WR Grace. Grace has a history of Republican sponsorship, with the Grace Commission under Reagan. Walt Disney supported Richard Nixon. Disney received early funding from Giannini corp. which had ties to Middlesex county. Current President Bush is the son of Bush sr. with ties to both Reagan and Nixon. Grace invested in insurance per corporate report and had a major shareholder in the world's largest private pension fund. Grace had an enormous environmental insurance policy. Under Nixon EPA was established. Governor Cellucci (R) , now Ambassador Cellucci, has longtime support for President Bush and Cellucci has been listed as an associate of Teamsters Local 25 George Cashman, heavily involved in movie action and a Woburn resident. Former Governor Bill Weld, a Republican backed by insurance interests and with ties to the Kennedys and Bill Clinton paved the way for Paul Cellucci. The Bushes hail from Texas and Maine. On the Board of Grace were : Peter Lynch(Fidelity Investments), Zbignew Brezinski (NSA), Al Fiers (CIA). Joe Malone (R)did not support Whitey, was destroyed in the last gubernatorial election, and was backed by Fidelity and clothier tycoon Sam Cammarata. Cellucci was backed by Fleet Bank. Disney produced the movie, Robert Redford- a vigorous environmentalist- directed the film. John Travolta ,of Maine, starred in the film having gotten his beginnings in the pop tv series 'Welcome Back Kotter'- whose pilot was approved by Michael Eisner. Michael Eisner is head of Disney. Tip O'Neill (D) ,deceased former Speaker of the House, was an advocate for Wr Grace in Cambridge,Mass and of Mayor Daley of Chicago.William Bulger, Whitey's brother, was one of the most powerful men in Massachusetts but Whitey was protective in not tarnishing his brother's reputation. Whitey has been painted as anti-Kennedy but not confirmed. Knocko McCormack, former Senator John McCormack's (R) brother, is remembered fondly by both William Bulger and Tip O'Neill. Whitey has been said to have received support under Governor Mike Dukakis, and from Governor Cellucci (R),Tom Reilly(D), Scott Harshbarger (D), with Tom Birmingham (D) a family friend. Senator McCormack is said to have spoken well of Whitey and felt he was not given a fair shake. FBI agents in the Bulger case have numerous links to Middlesex County. Limone,Salemme and others also have ties to Middlesex County. Judge Wolf and current FBI Director Mueller both worked under Bill Weld (R). Barry Mawn from Woburn was brought in as SAC in the FBI office in Boston, later transferring to NY, where James Kallstrom from Massachusetts stepped down. Woburn was represented by F. Bradford Morse, a favored target of the John Birch Society, also in Massachusetts. The Woburn water case signs began in the 1960s as did the Mclean-Mclaughlin wars. Police and fire records have been destroyed for Woburn for that time and the city budget was closed to auditors. In Woburn were two groups: 1) NASA, and 2) Boston Navy Yard. The heads of each lobby group both lived in Woburn. Tip O'Neill supported the navy yard. Middlesex county was home to 10% of the 3000 navy yard employees and NASA would bring in 2-3000 new jobs with a $50-60 million new site. JFK actively supported space, and NASA specifically, while in Washington D.C. the states of Michigan,Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut vigorously fought for the NASA site in their states.LBJ later got the site in Texas.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    What does this all have to do with unwanted child?

    Jan Schlictmann was given thousands of pages of court documents from the Woburn court when individuals involved could not even get them- why? In 1994 Kenneth Grant, a current Home Depot employee and former safety & environemtal worker for Grace's construction division wrote a book manuscript and movie script at the behest of Marty Bauer and the United Talent Agency about his experiences as an unwanted child in 3 state child care systems and lectured about this as a guest speaker for Professor John Calicchia of Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. Grant wanted to enlighten others about what it is like in deep recounting of life as a crippled, abused and neglected child orphaned at birth. When Harr's book came out, Grant was quickly fired from Grace and abandoned by individuals who had befriended him as a child in state care and whom he loved. Grant was ab used in nearly every way following Harr's book and the writing of his own-perhaps because Grant was one of the children with leukemia living in the same neighborhoods and being treated at the same hospitals as the kids mentioned herein. Attempts over years have also been made to discredit him in the face of his suppressed manuscript involving allegedly even a key campaign manager for Obama in the last election. Who has covered up what in this case and why make a child pa for it for the rest of their life?

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2011

    Another grwat book is needed!

    In the 1960s, a boy was born and shuffled among 4 states with an unknown family history. The boy eventually settled in Massachusetts, living in Woburn for years-- in all the neighborhoods affected by water pollution. He was treated at the same hospitals as the children mentioned in this book and it is said a tracking chip was implanted by Tufts medical staff in the 1970s under pretense of a cavity-- the only one of its kind the boy ever had. The boy was befriended by 2 former public works employees from Woburn. In the early 1970s the boy was befriended then put under the oversight of a former Pentagon official who arranged his social security number and who may have been a founding member of a fledgling Defense Investigative Service. After 1980, another man bearing the same name as the boy appeared across Woburn on Locust Ave and apparently began creating a trail of false pretense to follow the young man for the rest of his life, creating a fictitious double which would create many problems for the boy later on. An individual from Revere Rd in Woburn befriended him., having an older brother who had died from leukemia and who later kept badgering the boy about " all the money he had" when the boy was destitute. That same individual appeared later badgering the man and proclaiming ties to secret service business clients. In 1992, the now young man was befriended by a man alleging Italian-Irish descent and another individual clkosely defensive of WR Grace. In 1993, an individual claiming to be a federal government employee warned the man that he was going to be put under surveillance for unspecified scope and duration .In 1995, Harr published this book and the man's medical records began disappearing. As a boy, the man had 'aseptic necrosis of the femoral head' ,"progressive pigmented purpura", "rare uric acid" ,a "patten bottom brace" and more all associated with leukemia and the book. The boy had appeared in Woburn court as a boy in the 1960s-1970 under Judge Cullen, who may be tied by family to Dennis Condon in the Whitey Bulger case.Grace abruptly let him go and a number of suspicious individuals with alleged ties to federal government began inserting into his life many with ties to a former employee of Governor Paul Cellucci's campaign manager. Tweleve years after that employee cut off contact from the man, he was still tracking the man's whereabouts. The man became unemployable, homeless,destitute and bankrupt and forced to flee to New Hampshire.His phones in Massachusetts were tapped and monitored, car tampered with,friends and loved ones abandoned him and put under close surveillance by suited men as well as plainclothes. His brother, a biker, was unaffected. The man was befriended by an alleged call girl who was inserted into his life to ascertain what he knew about Woburn and this case. It was speculated that the call girl was ordered to arrange his murder if necessary. Massive efforts to create a veneer of instability of every kind were underway. In New Hampshire, the man was steered to rental situations where the landlords: a) rarely if ever left the home unattended while he was there,b) maintained 24/7 internet activities, 3) maintained 24/7 video/audio surveillance, and 4)engaged in activities designed to create stress for the man, such as stealing food, going into his personal space,etc. It appeared a long term psyche warfare strategy was being employed. The man was steered towards e

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2007

    A reviewer

    Considering that the EPA was established by a Republican President(Nixon) and WR Grace was prominent under Ronald Reagan(Grace Commission)and a staunch supporter of the Republican party(Bentsen,etc.)and Grace invested heavily in insurance and whose primary investor was TIAA-CREF-- would such a company be disposed to destroying the environment and if so, who could stop it? Add to the mix that that former NSA and CIA officials and a leading investment guru were on the board at the time this book came out attacking Grace and Beatrice in particular one might wonder if this book is an attempt to bring closure to a culpability which cannot truly be determined. Perhaps the most crucial question which has been avoided is: who knew the water was unsafe,when did they know it, and should it have been quarantined much earlier than it was? An oversight which might escape cursory examination of this case is that perceptual motor functions across multigenerational lines was noted in the local population. One might wonder why the Slichter Act(incorporated into collective bargaining laws as an outgrowth of union-busting activities by the Bonannos in the 1940s during a railroad strike which endangered the public safety the Bonannos were actually acting to protect, not harm the public)was not instituted to protect the area.And did the excitement over NASA coming to the area spark a local economic civil war between space and military base job advocates,with the Boston Navy Yard jobholders feeling threatened by possible job loss while new jobs they may have felt unqualified for were created by the NASA opportunity?

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2006

    Good but more wholistic picture needed!

    A man who lived in Woburn during the earliest leukemia cases and worked for Grace when this book was about to be released became the target of much harassment following a newspaper story featuring his search for his unknown father. The boy had been bounced around in state child care and had a family history that had been kept from him which no one, even at the highest state levels, could approve for release to him.What state records that did become accessible revealed was heavy redaction and sanitation. Prior to Harr's book, the man had written an autobiographical account also made into a movie script in which his life as a sick youngster in the area was mentioned. The man lived in the same areas the children affected at the same time period, was treated at the same hospitals, wore a patten bottom brace and had been diagnosed with 'aseptic necrosis of the femoral head'. When the man went for a paternity test with the alleged father, minimal residual leukemia cells may have been detected after PCR techniques had been used. There has been some speculation that this sick boy was also linked in some way to a principal in the Whitey Bulger case. A facilitor of the script with possible ties to both former Governor Cellucci and former Agent John Connelly unknown to the man forwarded the script and then its odyssey is tenuous at best.Was this man tied to the Bulger case in some way and did the FBI overtly,covertly, or individuals with ties to it regionally act to suppress the works?

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2002

    Needs a prequel and a sequel

    This book focuses on a narrow slice of the history of the problem in Woburn. The introduction of this book also destroyed lives of which the general public is unfamiliar. One such life is Ken Grant, a former Grace employee charged with protecting the general public in the aftermath of Grace's controversial environmental history. Grant worked as a safety & environmental professional who had worked for a couple of divisions of Grace. Grant was an active volunteer in many charities in Massachusetts and grew up as anunwanted youngster in state child care. As a young child Grant was crippled,abandoned and abused. Grant lived in Woburn a number of years and in most all the neighborhoods where the earliest cases of leukemia arose, was treated at the same hospitals as those children and also appeared in court. When this book came out, his medical records suddenly became unavailable, he was rousted from Grace and unable to get good references from Grace despite years of solid service. A long strong of strange events unfolded in which he began to research his hidden past and he was eventually driven into long term unemployment,bankruptcy and homelessness because no one would hire him in Massachusetts. All of this unfolded in the face of the fact that Grant was too young when the leukemia epidemic arose to know what was going on and was shuffled around so often as to keep his equilibrium off balance.As a child Grant was hospitalized long term and shuffled about.As an adult Grant was prevented from finding viable career stability. Amongst all this, no one involved with the book or movie spoke with him.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2011

    The death of JFK, sinking of the U.S.S. Thresher and more all tied to this?

    Prior to the emergence of leukemia in Woburn, the water was extremely good. Was Woburn the site of an economic civil war started in Masaachusetts between the military (Boston and Portsmouth navy yards) and the newly ascendant space program? A military officer testified before congress that 20% of the back pressure relief valves were installed prior to Thresher's first test voyage in which 109 or so military and civilian personnel were sent to their deaths. A small group of unidentified workmen(reminiscent of the well-groomed 'hobos' in the roundup immediately following the shooting of JFK). Did these workmen deliberately install the valves backwards (valves sold to the government by Carl Roessler of Trans-Sonic and chairman of the "Save our Shipyard" committee ) to make Portsmouth look bad and save the Boston Navy yard from McNamara's cutting block? Did a space object of terrstrial or extra-terrestrail origin crash land in the undeveloped woods of 1960s Woburn prompting JFK's focus and approval on Woburn as the site for what would later become the Houston Space Center AND Draper labs( the one site split into 2 entities)? Why was the Schlicter Act, implemented after union-busting by the Bonannos in a railroad strike which jeopardized public safety and triggered a need to prevent union tactics which risk the safety to the public not brought in to prevent the contamination-- or was the contamination a diversionary tactic to a much bigger event? Why did hospital records at Tufts and other begin disappearing around the time this book came out? Why would the Woburn Court releaze thousans of pages of court records while a gag order was emplaced to a private attorney? Why was Schlictmann affiliated with Tom Kiley and therefore William and Whitey Bulger?

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2011

    Broken arrow!

    Is there a link between WR Grace, the Republican party, the Whitey Bulger case, economic civil war in New England with spillover to the country as a whole and as a result the assassination of JFK and the sinking of the U.S.S. Thresher ? Did something crash in the woods of north Woburn prompting an intense interest by NASA in Woburn? Did economic civil war break out involving one side for NASA and the other for the military in the form of the Save our Shipyard committee,all with links back to the administration of Mayor Gilgun and his son who was at Dealey Plaza the day JFK was shot and worked at the army recruiting station there? Was the Thresher sunk by saboteurs transferred up from the Boston Navy Yard hoping to have Portsmouth closed instead of Boston? In the middle of all this, was there a boy who may be the oldest surviving bone marrow transplant recipient and who was positioned into WR Grace near the time this case was to be broken in the media? A boy whose records were manipulated or deleted to hide him and conceal the coverup? Was this boy then maneuvered into working for companies only with ties back to Wr Grace? One such company is Home Depot, and the man has been surrounded by individuals ssuspected of using cover names and code names with the purpose of monitoring him and harassing as needed to control others who know the truth? Why was the man monitored by individuals with ties to Wellington Management Corp and the firm of Kennedy,Lehane and Leonard both of Boston,Mass? Who was Evelyn Bell and what was her tie to an associate of Governor Paul Cellucci's campaign manager and why was unclaimed property denied the man under Treasurer Joe Malone? Did Carl Roessler sell the flow management devices installed backwards in the U.S.S. Thresher through his company Trans-Sonic, a government contractor?

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2011

    A massive coverup to this day?

    In the mid 1960sw Steve Flemmi signed on to the Top Echelon program ,the time a boy was born and came to live in Woburn,Massachusetts in the arwas of water pollution..In 1973, a young boy was befriended by a former worker for the Pentagon and issued a social security number. In 1974 the boy was introduced to a couple with ties to Rocco Solimeno and to the employer of Spec. Agent John Connelly of the FBI through employment of a family member. The couple also had ties to future Governor Paul Cellucci's campaign manager. In 1975 Whitey Bulger signed on to the Top Echelon program. The boy was shuffled around in state child care and records censored. In 1988 the boy went to work for WR Grace unaware of their background. During employ at Grace, the then man was approached by alleged government officials and told they were to be monitored for unspecified duration,scope, or reason. In addition, Adrienne McGowan of Grace threatened the man to take a certain job or be 'dead in the wate' as far as their career went. In 1992, the man was befriended by a man professing italian/irish background and who turned against him in 1995, when Grace suddenly let the man go.In 1995 , nearly all individuals who had befriended the man became his enemy without explanation. Medical records began disappearing, young girls were employed to set him up, phones were tapped and redirected to listening posts, and his apartment used as a base for government officials to operate some kind of campaign. the man was put under surveillance and maneuvered into certain jobs and rental situations by which he would be constantly monitored by unfriendly overseers pretending benevolence. Car tampering and even accidents were staged by individuals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire with local police cooperation. High level political backers became involved also, including Obama's campaign manager in New Hampshire and an East Boston,Massachusetts family pretending to have an internet business that doesn't add up in New Hampshire.A congressional committee with real authority should be set up to investigate what agencies have been involved the total destruction of the boy and man.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2001

    More beneath the surface?

    Was money stolen to supplement the Woburn city budget to hide the full extent of the cancer epidemic? There has been a game of musical imposters in Middlesex County involving a man who was an employee of a defense contractor bought out by Grace Corp. in Woburn and who later became an employee of Grace in Cambridge, Mass. Unknown to the man, he is said to have been a victim of the water pollution and several individuals have been masquerading as him in Woburn, Burlington, Wakefield, and Reading. While at the Grace defense plant in Woburn, the man was briefed on a government project and it appears he is the project, being set up patsy style like Lee Harvey Oswald or Steve Flemmi. Lee Harvey Oswald's postal records were manipulated according to Livingstone and so has this man's. Most recently the man is listed as living in Burlington when he lives a good distance from there. Was an inheritance stolen from this man as a child and all his life the boy and man set up as a future patsy? A Vice president of Grace is said to be related to former Norfolk DA Jeffrey Locke now Commissioner of the state child care agency, DSS, where this child was raised. A child raised by DSS later works for Grace and then an appointee of Governor Cellucci, a Whitey Bulger supporter, then heads up the agency where records on this child are kept.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2010

    Did an unwanted child write about this unknowingly?

    In 1994 Ken Grant from Woburn,Massachusetts wrote a book about his life growing up as an unwanted child in America. The book had good and bad observances and was intended as a two part work. He changed the names and places to protect the privacy of thrid parties but kept the experiences true. Grant then lectured periodically at Bridgewater State College to graduate students about his experiences for Dr. John Calicchia. Following the unpublished book manuscript, United Talent Agency of Beverly Hills, Calif suggested adoption of the book manuscript to a movie script via foster parents of Ken. In 1995 , Jonathan Harr's book "A Civil Action" came out and Grant was summarily fired from his role in environmental health and safety with WR Grace,featured in Harr's book. Grace subsequently proceeded to blackball Grant on references and later to forbid coworkers from giving work references for him.From then on Grant became all but unemployable in New England while forces were set in motion to cast a portrait of him as fiscally and career irresponsible in a long term effort to discredit his book, the first of its kind and knocked down to permit David Pelzer's book to take that position. Individuals befriended him in the workplace and after a honeymoon period of supposed friendship, announced a connection to the FBI just prior to him losing his job. Every effort seemed to be made to demonstrate not that Grant had a rough time as an unwanted child but that such a background was indeed his fault and that he was a poor worker. Medical records and money from savings accounts disappeared without explanation or recourse and a slew of IRS audits ensued. It appeared suspiciously as if the man was being driven towards suicide, like that used against Massachusetts State Trooper Johnson in the ongoing 15 year ,multilmillion dollar Whitey Bulger case.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 8, 2010

    What is the USA government covering up?

    Something in the 1960s, specifically the year a man named Ken Grant was born, caused a massive federal surge of interest by NASA, Dept of Health & Human Services, FDA and more in Woburn, which was the site of abandoned, radioactive machined part discovered in a garage in North Woburn.
    Grant wrote a memoir intended to be written in 2 parts which was immediately quashed in favor of David Pelzer's books to be published. Following copyright of his book and movie script solicited by Marty Bauer of United Talent Agency, a long term campaign of personal destruction began against the man in part because he was recounting memories of being a crippled,sick child in Woburn during the time of the environmental tragedy written about in this book. Robert Redford, Jan Schlictmann both blew him off when he tried to write or call them.
    The man wasalso befriended by a succession of women who appeared to act as spies for a third party, one of whom is connected to President Obama and one with long ties to the publishing industry through this bookseller.
    Was Grant blackballed for remembering things as a very young child that threatened powerful people in New England? Every attempt has been made to destroy his credibility, self-esteem, stability and health as fallout for a book manuscript not yet published and in which the names of people and places was altered to protect their privacy?
    Grant was suspiciously fired from a very upward mobile position at WR Grace where he worked diligently to improve the company's track record for environmental and safety responsibility.
    The public should know what has happened to him and perhaps others unknown that have some tie to the events prior to and leading up to this book, which is well-written but leaves major ommissions of pertinent local,state and national history.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2008

    An example of what is going on all around the world!

    Perhaps the whole planet is polluted and NASA, the consultant for the 'Lost in Space' tv series knew it and tried to gently acclimate the public to this fact? Woburn is a case of extreme government coverup as well as private coverup. It seems some individuals have been tagged as children(perhaps tracked by social sceurity number by the federal government)that were involved or affected by this case in the 1960s and destroyed in character or reputation as sacrificial victims to save the egos of those involved with or in the know about the pollution coverup and its extent to the public in Woburn.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2003

    Good but leaves lot out

    One thing missing in this book is the history immediately prior to the beginning onset of leukemia cases. One man referred to in previous reviews may be a key in this tragedy. Here are the coincidences: 1) The boy lived in the same neighborhoods and streets as the polluted wells. 2) The boy was seen multiple times in nearly every hospital that saw the leukemia victims mentioned in the book. 3) The boy was the same age +\- 1-2 years as the first children diagnosed with leukemia symptoms. 4) The boy was involved in local court proceedings whose public record was denied him 25 years later without reason and which court served as a documentary reference for this book and Schlictmann's battle. 5)The boy was treated out of state in excess of 2 years without visitors and given a biopsy and tests that can be used to determine leukemia without explanation.The results of at least one test clearly indicating leukemia. 6) As a teen the boy began exhibiting some symptoms of a condition associated with leukemia and other things but a biopsy was refused by the legal guardian and the excuse given was Schaumberg's disease as the doctor took photos for a class. Later a specialist ruled this diagnosis out. 7) As a man the man had a paternity test done to determine if a man was his father or not. The test ruled that man out and experts asserted the only way to skew such a test would be a bone marrow transplant in which the graft would be done in such a way as to appear as a biopsy,which the child had done.Such transplants were rare but done and might have been done as a government experiment into viable leukemia treatments. Following the negative test results, it was later revealed PCR(Polymerase Chain Reaction) was probably used to exclude the alleged parent.1-2 years after the test, a large article about using PCR to determine leukemia patients by ascertaining minimal residual leukemia cells was published. 8) The man had a landlord who was well known to one of the principles in the investigation of the water pollution in Woburn unknown to him prior this book. 9)Many of the earliest victims were treated by the Dept. of Welfare,of which this child's mother received longtime benefits. 10)The boy was shuffled around among many families in the Woburn area at the time the earliest cases emerged. 11) Prior to, and after, this book came out the man was called for numerous interviews where the interviewer(s) made reference to Grace and taking an anti-Grace stand and to the generalities of this case.This apppeared to be a ploy to glean information from the man, as none of the interviews resulted in a job offer and the parties became difficult if not impossible to reach.Were the interviewers investigators? There has been some documentary evidence of lawyers and investigative firms being used to conduct mock job interviews as a way of garnering damaging information on the other party.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2002

    The unknown casualty

    Jan Schlictmann has paid a personal and professional price in this case as has Ken Grant, a former safety/environmental man for Grace Co. Since this book came out, Grant has been blackballed from employment in Massachusetts and eventually forced into bankruptcy and homelessness. Grant was orphaned and raised in state care and later became active in many volunteer organizations in Massachusetts. When this book came out he was fired and later driven from Massachusetts through circumstance and hostile forces.Perhaps Grant and Schlictmann should meet.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2000

    A Civil Action-Book Review

    Phaedon Papadopoulos English-I Smith-2nd Jan. 9, 2000 Book Review- A Civil Action The quest for justice in an unjust land by the means of an imperfect system with significant immoral resistance is not exactly a new dilemma; especially in America. However, Jonathan Harr has taken this common theme and a true story and has written an original masterpiece. The civil trial of the century begins when the young, ambitious, and inexperienced attorney, Jan Schlictmann, and his associates take a contaminated water case with six dead children as the victims and two multi-billion dollar corporations as the defendants. The book is set in Massachusetts in the metropolitan city of Boston and the little town of Woburn. In Woburn, a dozen cases of a rare Leukemia pop up killing six children whose parents have been searching for answers and for retribution. Suspicion arises that the town¿s water supply has been contaminated by the two factories, Beatrice and W. R. Grace. With the hope of glory and gold, Schlictmann accepts the case. Determined to stop Schlictmann from bleeding the companies dry is the lawyer William Cheeseman and the brilliant yet conniving attorney and Harvard professor, Jerry Facher. No doubt the trial is spectacular. Through the years of investigation, discovery of corruption and cover-up and courtroom drama, one discovers the character¿s humanity, or the lack there of. The end of the book is unexpected yet remarkably realistic. The book was excellently written, and not only were the plot and courtroom scenes great, but an even more fascinating aspect of the book was the slow unraveling and changing of the character¿s true personality. The change of Jan Schlictmann¿s character was especially wonderful. In the beginning, Schlictmann is a stereotypical money craved, morally compromised lawyer; much like Cheeseman. Through the book, Schlictmann has an attack of conscience and is determined to get not money, but for the first time in his life, justice. He turns down settlements, despite the wishes of his associates, in a naive optimistic attempt to win the trial. The much wiser Facher, recognizes Schlictmann¿s decency and ignorance and offers him a generous settlement even after things begin to turn against Schlictmann in the trail. The book paints an excellent picture of the American legal system, gives a great courtroom drama, presents the character¿s true person, and is an over all excellent novel worth reading twice.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2010

    There is a big big coverup here

    In 1995, Ken Grant was a safety & environmental specialist for Wr Grace who was suddenly let go despite performing excellently according to his superiors. Prior to this a newspaper article had appeared about his long search to find out who his father is. Jonathan Harr's book came out shortly after and Woburn court records were passed along to attorney Jan Schlictmann,featured in the case. Grant's medical records began disappearing from hospitals he had been treated in as a child and there is some evidence to indicate Grant was a child from a poor background enrolled in a government study of bone marrow transplants as a viable method for treating leukemia. Grant grew up as an abandoned youngster in NY, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. When Grant was suspiciously let go from Grace,,people he loved rejected him and work references at WR Grace and Hewlett Packard and Tad and Adecco began blackballing him while at the same time he was called for pretense job interviews aimed at crushing hopes of acquiring decent jobs at Raytheon, Cognos,Kronos,Cerulean,Videoserver, and many many temporary agencies. In these interviews he was goaded into expressing his knowledge and views of the Woburn pollution case. Some interviews involved interviewers with government logo furnishings throughout the office.In addition Grant was besieged with character assassination of all sorts and his situation monitored financially to assure that he never had personal stability. Grant became bankrupt and homeless and was turned away by the offices of John Kerry, Marty Meehan, Mitt Romney,Governor Mike Dukakis,,Jeanne Shaheen,Judd Gregg and many more. Only Congressman Joe Moakley offered help but died before being able to.Attorneys heard his case and refused to help,including one with ties to the same town Jan Schlictmann worked in and to Derry,NH where that same attorney 11-12 years later met with him undcer pretense.Jan Schlictmann worked for Tom Kiley who had ties to William Bulger,Whitey Bulger's brother. Grant was forced when homeless to move to New Hampshire because he had been so blackballed by individuals in Massachusetts with strong ties to New Hampshire. It has been suggested that after Whitey Bulger fled prosecution and Jonathan Harr's book came out,powerful people in Masschusetts wanted him dead or suffering-- because of a background unknown to him.. Grant was followed, reported on, and this continues today by individuals with strong ties to both political parties up to and including President Obama.What kind of person was Grant before all this? An orphan who put himself through college over a 20 year period, volunteered for over 15 years and gave as he could to numerous causes.In addition he wrote a book manuscript that was to be in 2 parts but was persecuted because he wanted to reveal the good and bad things about growing up as an unwanted child in America.Why would an individual who simply wanted to know who he is be so destroyed in America?

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2001

    Needed to be told

    About a year or so after this case blew wide open, a person i'll call ' Sean', had some experiences they feel may have been linked to this case. Sean worked for a controversial company, 'BigCorp.' (pseudonym) in Massachusetts discussed in this book. Almost immediately Sean was approached by an employee alleging strong ties to the Big Dig project. Sean was suddenly fired after some mention within BigCorp.of a contract entered into with alleged organized crime between a former employee and BigCorp.but made to look like Sean had made the deal. Some employees expressed concerns about missing invoices and confusing accounting practices and when Sean was asked to look into the matter,managers came forward in a threatening or hostile manner. Sean was soon part of a 'layoff' -later it was revealed it was a layoff of one. Sean looked for help for a medical problem and soon learned Sean had been referred to a doctor who it turned out was a forensic psychiatrist and this doctor was not addressing the medical problem Sean had raised. This doctor immediately conferred with Sean's primary care doctor and Sean became suspicious something was going on. The health insurance plan was covered by BigCorp. One day a meeting was called for Sean to meet with 2 plan doctors. Suspicious because this came in the midst of harassing phone calls and a wide array of other troubling events, Sean did not go. A few weeks later Sean received a letter from the primary care doctor, a man in his 30s, asserting that the doctor was 'resigning from the field of medicine'. Two years later the forensic psychiatrist dropped dead barely into middle age from unknown causes. An old acquaintance of Sean's, 'Bill' who alleged strong ties to both the Justice Department and the Massachusetts state police and former Governor Bill Weld ,suddenly began acting defensive and claimed to know the forensic psychiatrist. A couple years later Bill died from undisclosed causes barely into middle age. Sean had known 3-4 individuals known to each other who had all died barely in middle age in nearly the same time period. Bill had known former employees of BigCorp. in this book. BigCorp. management alleged ties to Bill Weld but this was not confirmed. Over the ensuing years, Sean was called a number of times for interviews with small companies who during the interviews announced they were entering into a business relationship with BigCorp. In at least one case Sean is said to have interviewed at a small company manned by '10-20 employees' with the owner from Canada and one of the interviewers being a former BigCorp. employee using an alias. As Sean repeatedly failed to get employment for even the most mundane jobs, it soon became apparent that sean was being made to look after approaching 30 years of work history as if he suddenly lacked job hunting ,resume prep, or interviewing skills. It also appeared that Sean's mental health was called into question, particularly with respect to BigCorp. Sean was approached by a man hailing from Connecticut and sharing the name of a secret service agent, who had an intense interest in Sean's personal associations after writing a letter concerning this case to President Bill Clinton which among mention of local history surrounding the region also detailed a practical means of addressing complex environmental litigation like this in the future.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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