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The Devil on Trial: Witches, Anarchists, Atheists, Communists, and Terrorists in America's Courtrooms

Overview

Featuring five famous trials, this book examines the way our right to a fair trial can be threatened, when people are tempted to abandon their principles in the name of safety. Trials included are the Salem Witch Trials, the Haymarket Affair Trial, the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, the trial of Alger Hiss, and the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui—the latter not yet covered extensively in any book.

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Overview

Featuring five famous trials, this book examines the way our right to a fair trial can be threatened, when people are tempted to abandon their principles in the name of safety. Trials included are the Salem Witch Trials, the Haymarket Affair Trial, the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, the trial of Alger Hiss, and the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui—the latter not yet covered extensively in any book.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this well-researched and affecting offering, Margulies and Rosaler tie some of the most important trials in American history to the country’s frequent need to find a "devil: not just a threat to the community, but an incarnation of evil . . . With an oversize format, a crisp typeface, and an illustration-filled design, this is an appealing-looking read. However, it is not light reading; the depth in which the authors examine these trials is both complete and sobering, especially when set against whatever public sentiment was raging at the time. Putting these trials into a historical context is something they do particularly well."—Booklist, starred review
Children's Literature - Amanda MacGregor
Focusing on five trials that dealt with the "devils" of different eras, Margulies and Rosaler examine how justice unfolded in each case, from finding jurors to the final verdict. Opening with the well-known Salem witchcraft trails of 1692, the authors cover the political climate at the time that led to unrest, the accusations that followed, and the prosecution that occurred in spite of there being no hard evidence. Their account of 1886's Haymarket bomb trial in Chicago looks at how immigration, anarchists, and the labor movement led to the altercation that occurred between police and anarchist workers at a protest meeting. The chapter about the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925) illustrates how a mostly symbolic law was turned into a major case by the American Civil Liberties Union, as it looked to test the law, and a town that was looking to be put on the map. Communism in the late 1940s was the issue during the trial of Alger Hiss, a United States government employee accused of being a Soviet spy. Finally, Margulies and Rosaler examine the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, a terrorist linked to Al Qaeda and the September 11, 2001 attacks. The authors present a wealth of information about each trial and always ask questions such as "Was the accused innocent?" and "Did the public form a verdict before a trial even started?" In addition, they show how the trial embodied the ethos of the era and tested democracy. This ambitious book will be a useful classroom resource for anyone needing to research these trials. The appealing layout and riveting material, including period photos, illustrations, and reproductions from newspapers make up for the often dull narrative. Includes a glossary, extensivenotes, a bibliography, and an index. Reviewer: Amanda MacGregor
VOYA - Jan Chapman
This thoughtful title aspires to examine the American legal system's response to the political and cultural demons that have plagued America's history since its inception. The book recounts how American courtrooms have responded to perceived threats to the nation during times of fear and uncertainty by examining five controversial legal cases: the Salem Witch trials, the Haymarket Bomb trial, the Scopes trial, the trials of Alger Hiss, and the trial of suspected September 11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Fascinating comparisons can be drawn between the fear and terror evoked by the anarchist movement of the late nineteenth century and America's current response to the threat of terrorism. Each section presents the political and social conditions that led to the trials, a summary of the trials themselves, and an account of the aftermath. Although the premise of this book is certainly laudable, and one might argue, critical to preserving the high ideals of American justice, the book's language is quite dry and rather dull in its recounting of the salient facts of each case. One doubts that teens would pick up this book for browsing, although teachers might find it useful in an American Government curriculum. Nevertheless the cases themselves are fascinating, and one can hope that this book might provoke readers to want to learn more about how the American justice system responds to these types of threats. Reviewer: Jan Chapman
School Library Journal

Gr 6-9

In this excellent example of nonfiction that is at once dramatic and informative, Margulies and Rosaler examine five highly emotional court cases, each of which served as a litmus test for the health of America's justice system at the time it occurred. The seminal cases are presented chronologically, starting with the Salem witch trials and ending with the recent trials of Zacarias Moussaoui. In between are the Haymarket bomb trial, which hanged four anarchists based on flimsy evidence and a climate of panic, the Scopes "Monkey" trial, which raised questions about the teaching of evolution in schools, and the trials of Alger Hiss, which started the post-World War II hunt for Communist spies. Each chapter gives historical context of the court proceeding, describes its progression in some detail, and comments on the political and intellectual aftermath. The language is straightforward, with enough descriptive details to make it colorful and engaging reading. Illustrations, including photographs, arrest warrants, and other primary-source materials, break up the text nicely: almost every spread contains a relevant image and caption. During each case, fear and prejudice came up against justice and the limits of the law. In some instances, justice prevailed; in others it did not. The questions raised are worth pondering, and readers are challenged to consider what it means to be impartial and fair in the most charged and complex situations. A highly relevant and riveting book, this is an fine addition to any collection.-Emma Burkhart, formerly at the Windsor School, Boston, MA

Kirkus Reviews
The overworked premise of this well-researched history of important American court cases is that "the devil"-absolute evil as judged by contemporary society-periodically goes on trial and that "When the defendant is the devil, only one verdict is acceptable." Long chapters provide detailed descriptions of five important trials: Salem witchcraft, the Haymarket bomb trial of 1886 (anarchists and the labor movement), the Scopes "monkey" trial (evolution vs. creationism), the Alger Hiss trial (the Communist threat) and the Zacarias Moussaoui trial (possible 9/11 conspirator). Quotes from primary source material, accompanied by period illustrations and photographs, add depth and authority. Authorial opinions occasionally intrude, drawing overly glib conclusions for readers. Unfortunately and rather oddly, the "devil" gimmick surfaces in every chapter and greatly diminishes the quality of the presentation, trivializing the subject matter. The outcome of the Moussaoui trial in particular seems to contradict the stated premise of "only one acceptable verdict." Purchase if descriptions of important trials are needed to round out a collection. (glossary, chapter notes, bibliography, photo credits, index) (Nonfiction. 11 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618717170
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/8/2008
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: 1250L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

"This book grew out of a belief that what is most gripping about history is the fact that it is a story of human beings in conflict," say authors Maxine Rosaler and Phillip Marguiles. The coauthors of several books for young adults on subjects ranging from science to history, law, and warfare, Maxine Rosaler and Phillip Marguiles live in New York City.

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  • Posted December 2, 2008

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    Reviewed by Jaglvr for TeensReadToo.com

    THE DEVIL ON TRIAL takes the reader on a journey through the evolving justice system of the United States. A fact-based reference; the authors use five very distinct historical trials to demonstrate the changing cultures as our country grew from the days of the Puritans to post-September 11, 2001. <BR/><BR/>The first case presented is the Salem Witch Trials. It's appalling to learn that those accused in the early days weren't offered defense counsel. The accused were better off admitting to crimes that they were innocent of and having their lives spared. Those that denied any wrongdoing were sent to the Gallows. <BR/><BR/>In sharp contrast to the Salem Witch Trials, the trials (yes, there was more than one) of Alger Hiss demonstrate that a fair trial can be achieved even in the face of distorted testimony and massive media coverage. In the age of the Cold War and the fear of Communist infiltration, Alger Hiss was accused of secretly spying on the State Department for which he was a high-level employee. Even years after his trial, controversy surrounds his guilt or innocence. Richard Nixon, prior to becoming president, was part of the investigative panel reviewing Alger Hiss. <BR/><BR/>Another trial that was better known than others of the time is the Scopes Monkey Trial. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) convinced a young school teacher, John Scopes, to come forward and admit to teaching evolution in his classroom. They offered to pay all his fees and support him. As a young teacher with no family, he had little to lose in the deal. The ACLU had a secret agenda, though; it was going to take on the government to prove the unconstitutionality of the law. A strong Christian Fundamentalist and possible future presidential hopeful, William Jennings Bryan, agreed to prosecute the case. And when Clarence Darrow volunteered his services as defense attorney, the stage was set for a battle of wills. At the time, Tennessee was put in the spotlight, with a legal battle between the Bible and evolution. But sticking to the primary crux of the case, the presiding judge found Scopes guilty on the issue of teaching evolution and refused to hear the defense's position. <BR/><BR/>The book also covers the Chicago Haymarket Bombing as well as the more current 9/11 attack on the United States. The bombing case, as with the Salem Witch Trials, astounds the reader at the lengths that were went to in order to prove people guilty, even without proof. And everyone has an opinion on the 9/11 attacks. <BR/><BR/>For anyone even remotely interested in the legal aspect of the United States, THE DEVIL ON TRIAL will not disappoint. The book is filled with fascinating details of the justice system of this country. Definitions are spelled out, aided by a glossary at the back of the book. The authors do not choose sides on the cases, but point out the fall-out and improvements that each case brought to this country. The content is appropriate for sixth grade and beyond.

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