Autobiography is a genre that is sometimes criticized for encouraging self-aggrandizement and the celebration of petty vanities, but this could not be further from the truth in Alan Dershowitz’s outstanding new book about his life. This volume is both riveting, compelling, touching, and tender, adding yet another achievement to his long list of published works — thirty-one books and countless articles and opinions.
Written by this widely celebrated lawyer to help us follow the trajectory of his life so that we can better understand the direction of his legal thinking, Taking the Stand explores the many sides of Dershowitz’s experiences in a deeply personal way. He lets us in on some of the secrets of his successful fifty-year career as both a full professor at Harvard Law School and a significant force in many of the legal cases that shaped American life and thought, all the while explicating how he came to be a person with such power and influence, and the struggles and roadblocks he had to overcome to get there.
Dershowitz is of course well known as an orator, and his easy, conversational style translates well into his writing. We feel like we are there with him in the courtroom and the classroom as he talks to students and sways juries and judges. We are comfortable envisioning him standing and delivering ideas and opinions that deeply influenced the course of the law for the last five decades; it is as if he is speaking directly to us.
The book sweeps us through recent history and, balancing the intellectual with the emotional, Dershowitz introduces us to the personal lives of such client luminaries as Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, Patty Hearst, and Mike Tyson. Through private anecdotes, moving vignettes, and personal stories he takes us behind the scenes of many of the major trials of the last half-century and shows us how his own life unfolded along with those of the famous people he defended.
Ideologically, he also explores deeply the Jewish side of history and writes movingly about the drama of the law and how it changed, highlighting the unpredictable twists and turns in a way that enables us to better understand the underlying forces at play. Index, notes, photographs.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.