Tak­ing the Stand: My Life in the Law

  • Review
By – December 11, 2013

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.

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