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The Trial: Four Thousand Years of Courtroom Drama

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For as long as accuser and accused have faced each other in public, criminal trials have been establishing far more than who did what to whom–and in this fascinating book, Sadakat Kadri surveys four thousand years of courtroom drama. A brilliantly engaging writer, Kadri journeys from the silence of ancient Egypt’s Hall of the Dead to the clamor of twenty-first-century Holl For as long as accuser and accused have faced each other in public, criminal trials have been establishing far more than who did what to whom–and in this fascinating book, Sadakat Kadri surveys four thousand years of courtroom drama. A brilliantly engaging writer, Kadri journeys from the silence of ancient Egypt’s Hall of the Dead to the clamor of twenty-first-century Hollywood to show how emotion and fear have inspired Western notions of justice–and the extent to which they still riddle its trials today. He explains, for example, how the jury emerged in medieval England from trials by fire and water, in which validations of vengeance were presumed to be divinely supervised, and how delusions identical to those that once sent witches to the stake were revived as accusations of Satanic child abuse during the 1980s. Lifting the lid on a particularly bizarre niche of legal history, Kadri tells how European lawyers once prosecuted animals, objects, and corpses–and argues that the same instinctive urge to punish is still apparent when a child or mentally ill defendant is accused of sufficiently heinous crimes. But Kadri’s history is about aspiration as well as ignorance. He shows how principles such as the right to silence and the right to confront witnesses, hallmarks of due process guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, were derived from the Bible by twelfth-century monks. He tells of show trials from Tudor England to Stalin’s Soviet Union, but contends that “no-trials,” in Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, are just as repugnant to Western traditions of justice and fairness. With governments everywhere eroding legal protections in the name of an indefinite war on terror, Kadri’s analysis could hardly be timelier. At once encyclopedic and entertaining, comprehensive and colorful, The Trial rewards curiosity and an appreciation of the absurd but tackles as well questions that are profound. Who has the right to judge, and why? What did past civilizations hope to achieve through scapegoats and sacrifices–and to what extent are defendants still made to bear the sins of society at large? Kadri addresses such themes through scores of meticulously researched stories, all told with the verve and wit that won him one of Britain’s most prestigious travel-writing awards–and in doing so, he has created a masterpiece of popular history. From the Hardcover edition.


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For as long as accuser and accused have faced each other in public, criminal trials have been establishing far more than who did what to whom–and in this fascinating book, Sadakat Kadri surveys four thousand years of courtroom drama. A brilliantly engaging writer, Kadri journeys from the silence of ancient Egypt’s Hall of the Dead to the clamor of twenty-first-century Holl For as long as accuser and accused have faced each other in public, criminal trials have been establishing far more than who did what to whom–and in this fascinating book, Sadakat Kadri surveys four thousand years of courtroom drama. A brilliantly engaging writer, Kadri journeys from the silence of ancient Egypt’s Hall of the Dead to the clamor of twenty-first-century Hollywood to show how emotion and fear have inspired Western notions of justice–and the extent to which they still riddle its trials today. He explains, for example, how the jury emerged in medieval England from trials by fire and water, in which validations of vengeance were presumed to be divinely supervised, and how delusions identical to those that once sent witches to the stake were revived as accusations of Satanic child abuse during the 1980s. Lifting the lid on a particularly bizarre niche of legal history, Kadri tells how European lawyers once prosecuted animals, objects, and corpses–and argues that the same instinctive urge to punish is still apparent when a child or mentally ill defendant is accused of sufficiently heinous crimes. But Kadri’s history is about aspiration as well as ignorance. He shows how principles such as the right to silence and the right to confront witnesses, hallmarks of due process guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, were derived from the Bible by twelfth-century monks. He tells of show trials from Tudor England to Stalin’s Soviet Union, but contends that “no-trials,” in Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, are just as repugnant to Western traditions of justice and fairness. With governments everywhere eroding legal protections in the name of an indefinite war on terror, Kadri’s analysis could hardly be timelier. At once encyclopedic and entertaining, comprehensive and colorful, The Trial rewards curiosity and an appreciation of the absurd but tackles as well questions that are profound. Who has the right to judge, and why? What did past civilizations hope to achieve through scapegoats and sacrifices–and to what extent are defendants still made to bear the sins of society at large? Kadri addresses such themes through scores of meticulously researched stories, all told with the verve and wit that won him one of Britain’s most prestigious travel-writing awards–and in doing so, he has created a masterpiece of popular history. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for The Trial: Four Thousand Years of Courtroom Drama

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    What Kadri has here is a bunch of anecdotes that don't hold together. When there's analysis, there's no depth to it -- it reads like TIME magazine -- and Kadri writes like a courtroom lawyer showing off to his students in some distribution-requirement class, throwing sarcastic jabs into the sentences wherever they fit at whomever he happens to be writing about at that moment. The result is a basically condescending book which could have been titled "People involved in trials say the darndest thi What Kadri has here is a bunch of anecdotes that don't hold together. When there's analysis, there's no depth to it -- it reads like TIME magazine -- and Kadri writes like a courtroom lawyer showing off to his students in some distribution-requirement class, throwing sarcastic jabs into the sentences wherever they fit at whomever he happens to be writing about at that moment. The result is a basically condescending book which could have been titled "People involved in trials say the darndest things," and Kadri, in trying to write about the hype around trials like the O.J. trial, really just creates more of it. But nonetheless, some of the anecdotes (especially stories from the years 1200-1700 or so) are fascinating in themselves, and though they're never fleshed out sufficiently here, maybe I can find out more about them from other sources. (Note: the fact that I read Kadri's book directly after reading Foucault's "Madness and Civilization" probably led me to expect more from Kadri -- not that we can all be Foucault, of course, but as a historian of a social phenomenon, Kadri needed to provide more insight and less, well, gossip.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    bkwurm

    This should properly have been titled Western Trials or Jury Trials. While it is understandable that the author, given his background, would focus on the British and American trial systems, the book, in my opinion, treats the entire continental judicial system somewhat dismissively and completely ignores all other judicial systems as if they do not exist. At the very least, you would have thought the Chinese, Arab and Indian systems worthy of a passing mention. But if you accept the book as merely This should properly have been titled Western Trials or Jury Trials. While it is understandable that the author, given his background, would focus on the British and American trial systems, the book, in my opinion, treats the entire continental judicial system somewhat dismissively and completely ignores all other judicial systems as if they do not exist. At the very least, you would have thought the Chinese, Arab and Indian systems worthy of a passing mention. But if you accept the book as merely an exposition of the development of the jury trial, it is an interesting read although I was surprised to see no mention of the trials held in the aftermath of the English Civil War where precedents for many of the rights currently enjoyed by the accused.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sajith Kumar

    Irrespective of the social and technical level of progress, all human societies are afflicted with crime. The definition of crime varies between cultures, but the more heinous ones like murder, rape and loot invite condemnation from one’s fellow beings at all times. Investigation of the crime to find the culprit and the way in which punishment is given to him has undergone tremendous changes over the last 4000 years. Ordeals by fire and water are no longer practiced, as do public executions in m Irrespective of the social and technical level of progress, all human societies are afflicted with crime. The definition of crime varies between cultures, but the more heinous ones like murder, rape and loot invite condemnation from one’s fellow beings at all times. Investigation of the crime to find the culprit and the way in which punishment is given to him has undergone tremendous changes over the last 4000 years. Ordeals by fire and water are no longer practiced, as do public executions in most countries. There are widely divergent judicial practices in force in various countries. Trial by jury is so integral to British and American systems that they conceive it to be denial of justice to repudiate it, whereas in several countries like India, it is unheard of. Sadakat Kadri aims to present the history of trials from the earliest episodes in history to O J Simpson’s case in the U.S. This nice summary of the courtroom drama is eminently readable, coming from an author who had studied law and history and is a practicing lawyer in London and New York. Half Finnish and half Pakistani by birth, he lives in London. Kadri begins with the most sensational trial of ancient times known to us – that of Socrates. Contrary to common perception that he was wrongly charged by a regime that didn’t like criticism of its own actions, the author presents some details that puts the situation quite different than before. It seems that Socrates’ ideals were so rigid that could be implemented only in a totalitarian state. Though not comparable to its modern incarnations, Athenian democracy demanded that the opinions of its free, male citizens counted. On the other hand, Sparta was a military state, which regulated its citizens’ actions, thinking and character. Socrates admired this control with which he hoped the rulers could make the ignorant masses comply with rightly-guided advice of the philosophers. This might have gone well had Sparta not invaded Athens. But the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE) that ensued turned gruesome and lasted for 27 long years. In the end, Sparta won. A puppet regime was installed in Athens to which Socrates extended his support. When Athens regained its democracy a few years later, Socrates was naturally charged with corrupting the youth of the country, while the charge of collaborating with the enemy hung in the background. In a verdict that is well known, he was condemned and administered poison in his cell. Hence, the prosecution achieved its objective in the very first sensational case known to history. The book provides a brief description of the flow of history till the reign of Justinian. He formulated a legal code that is still the basis of Western jurisprudence. But Europe lost all contact with it in the Dark Ages, which is traditionally associated to begin with the closure of Plato’s Academy ordered by Justinian himself. Islamic scholars kept the flame of classical learning alight in the Dark Ages in the form of translations and treatises. European crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries to retake Jerusalem helped the interchange of information between Islamic and Christian realms. By the 13th century, a copy of Justinian’s code was unearthed from a monastery. It paved the way for reforming the legal system. The Inquisitorial System of Pope Innocent III took root in the continent, while the more humane jury system prevailed in England. In the former, the judges took the responsibility of investigating the cases as well. Torture was frequently resorted to, to obtain confessions. The act of being charged was itself sufficient to ensure conviction in most instances. Acquittal of a convict was thought to be a failure on the part of the judge, which was sufficient to prompt him to obtain a confession by whatever means possible. The inquisitorial system found itself on the losing side as the secular rulers increasingly asserted their authority on legal matters against hated intervention by popes. Kadri has given a lucid, ringside view of the judicial system which was slowly taking shape in Europe. He lists out various cases with an immensely humorous side tone. The range of acts for which a trial was conducted is truly bewildering, as shown in the book. In Europe and America, witch hunts that were nothing more than legalized murders took place in the Renaissance era. Women were generally at the receiving end when their neighbours complained against them to have employed witchcraft and caused mental or physical damage to them. The society then turned against the accused women en masse. Evidence, however flimsy, was deemed to secure conviction which was usually death. Kadri likens the illogical mob frenzy associated with witch hunts to that of the accused in cases of sexual assault on young children that raged in California in the 1980s. Similarly, medieval judges could turn against inanimate objects or even animals by trying them for harm done to human beings. Several such incidences are listed out in the book in which rats, dogs or weevils stood accused. All outward appearances were observed in these cases as well, like serving summons and appointing a defence counsel. The reason for such irrational acts may be seen to be the Church’s claim to judge any creature for wrongdoing by assuming the authority of god on earth. When it comes to modern age, we read about trials on war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as Nuremberg trials of Nazi supremos and that of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. At the same time, Kadri shows light on the contours of American injustice when its soldiers who were accused of equally heinous crimes in Vietnam were shamelessly acquitted in show trials. He then unsuccessfully extends the logic to plead the cases of the accused in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons. The author finds fault with Operation Enduring Freedom in which America flushed out the Taliban which was ruling Afghanistan till then and providing a safe haven for al Qaeda operatives who attacked the World Trade Center in 2001. Jury trials were denied to them and Qadri laments that 22 of the Afghan terrorists attempted suicide while in detention! He vents his ire on the U.S. Administration that didn’t grant POW status to them in accordance with the provisions of Geneva Convention. The inhuman treatment meted out to detainees of Abu Ghraib prison is then compared to that of Guantanamo Bay experience in an effort to confuse the reader with this unwarranted comparison of the two detention centres. In Iraq, the Americans tortured the officials and supporters of the regime of Saddam Hussein, who were only performing their duty in accordance with their official responsibility in a sovereign regime similar in stature and equal in rights to that of the U.S. government itself, which was trying them. This abuse of human rights of former Iraqi officials is indeed grave, while the etiquette served in Guantanamo Bay to jihadi beasts captured in Afghanistan was designed to serve them in the same coin. These terrorists would otherwise have detonated themselves anyway or might have mercilessly mowed down innocent shoppers, travelers or theatre-goers. A break with the beaten path of covering trials in Europe and America alone is exemplified in the coverage of the trial in Israel of Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi killer, after Mossad abducted him from Argentina where he was living incognito for fifteen years after the end of the World War. A book on the history of trials as courtroom drama would do well by the inclusion of Islamic jurisprudence and Sharia courts as well, which is mysteriously omitted in spite of the author’s Pakistani origins. Kadri reserves his good-natured scorn and ridicule on English and American courts alone. But harsh recriminations like “there was no obvious cultural reason why England, born from the same Christian and barbarian superstitions and subject to equally unpleasant bouts of war and pestilence, should have been any less draconian than the rest of the Continent” (p.167) could have been avoided. The diction is full of hearty wit and biting sarcasm thoroughly enjoyable to readers. We would relish several humorous anecdotes given in the book. But Kadri sometimes resorts to difficult terms like ‘discombobulation’ and ‘lachrymose’ which drive most of us to take up the dictionary. The ‘Notes’ section given at the end of the text is very comprehensive which runs to almost a fifth of the book in terms of number of pages. A decent index is spotted at the end, along with monochromatic pictures representing episodes in the narrative. The book is highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Azaad Sadiq

    This was an informative, engaging and often humorous account of the history of the trial, a staple of judicial history. Kadri's background as a barrister means he comes to the subject matter with not just academic knowledge but also practical experience, which allows him to give a unique and valuable insight into the history of trials, especially in relation to how famous trials affected legal practice. However, Kadri is aware that he is not just writing for professors, and his writing style is This was an informative, engaging and often humorous account of the history of the trial, a staple of judicial history. Kadri's background as a barrister means he comes to the subject matter with not just academic knowledge but also practical experience, which allows him to give a unique and valuable insight into the history of trials, especially in relation to how famous trials affected legal practice. However, Kadri is aware that he is not just writing for professors, and his writing style is easy to follow, so nothing should go over a reader's head. However, his decision not to consult "anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists, not to mention historians and lawyers" (his own words), means that the book falls short of adequately examining the sociological and political factors that affect trials, a noteworthy omission for some of the trials covered in modern times (such as O.J. Simpson's). Furthermore, Kadri's decision to focus on a selection of trials rather than tell a general history of the process in Western legal history might not be appealing for those looking for a continuous chronological account. Nevertheless, I would still recommend this book to anyone involved with the legal profession, and even those with just a mild interest in legal history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Risa

    At the outset, the book already sets the expectation that this book charts the history of the trial in western culture, so I can't fault it for that, but I now find myself wanting a similar work that focused on the global history of the trial. Anyway, I thought the book was pretty uneven. A lot of the medieval stuff (or, let's say, the first four or five chapters) was ponderous and overlong, but there were several very interesting tidbits that definitely stuck out to me (like the Saga of Burnt Nj At the outset, the book already sets the expectation that this book charts the history of the trial in western culture, so I can't fault it for that, but I now find myself wanting a similar work that focused on the global history of the trial. Anyway, I thought the book was pretty uneven. A lot of the medieval stuff (or, let's say, the first four or five chapters) was ponderous and overlong, but there were several very interesting tidbits that definitely stuck out to me (like the Saga of Burnt Njal, Raleigh and Coke, and the fastidious attention to Satan's penis). I really enjoyed the chapters on the Moscow Show Trials and the Nuremberg Trials, maybe because they seemed more familiar, more immediately historical, and more relevant to my previous studies. The political backdrop of the Nuremberg Trials, in particular, was very enlightening. The writing style isn't the most accessible, but ultimately, I thought the labor of getting through the book was worth it for the way it changed and enriched my perspective of the trial and its historical significance.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Burak

    Ülkemiz hukukçularının aslında mutlaka okuması gerektiği ancak von Tuhr’un seksenli yıllarda basılan ve borçlar hukukumuzun temel doktrini olan eserinin depolarda çürüdüğü ülkemizde asla ikinci baskısını yapamayacak olan mükemmel eser.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Josh Muhlenkamp

    The most fun I had in law school was when I was in Trial Advocacy and Mock Trial. I loved trials, and I was good at them (comparatively...against more experienced lawyers, I still have a bit to learn, I'm sure). So a book about the history of trials was always going to be interesting. I will admit, though, that I was worried this was going to be like most histories of a thing, rather than a place or a person or an event...lurching from one anecdote to another, or chock-full of very dry statistics The most fun I had in law school was when I was in Trial Advocacy and Mock Trial. I loved trials, and I was good at them (comparatively...against more experienced lawyers, I still have a bit to learn, I'm sure). So a book about the history of trials was always going to be interesting. I will admit, though, that I was worried this was going to be like most histories of a thing, rather than a place or a person or an event...lurching from one anecdote to another, or chock-full of very dry statistics. Pleasantly, it was neither. Don't get me wrong, there are statistics and there are anecdotes. But the anecdotes are well-chosen to make Kadri's point, and the statistics don't dominate the book. Especially interesting, I thought, was the chapter on witch hunts, and the comparison between the continental system of hunting witches and the English system. Some of the later chapters spent too much time relating historical facts, rather than repeating the successful formula of the earlier chapters. However, that's also due to the compressed nature of the types of trials Kadri was discussing (such as the Moscow Show Trials, which form an entire chapter, or the war crimes trial, which only came into existence after 1945). Still, though, the book is a very interesting read for anybody who finds themselves with an interest in how the modern American trial developed, and in how the institution that we're familiar with differs from other institutions that have been used at various places and various times around the world.

  8. 4 out of 5

    FiveBooks

    Criminal barrister Alex McBride has chosen to discuss The Trial: A History from Socrates to O J Simpson by Sadakat Kadri, on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Trial By Jury, saying that: “…This is a jolly good read and informative about how trials fit together in history and there is a good bit about how the English trial by jury came about. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 Pope Innocent III decided you couldn’t ask God to decide on earthly affairs and so the old trial by Criminal barrister Alex McBride has chosen to discuss The Trial: A History from Socrates to O J Simpson by Sadakat Kadri, on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Trial By Jury, saying that: “…This is a jolly good read and informative about how trials fit together in history and there is a good bit about how the English trial by jury came about. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 Pope Innocent III decided you couldn’t ask God to decide on earthly affairs and so the old trial by ordeal was no longer acceptable. They used to put a red hot poker in your hand and then bind it up and if it healed nicely then you were in the clear but if it festered then you were guilty. Of course, if the evidence was weak they might cool the poker off a bit first. But now the authorities had a problem. How would they continue……” The full interview is available here: http://fivebooks.com/interviews/alex-...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    an amazing book about the evolution of trial courts --- I love the chapters about trial by ordeal and trial by battle as well as the bit about icelandic adjudication rules....and since I am in an evidence class now, I can say with renewed clarity that I totally get the impetus to pick up a battle axe and just bludgeon the whole lot rather than deal with a lone by line reading of the code. The book looses some steam after the bit about the Moscow show trials. But that is a great chapter--those Bo an amazing book about the evolution of trial courts --- I love the chapters about trial by ordeal and trial by battle as well as the bit about icelandic adjudication rules....and since I am in an evidence class now, I can say with renewed clarity that I totally get the impetus to pick up a battle axe and just bludgeon the whole lot rather than deal with a lone by line reading of the code. The book looses some steam after the bit about the Moscow show trials. But that is a great chapter--those Bolsheviks went down in a storm of wry comments and bitter self-control that is possibly unrivaled in all of history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul Blaney

    Very much story-led rather than theory. That's not a bad thing, but the book could have done with a good edit to help bring out some of its themes and arguments. Very much story-led rather than theory. That's not a bad thing, but the book could have done with a good edit to help bring out some of its themes and arguments.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Smith Nickerson

    Nice comparisons made between past and present witch hunts. I always tend to go into hiding when these things occur.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    Got this book for free from a firm. Not a bad read, and some interesting historical tidbits. A bit too much to bite off for a single volume though.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gareth

  14. 5 out of 5

    K

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rick Barnett

  16. 4 out of 5

    Conor Gallagher

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nicci

  18. 5 out of 5

    James King

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Webb

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emily Joseph

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Finn

  22. 4 out of 5

    楠楠 吕

  23. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Sean

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aysell

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kim

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Gibbons

  27. 4 out of 5

    Frances Harrison

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cadence Woodland

  29. 4 out of 5

    William Richey

  30. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Glenn

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