The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle over Teaching Evolution

HarperCollins/Clarion. Mar. 2023. 192p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780358457695.
Gr 8 Up–Sanchez delivers a succinct and engaging account of the 1925 Scopes trial, the first legal battle about teaching evolution in public schools. In the early 1920s, several states passed laws that made it illegal to teach evolution, a highly contentious topic. Believing this unconstitutional, the ACLU advertised for teachers willing to be involved in a legal case against these laws. The leaders of Dayton, TN, who were worried about the town’s declining economy, saw the ad and thought a big court case would bring much needed money to the town. John Scopes, a young, well-liked, substitute teacher, agreed to admit to teaching evolution and the national media descended upon the town for the trial soon after. The famed William Jennings Bryan volunteered to prosecute the case for the state pro bono while renowned attorney Clarence Darrow led the defense team, also for free. With a hotly debated controversy, new radio technology broadcasting the proceedings live, telegraph transmissions, even airplanes delivering daily film footage for newsreels, the “Monkey Trial” as it was known, captured American attention like nothing before. Sanchez deftly chronicles this dramatic case, accessibly describing the legal strategies while also focusing on the major players. Informative sidebars provide useful background on life during that time; the book is well documented with extensive source notes, bibliography, glossary, and time line. The epilogue brings the story forward with a summary of subsequent cases on evolution and touches on current debates of science versus religion.
VERDICT This compelling narrative will be highly appealing to history and legal buffs. An important work, it draws parallels to current divides in American society and supports multiple academic curricula.

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