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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|Title of eBook: The Trial|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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From Eden to Ordeals
It is only our conception of time that makes us call the Last Judgment by that name; in fact it is a permanent court-martial.
- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
One of the few things that humanity has agreed upon for most of history is that its laws descend directly from the gods. The oldest complete legal code yet discovered, inscribed onto a black cone by the Babylonians almost four thousand years ago, shows Shamash, god of the sun, enthroned and handing down his edicts to a reverential King Hammurabi. Jehovah reportedly did much the same thing a few centuries later, carving ten commandments onto two tablets with His own finger as Moses stood by on fiery Mount Sinai. Coincidentally or otherwise, it was said of Crete’s King Minos that he climbed Mount Olympus every nine years to receive legal advice from Zeus. Ancient cultures were equally certain that the power to adjudicate breaches of the law rested ultimately in the hands of the gods. The methods of enforcement were often as terrible as they were mysterious—ranging from bolts of lightning to visitations of boils—but the justice of the punishments was as unquestionable as the law that they honored.
And yet, for all the insistence that heavenly laws were cast in stone and divine judgments unerring, one question always caused turmoil—namely, to whom, down on earth, had the right to judge been delegated? The priests who veiled their various scrolls and statutes invariably argued that only they could interpret their secrets, backing up the claim with further revelations as and when required. Monarc