40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS by Matthew Chapman


Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania
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A blow-by-blow account by Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson of the trial that pitted parents and teachers against the anti-evolutionist members of the Dover, Penn., school board who voted to give intelligent design a nod in science courses.

Chapman writes like the screenwriter and director he is, generating scene after scene of courtroom drama with you-are-there immediacy, thanks to vivid sketches of the principals and astute use of verbatim testimony. What makes the account sad but also ominous was the extent to which ignorance and arrogance combined in the fundamentalist board members to stir dissension in the community, inspiring screaming matches, you-are-damned letters and outright threats to the plaintiffs and their supporters. The conduct of the trial itself was exemplary, presided over by the eminently fair and intelligent Judge John Jones, whose occasional displays of dry humor helped relieve tension. (When queried about the portentous biblical association of the 40 days and 40 nights the trial lasted, Jones quipped that it was not “by design.”) Both sides recruited star lawyers: seasoned civil liberties defenders for the plaintiffs, lawyers from the Thomas More Law Center for the defense. In the end, expert witnesses for the plaintiffs carried the day, brilliantly parrying the thrusts of defense lawyers Chapman depicts as dysfunctional, often abrasive and no match for the experts’ intellectual rigor. The author is by no means a neutral observer; indeed, this reportorial work is as self-absorbed as his memoir, Trials of the Monkey (2001). Chapman too often inserts his personal history and the emotional reactions he had to the many he interviewed, even confessing his liking for some of the most extreme bigots. What’s more, he would vote to include creationism in science classes, so that the principles of science itself could defeat it—and strike a blow against the rising tide of evangelicalism in America.

Passionate and engaged, but Edward Humes’s Monkey Girl (2007) covers the same ground with equal readability and a less obtrusive authorial voice.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-06-117945-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Collins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2007