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A Civil Action
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About the Author

Jonathan Harr is the author of the national bestseller A Civil Action, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and The Lost Painting, a New York Times bestseller. He is a former staff writer at the New England Monthly and has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. He lives and works in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he has taught nonfiction writing at Smith College.

Reviews

This tale of a somewhat quixotic quest by an idealistic young lawyer concerns his efforts to secure damages from two corporate giants, Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace, for allegedly polluting the water in Woburn, Mass., a Boston suburb, with carcinogens. Jan Schlichtmann had hoped that a victory would send a message to the boardrooms of America and felt that the cluster of leukemia victims in Woburn (the disease had claimed the lives of at least six children) guaranteed his success. But he reckoned without certain developments: first, the case went to a federal court, a less sympathetic venue for damage suits than state courts; second, the trial judge appears to have been unsympathetic to his case; third, at least one of the defense witnesses lied; four, defense attorneys evidently failed to deliver all relevant documents to Schlichtmann's team. The case against Beatrice was thrown out, and the plaintiffs accepted a settlement of $8 million from Grace. Personally bankrupt, Schlichtmann considered himself a failure. Former New England Monthly staffer Harr has told the story expertly, although more exhaustively than most readers may wish. Author tour; movie rights to Disney. (Sept.)

"Whether in truth or fiction, I have never read a more compelling chronicle of litigation." --John Grisham

"A page-turner. Rich and vivid. . . eventful and gripping." --The New York Times "Once you start A Civil Action, you probably will not be able to put it down." --Washington Post Book World

Harr, a former staff writer at New England Monthly, describes a case that is to the civil justice system what the O.J. Simpson case is to the criminal justice system‘fascinating, compelling at times, but not representative. Beginning with stories of leukemia-stricken children from the same neighborhood in Woburn, Massachusetts, he takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride along the tortuous path of a groundwater contamination case in which there were ultimately no winners. Harr also traces how the demands of the case coupled with self-delusion and sometimes poor professional judgment bankrupted the plaintiffs' lead attorney emotionally and financially. His book is weakened considerably by its lack of analysis and failure to fit these events and individuals into a larger context. Nonetheless, the author's ability to evoke atmosphere and create suspense makes this an engrossing read. Recommended for general adult nonfiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/95.]‘Susan Pierce Dyer, Alameda Cty. Law Lib., Oakland, Cal.

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