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In America, when somebody does you wrong, you take 'em to court.
W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods had been dumping a cancer-causing
industrial solvent into the water table of Woburn, Massachusetts,
for years; in 1981, the families of eight leukemia victims sued.
However, A Civil Action demonstrates powerfully that--even with
the families' hotshot lawyers and the evidence on their side--justice
is elusive, particularly when it involves malfeasance by megacorporations.
Much of the legal infighting can cause the eyes to glaze. But the
story is saved by great characters: the flawed, flamboyant Jan Schlichtmann
and his group of bulldogs for the prosecution; Jerome Facher, the
enigmatic lawyer for Beatrice, who proves to be more than a match;
John J. Riley, the duplicitous, porcine tannery owner; and a host
of others. It's impossible not to feel the drama of this methodical
book, impossible not to grieve for the parents who lost children,
and impossible not to share Schlichtmann's desperation as he runs
out of money. A Civil Action reads like one long advertisement for
a few well-placed Molotov cocktails. (But that wouldn't make for
a very long book, now would it?)
Jonathan Harr was born in 1948 in Wisconsin. His father
was a Foreign Service officer whose assignments took the family
to France, Germany, and Israel, as well as Chicago, San Francisco
and Washington, D.C. While in high school, Harr served as a page
in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Harr began studying at the College of William and Mary, but left
in 1968 to serve as a VISTA volunteer in Appalachia. He tried college
again a few years later at Marshall University in West Virginia,
but dropped out before graduating. Following college, Harr worked
as a journalist for an alternative weekly, The Advocate, located
in New Haven, Connecticut. A few years later he studied comparative
economics at Brandeis. More...