978-0-7156-3002-0 / 9780715630020

Trials of the Monkey: A Darwin Goes in Search of America and Happens Upon Himself


Publisher:Duck Editions



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About the book:

It seems like the perfect premise--Charles Darwin's great-grandson travels by bus from New York City to Dayton, Tennessee, to witness a reenactment of the infamous 1925 Scopes trial and see how--or if--attitudes toward evolution have changed. Call it "The Voyage of the Greyhound," if you will. But it didn't work out that way.

Matthew Chapman set out to write such a book, but ended up penning this "accidental memoir." Trials of the Monkey is remarkably compelling, given that the narrative wanders back and forth in time, across continents, and all over the place thematically. Descriptions of Chapman's youthful desires, his mother's alcoholism, and the world of Hollywood screenwriting are interspersed with tales of riding along with a Dayton cop on a Friday night, spelunking with Christian students, even sipping moonshine from a jam jar in a restroom stall ("To my surprise, it's excellent").

Those seeking a detailed account of the trial may be disappointed, though Chapman does offer up evocative glimpses, such as prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan--renowned as an orator--quietly telling attorney for the defense Dudley Malone, "Dudley, that was the greatest speech I ever heard." The book is at its best, however, when Chapman reveals his own feelings, such as his realization that though he came in part to "poke fun at [the] hillbillies," everyone had been "just as nice as all get out" to him. The intervening 75 years since the trial may not have changed Dayton very much, but they have seen a widening of the division between creationists and evolutionists. "If something like the Scopes trial was staged now," Chapman notes, "people would be afraid for their lives." --Sunny Delaney

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