May 4, 2008

Chapman, Matthew. 40 Days and 40 Nights. New York: Collins, 2007. 288pp.

Full title: 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania. (Post title field isn't big enough.)

This is a loosely connected sequel to Matthew Chapman's previous book, Trials of the monkey: An accidental memoir in which he revisited the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s. That was a great book, interweaving as it did Chapman's own colourful life story with the story of the trial as well as his visit to the original Tennessee town where it took place, Dayton.

40 Days and 40 Nights, on the other hand, is Chapman's chronicle of the latest battle between creationists and the reality-based community in the US -- the Dover, PA trial of 2005.

Chapman uses some of the same strategies in the Dover as he did in the first book on the Scopes Trial. He tells the story of the trial as a story about people: the lawyers, the defendants, the townspeople, the media. And a colourful lot they were, making those aspects of the book very entertaining and compelling. The weakness of the book is related to those colourful characters -- the chronicle of the trial itself never really seemed to come alive for me in the same way that his telling of the Scopes trial did.

It was also a bit of a disjointed narrative, switching back and forth between more character-based sections and trial description that just didn't work for me as well as the first book. Perhaps the thing that I missed the most was Chapman's own story. In the Scopes book, Chapman was everywhere, it was his story as much as Dayton's or William Jennings Bryan's or Clarence Darrow's. 40 Days and 40 Nights needed to be more of a personal story, to engage me on a personal rather level rather than just as a spectator at at a car crash.

Overall, however, it is a pretty good book, one that I would recommend for any public library and any academic library that collects popular science.

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