Civil Action

Harr, Jonathan. A Civil Action. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Confessional: this was my third attempt to read this. The first two times I got bogged down by the legalese of it all, but for some reason the third time was a charm. Because this was a Hollywood movie (one I didn’t see, of course) I was expecting a different ending. This is the tragic but true story about a group of Woburn, Massachusetts citizens and the lawsuit they filed against two major companies for dumping what they believed to be cancer-inducing chemicals into their drinking water. Instantly, I think of 10,000 Maniacs and their song, “Poison in the Well.” I don’t think it was written for or about Woburn but it’s eerily similar. Residents in the song and of Woburn know their water “tastes funny” and during certain times of the year they avoid consumption of it all together. Some go so far as to complain loudly, but time and time again they are told the levels of toxins are negligible and there is nothing to worry about. It’s only after Anne Anderson’s child develops leukemia, and Anderson starts to notice multiple cases of the rare disease in her hometown, that she decides to hire an attorney, Jan  Schlichmann. The rest that follows is a series of brutal court battles. There are times you think it’s an open and shut case and other times when it’s no so obvious. The depositions and testimonies leave you wanting to pull your hair out. Every single detail is covered in Harr’s story. My suggestion is, after you have finished reading the book, do some research about the trial. Read about what happens later and it will make you feel better.

Reason read: John Jay was born in December and became the first Chief Justice of the United States in 1789.

Book trivia: Most people will remember this as a 1998 movie starring John Travolta. As a book it was a best seller and won the 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.

Author fact: At the time of publication Jonathan Harr lived and worked in Northampton, Massachusetts.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Nonfiction” (p 135).

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