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on 4 November 2005
It’s no exaggeration for me to say that this is one of the best books I’ve ever had the pleasure (and at times the discomfort) to read. If you’ve seen the film version of the same name, but not read the book…then trust me when I say that the film doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the emotion, legal detail and subtlety of this heart-wrenching novel. I first read ‘A Civil Action’ when I was in my late teens, I’d never read a legal novel before and I was so gripped I barely took the time to do anything else in the time I spent reading it- John Grisham is banal and sentimental in comparison, astonishing but true. And I’m very much looking forward to picking it up again in a few years time and rediscovering the depth of human emotion, suffering and determination depicted here in this courtroom drama/thriller. It’s only a shame that this was the only story of its kind written by Harr, but this isn’t surprising when you consider that the author spent years painstakingly researching and assembling this story and also the thankful fact that a case on a scale such as that of Woburn is a very rare occurrence.
An isolated town in Massachusetts and the groups of families who inhabit it are at the centre of this true-life tale- the events of which would be wholly incredible if you weren't already aware that this was written by a man who shadowed the real-life counterparts of the novel’s characters (hence the classification of this book as non-fiction), as they endured not just the painful deaths of loved ones, but also the disdain and indifference of those who were responsible. But it’s the members of the legal team ("the ambulance chasers”) led by lawyer Jan Schlichtmann whom the families collectively hire to fight for justice for their dying relatives who are the driving force behind this book and it’s somewhat depressing to witness the decline of this young lawyer and his colleagues’ spirits throughout the course of the novel. They begin with such ambition and passion, but are slowly but surely trampled by the system. They also lack any real empathy for the suffering of their clients to begin with, but it’s very poignant how the team and particularly Jan gradually discover their compassion for the plight of their clients. And just as these characters are the driving force behind this legal story, so too were they the driving force in real life in regards to the civil suit against a massive, multi-billion dollar American Corporation and its subsidiaries described here.
The film version with John Travolta in the lead role didn’t pack much of an emotional punch, but more significantly- it reduced this story to predictable Hollywood fare and sugar-coated to some extent the suffering of these people, wrapping-up events too neatly and not doing justice to their story. This is a story full of injustice and death and helplessness, but also hope and although the instances of corruption and callousness by the antagonists and their legal representatives may outweigh those miraculous moments…these small instances are enough to sustain the reader and even encourage them to continue, if only for the small moments of triumph only occasionally achieved, but so rightly deserved by these characters in the face of insurmountable odds.
The print here is very fine indeed- I defnitely recommend the hardback version. It’s 492 pages long and as a reader you’re never spared the bittersweet elements of this true story, so prepare to steel yourself against the injustices at the very heart of this story. However, all that still withstanding…this is a novel more than worthy of your time and heartache. A book like this comes around once in a lifetime. Outstanding.
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on 16 November 2000
This is truly a compelling story. Its author rivals the greats of legal fiction (Grisham). A true David and Golliath battle takes place! It shows the strengths and more importantly the weaknesses in men who are supposed to be used to the 'trials' and tribulations of courtroom life. The struggle Schlichtmann encounters in his private life echos those faced in his professional one. The tragic circumstances with which the story is centred around are shocking and frightning, providing the reader with an empathy that I have only encountered in true life tales. A Civil Action however IS a true story and this knowledge leads the reader into the one of the most bitterly fought cases in the U.S. Its almost unbelivable story has become a motion picture from Paramount Studios but don't be tempted to watch the movie first, (it stays true to parts but) the book is far more gripping! It is what I call a 'rainy day read' and luckily for me it has done nothing but rain!!!
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Most people believe that if they are harmed by a wealthy corporation or person, a personal injury lawyer will take up their cause and win them a fortune. It's almost a parallel to the belief that you could hit the jackpot in the lottery, even thought the odds are astronomically against it. A Civil Action will cure many people of their belief in civil actions as a way to secure timely redress. Well, there's still the lottery!

More significantly, A Civil Action gives you a Shakespearean look at how demanding litigation takes a toll on all of the participants. I found myself fascinated by the psychology of wanting to win at virtually any cost and how that dynamic plays out among the lawyers, judge and parties. There's also lots of plain old human sin -- lying, cheating, and deliberately misleading. What kind of a life do you have in such a situation? I doubt if you'll read about one you'd exchange for . . . no matter how much money is involved.

I urge you not to get bogged down in the facts and the legal issues. That may cause you to miss the drama. Think of this as a novel, and you'll gain more from it.

Mr. Harr had remarkable access to the extended elements of this famous case and shares what he learned in restrained, but oh so revealing, fashion.

I have met three of the primary characters in the book, and I can attest that Mr. Harr caught them just as I perceive them. That's rare. Usually, if I read about someone I've met, I cannot recognize them from the writing. Mr. Harr is exceptionally talented in this regard.

Your child contracts leukemia. Pretty soon, you find out that other children in your part of town have the same disease. That doesn't cure the heartache, but it does give you other shoulders to lean on. From that deep pain, you begin to want to do something. Could it be that someone did something wrong? That's the impetus that pushed this case forward.

From there, the issue becomes a plaything of the attorneys where egos and money rule. You'll think you are reading about petty tyrants in their castles during the Middle Ages as they sally forth in suits of armor to joust and jab at one another.

But then, the case begins to bog down. What is truth? What can be proven? You find yourself facing some of the most basic questions about how we know anything.

The book ultimately becomes like the Thrilla in Manila as heavyweights sock each other remorselessly . . . but none go down. The drama is compelling because it's real. I wouldn't enjoy a novel that said these things because it would seem too extreme to be real.

I stayed up late three nights in a row to finish the book. It's great!

I do hope that Mr. Harr will revisit this case and write a sequel at some point in the future.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 November 2010
First published some time ago, this still has power to grip your attention. Ideal for putting down or taking up over a longish period, the all important detail of this protracted pollution court case seems to stay with you as does the tension of what it is costing both the families and the prosecuting lawyers. Give it to your friends and especially any to do with the legal profession. Or even someone who has done jury service!
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 August 2012
I couldn't put this book down. If you are considering becoming a lawyer (whether in the USA or not) you should read this book!
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Most people believe that if they are harmed by a wealthy corporation or person, a personal injury lawyer will take up their cause and win them a fortune. It's almost a parallel to the belief that you could hit the jackpot in the lottery, even thought the odds are astronomically against it. A Civil Action will cure many people of their belief in civil actions as a way to secure timely redress. Well, there's still the lottery!

More significantly, A Civil Action gives you a Shakespearean look at how demanding litigation takes a toll on all of the participants. I found myself fascinated by the psychology of wanting to win at virtually any cost and how that dynamic plays out among the lawyers, judge and parties. There's also lots of plain old human sin -- lying, cheating, and deliberately misleading. What kind of a life do you have in such a situation? I doubt if you'll read about one you'd exchange for . . . no matter how much money is involved.

I urge you not to get bogged down in the facts and the legal issues. That may cause you to miss the drama. Think of this as a novel, and you'll gain more from it.

Mr. Harr had remarkable access to the extended elements of this famous case and shares what he learned in restrained, but oh so revealing, fashion.

I have met three of the primary characters in the book, and I can attest that Mr. Harr caught them just as I perceive them. That's rare. Usually, if I read about someone I've met, I cannot recognize them from the writing. Mr. Harr is exceptionally talented in this regard.

Your child contracts leukemia. Pretty soon, you find out that other children in your part of town have the same disease. That doesn't cure the heartache, but it does give you other shoulders to lean on. From that deep pain, you begin to want to do something. Could it be that someone did something wrong? That's the impetus that pushed this case forward.

From there, the issue becomes a plaything of the attorneys where egos and money rule. You'll think you are reading about petty tyrants in their castles during the Middle Ages as they sally forth in suits of armor to joust and jab at one another.

But then, the case begins to bog down. What is truth? What can be proven? You find yourself facing some of the most basic questions about how we know anything.

The book ultimately becomes like the Thrilla in Manila as heavyweights sock each other remorselessly . . . but none go down. The drama is compelling because it's real. I wouldn't enjoy a novel that said these things because it would seem too extreme to be real.

I stayed up late three nights in a row to finish the book. It's great!

I do hope that Mr. Harr will revisit this case and write a sequel at some point in the future.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Most people believe that if they are harmed by a wealthy corporation or person, a personal injury lawyer will take up their cause and win them a fortune. It's almost a parallel to the belief that you could hit the jackpot in the lottery, even thought the odds are astronomically against it. A Civil Action will cure many people of their belief in civil actions as a way to secure timely redress. Well, there's still the lottery!

More significantly, A Civil Action gives you a Shakespearean look at how demanding litigation takes a toll on all of the participants. I found myself fascinated by the psychology of wanting to win at virtually any cost and how that dynamic plays out among the lawyers, judge and parties. There's also lots of plain old human sin -- lying, cheating, and deliberately misleading. What kind of a life do you have in such a situation? I doubt if you'll read about one you'd exchange for . . . no matter how much money is involved.

I urge you not to get bogged down in the facts and the legal issues. That may cause you to miss the drama. Think of this as a novel, and you'll gain more from it.

Mr. Harr had remarkable access to the extended elements of this famous case and shares what he learned in restrained, but oh so revealing, fashion.

I have met three of the primary characters in the book, and I can attest that Mr. Harr caught them just as I perceive them. That's rare. Usually, if I read about someone I've met, I cannot recognize them from the writing. Mr. Harr is exceptionally talented in this regard.

Your child contracts leukemia. Pretty soon, you find out that other children in your part of town have the same disease. That doesn't cure the heartache, but it does give you other shoulders to lean on. From that deep pain, you begin to want to do something. Could it be that someone did something wrong? That's the impetus that pushed this case forward.

From there, the issue becomes a plaything of the attorneys where egos and money rule. You'll think you are reading about petty tyrants in their castles during the Middle Ages as they sally forth in suits of armor to joust and jab at one another.

But then, the case begins to bog down. What is truth? What can be proven? You find yourself facing some of the most basic questions about how we know anything.

The book ultimately becomes like the Thrilla in Manila as heavyweights sock each other remorselessly . . . but none go down. The drama is compelling because it's real. I wouldn't enjoy a novel that said these things because it would seem too extreme to be real.

I stayed up late three nights in a row to finish the book. It's great!

I do hope that Mr. Harr will revisit this case and write a sequel at some point in the future.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Most people believe that if they are harmed by a wealthy corporation or person, a personal injury lawyer will take up their cause and win them a fortune. It's almost a parallel to the belief that you could hit the jackpot in the lottery, even thought the odds are astronomically against it. A Civil Action will cure many people of their belief in civil actions as a way to secure timely redress. Well, there's still the lottery!

More significantly, A Civil Action gives you a Shakespearean look at how demanding litigation takes a toll on all of the participants. I found myself fascinated by the psychology of wanting to win at virtually any cost and how that dynamic plays out among the lawyers, judge and parties. There's also lots of plain old human sin -- lying, cheating, and deliberately misleading. What kind of a life do you have in such a situation? I doubt if you'll read about one you'd exchange for . . . no matter how much money is involved.

I urge you not to get bogged down in the facts and the legal issues. That may cause you to miss the drama. Think of this as a novel, and you'll gain more from it.

Mr. Harr had remarkable access to the extended elements of this famous case and shares what he learned in restrained, but oh so revealing, fashion.

I have met three of the primary characters in the book, and I can attest that Mr. Harr caught them just as I perceive them. That's rare. Usually, if I read about someone I've met, I cannot recognize them from the writing. Mr. Harr is exceptionally talented in this regard.

Your child contracts leukemia. Pretty soon, you find out that other children in your part of town have the same disease. That doesn't cure the heartache, but it does give you other shoulders to lean on. From that deep pain, you begin to want to do something. Could it be that someone did something wrong? That's the impetus that pushed this case forward.

From there, the issue becomes a plaything of the attorneys where egos and money rule. You'll think you are reading about petty tyrants in their castles during the Middle Ages as they sally forth in suits of armor to joust and jab at one another.

But then, the case begins to bog down. What is truth? What can be proven? You find yourself facing some of the most basic questions about how we know anything.

The book ultimately becomes like the Thrilla in Manila as heavyweights sock each other remorselessly . . . but none go down. The drama is compelling because it's real. I wouldn't enjoy a novel that said these things because it would seem too extreme to be real.

I stayed up late three nights in a row to finish the book. It's great!

I do hope that Mr. Harr will revisit this case and write a sequel at some point in the future.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Most people believe that if they are harmed by a wealthy corporation or person, a personal injury lawyer will take up their cause and win them a fortune. It's almost a parallel to the belief that you could hit the jackpot in the lottery, even thought the odds are astronomically against it. A Civil Action will cure many people of their belief in civil actions as a way to secure timely redress. Well, there's still the lottery!

More significantly, A Civil Action gives you a Shakespearean look at how demanding litigation takes a toll on all of the participants. I found myself fascinated by the psychology of wanting to win at virtually any cost and how that dynamic plays out among the lawyers, judge and parties. There's also lots of plain old human sin -- lying, cheating, and deliberately misleading. What kind of a life do you have in such a situation? I doubt if you'll read about one you'd exchange for . . . no matter how much money is involved.

I urge you not to get bogged down in the facts and the legal issues. That may cause you to miss the drama. Think of this as a novel, and you'll gain more from it.

Mr. Harr had remarkable access to the extended elements of this famous case and shares what he learned in restrained, but oh so revealing, fashion.

I have met three of the primary characters in the book, and I can attest that Mr. Harr caught them just as I perceive them. That's rare. Usually, if I read about someone I've met, I cannot recognize them from the writing. Mr. Harr is exceptionally talented in this regard.

Your child contracts leukemia. Pretty soon, you find out that other children in your part of town have the same disease. That doesn't cure the heartache, but it does give you other shoulders to lean on. From that deep pain, you begin to want to do something. Could it be that someone did something wrong? That's the impetus that pushed this case forward.

From there, the issue becomes a plaything of the attorneys where egos and money rule. You'll think you are reading about petty tyrants in their castles during the Middle Ages as they sally forth in suits of armor to joust and jab at one another.

But then, the case begins to bog down. What is truth? What can be proven? You find yourself facing some of the most basic questions about how we know anything.

The book ultimately becomes like the Thrilla in Manila as heavyweights sock each other remorselessly . . . but none go down. The drama is compelling because it's real. I wouldn't enjoy a novel that said these things because it would seem too extreme to be real.

I stayed up late three nights in a row to finish the book. It's great!

I do hope that Mr. Harr will revisit this case and write a sequel at some point in the future.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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