Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” (Random House) by Jeffrey Toobin.
Originally published in 1996, the book was recently re-released in digital and paperback media tie-in editions and serves as the source material for FX’s original series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, premiering Tuesday evening, February 2nd. Toobin, a non-practicing lawyer who covered the trial for The New Yorker, remains a staff writer for the magazine and has since written other bestsellers including “The Oath,” “The Nine,” “Too Close to Call,” and “A Vast Conspiracy.” He is currently the senior legal analyst at CNN.
A mostly chronological account of the investigation, arrest, and criminal trial of Simpson—accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman, on the evening of June 12, 1994—“The Run of His Life” opens with a prologue that establishes a shared belief between Toobin and members of the defense team: Simpson’s guilt. Having immediately put that question to rest, the author is then in a position to propel forward without having to equivocate. While Simpson’s guilt is treated as a foregone conclusion, that opinion doesn’t prejudice Toobin’s telling; rather it provides context.
Though overfamiliarity with many aspects of the case (and key players) might deter readers—the heinousness of the crime, the infamous Bronco chase, the spectacle of the trial, and the not guilty verdict that divided a nation—Toobin’s narrative is as immediately compelling as it is informative. Not only does he establish the facts of the case succinctly, but also the personalities of the lawyers involved on both sides of counsel table. Toobin himself became a minor character in the drama (his article entitled “An Incendiary Defense” publicly revealed the defense’s intention to posit the theory that Mark Fuhrman planted the bloody glove discovered at Rockingham as part of his racist agenda to frame Simpson), lending a sense of authority to his dispassionate voice.
The ability to convey the complexities of the personalities involved is perhaps Toobin’s greatest strength; in his telling, there are no heroes but instead a varied cast of flawed individuals who were simply human—and whose shortcomings were either amplified or obliterated by the glare of the spotlight. Case in point: While Toobin cites prosecutor Marcia Clark’s “arrogance” as a shortcoming he also provides contextual background that demonstrates why she would have believed the strength of the state’s evidence could have superseded the defense’s smoke-and-mirrors tactics—at least initially. And, speaking of the defense, Toobin is unsparing in his depictions of Shapiro, Cochran, Bailey and other members of the so-called “Dream Team” as feuding schemers who weren’t nearly as accomplished in the arena of American jurisprudence as they were made out to be.
Beyond an examination of the case’s highlights (or perhaps lowlights would be a more appropriate term?), behind-the-scenes legal posturing, and social context, Toobin offers commentary on the civil litigation—and the reasons why that outcome was different (Simpson was found liable for both deaths). Sadly, the victims of the crime—who were once vibrant in life but became little more than fodder in death—are little more than backstory. Of course this, too, is a reflection of the trial itself. While the passage of years has offered greater clarity, or alternate perspectives, on some of the people and proceedings in question, Toobin’s unique proximity to the case, his superior analytical skills, and his enviable writing chops make this a timeless work of non-fiction.
Two decades ago, “The Run of His life” stood apart from the many other trial books that saturated the market—and it still does today. Rather than simply blaming a flawed prosecution for Simpson’s acquittal, Toobin exposed the realities beyond such a superficial explanation. Contributing factors included the defense team’s insistence on playing the race card, the jury’s predisposition to be suspicious of authority, the media’s inevitable spin of the story, and the judge’s failure to maintain control of the courtroom. That FX has chosen a work of such depth as the basis for American Crime Story is promising in that mainstream, television-viewing Americans may finally have a better understanding of how justice was perverted.