The best books that connect the dots by weaving together disparate facts to tell a story previously untold

Nelson Johnson Author Of Darrow's Nightmare: The Forgotten Story of America's Most Famous Trial Lawyer
By Nelson Johnson

Who am I?

Nelson Johnson is a New York Times bestselling author (Boardwalk Empire) and has been fascinated with history and Clarence Darrow’s career all his life. From having practiced law many years and presided over 200(+) jury trials as a New Jersey Superior Court Judge, Nelson is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Darrow’s and his wife Ruby’s worst two years together. Nelson’s first four books have all prepared him to tell this story. It’s a tale that asks the reader to judge Darrow.


I wrote...

Darrow's Nightmare: The Forgotten Story of America's Most Famous Trial Lawyer

By Nelson Johnson,

Book cover of Darrow's Nightmare: The Forgotten Story of America's Most Famous Trial Lawyer

What is my book about?

Though his fifty-year-long career was replete with momentous cases, specifically his work in the Scopes Monkey Trial and the Leopold and Loeb Murder Trial, Darrow's Nightmare zeroes in on just two years of Darrow's career: 1911 to 1913. It was during this time period that Darrow was hired to represent the McNamara brothers, two union workers accused of bombing the Los Angeles Times building, an incident that resulted in twenty-one deaths and hundreds more injuries.

Along with investigative journalist Lincoln Steffens, Darrow negotiated an ambitious plea bargain on behalf of the McNamara brothers. But the plan soon unraveled; not long after the plea bargain was finalized, Darrow was accused of attempting to bribe a juror. As Darrow himself became the defendant, what was once his shining moment in the national spotlight became a threat to the future of his career and the safety of his family.

Forgotten by history books, New York Times best-selling author Nelson Johnson brings two of the most tumultuous years of Darrow's life back to the forefront of conversation.

The books I picked & why

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The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

By Niall Ferguson,

Book cover of The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

Why this book?

Ferguson’s book “connects a lot of dots” to help make sense of where we are with regards to the influence of social media and the dramatic changes unleashed by the digital revolution as it transforms our society. Ferguson does an excellent job explaining that “networks” have always been with us, but how/why the more complicated/intricate our societal networks become, the more vulnerable we are. He places the role of Facebook into a sorely needed but sobering context. I have re-read many entire portions of this book and have viewed the PBS documentary on this book twice.


A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America

By David K. Shipler,

Book cover of A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America

Why this book?

Shipler’s book is as timely today as when written nearly 25 years ago. Slavery is our nation’s founding sin and was responsible for racism being written into America’s DNA. I spent years researching my book The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City. Shipler’s research was an invaluable aid in understanding where we are today regarding race relations. In everything from pay differentials, education and housing, to healthcare, drug addiction, and death at the hands of police, the chasm between whites and many black Americans is virtually intractable. Shipler does a yeoman’s job of putting race and racism into perspective, making sense of a complex and disturbing issue.


Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Why this book?

This book highlights the broad patterns of how modern history unfolded. Diamond explains how some fruits of the Age of Enlightenment, particularly steel, weaponry, and explosives all but guaranteed that Europeans would build empires with large footprints ‘round the world. When combined with the germs brought to the “new world(s)” by adventurers bent on plunder, the results were catastrophic. The indifference to the lives and well-being of “natives” was a by-product of the invaders’ notions of superiority and divinely sanctioned entitlement. Diamond paints with a broad brush yet provides all the necessary small details to tell an extraordinary story.


Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

By James W. Loewen,

Book cover of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Why this book?

“LIES” are only the half of it. Distortions, misleading narratives, and unnecessary false re-writes diminish the public education of our children. Though written more than 25 years ago, Professor Loewen’s book remains provocative and timely. In my other life, I was immersed in electoral politics (successful in 4 of 5 elections) and one of my early political mentors advised me on seeking voters’ support: “Don’t confuse them with the facts, don’t scare them with the truth.” Though it is true that all countries rely upon myths to sustain a civil society, as a nation, we are a very immature country, fearful of the truth.


Michel de Montaigne

By Michel de Montaigne, J.M. Cohen (translator),

Book cover of Michel de Montaigne

Why this book?

For me, Montaigne’s thoughts on life and human foibles compare favorably with those of St. Augustine. His insights on the human condition are valuable to anyone inclined to self-reflection on one’s own frailties. Montaigne’s advice on coping with one’s mortality is worth heeding. He counsels that in order to deny death its sting, “…let us deprive death of its strangeness; let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more in our mind than death.” Yet our mortality is only one of many issues he discusses. Montaigne offers up wisdom on everything from fear, prayer and solitude, to the virtues of social intercourse, avoiding unwanted relationships, and educating children.


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