Monday, October 27, 2008

Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir by Matthew Chapman

Matthew Chapman is a screenwriter who also happens to be the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. In this, his first book, he set out to write about the legendary Scopes Monkey Trial, which occurred in Dayton, TN in 1925, and wound up writing what he accurately calls "An Accidental Memoir."

The centerpiece of the book is an annual re-enectment held in Dover on the anniversary of the original trial. He makes two trips to Dover, one for some background and the other to cover the re-enactment. Hilariously, Chapman gets his date confused and makes his return trip to Dover the week AFTER the mock trial.

Intertwined with with accounts of his two trips to Dover are glimpses from Chapman's life growing up in England, his early exposure to writing and his career as a Hollywood screenwriter. This makes for a fascinating read that tells as much about the author as it does about the legendary creationism vs evolution trial and Christian fundamentalism both past and present.

I've also read Chapman's second book, "40 Days and 40 Nights," in which he covers the more recent intelligent design vs evolution trial in Dover, PA (see my post elsewhere on this blog) and am finding that he is becoming a favorite among current authors. His tendency to inject himself into the story and his ability to find something to like about almost everyone he comes in contact with, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not, make his writing endlessly interesting. He also has an ability to laugh at himself that is a crucial element in any memoir.

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