Michael Becker / FX

American Crime Story

Is American Crime Story Source Book The Run Of His Life Worth Chasing Down?

Author Jeffrey Toobin's a consultant on the miniseries. Should you consult his account of the Simpson trial?

The Brand: American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson

The Extension: The Run Of His Life: The People Versus OJ Simpson, by Jeffrey Toobin (1997)

Is This A Brand Worth Extending? Strictly speaking, of course, ACS is the extension here, but 1) it's ACS that inspired me/will inspire most folks considering picking up the Toobin in 2016 to do so; and 2) the real "brand" here, unpleasant though that tawdry reality is to face, is the case itself -- the trial, the packed clown car of incompetents and starfuckers and incompetent starfuckers it disgorged daily, how all we talked about was The Race Issue while somehow managing not to really talk about race at all.

That last part, the part where we try to talk about or to figure out what it means to "get" "justice" in America, is a continuing preoccupation, and worthwhile for that. Discussion of American Crime Story tends to circle back to whether it's appropriate or respectful to "use" murder cases as entertainment; it's a fair question, but perhaps it's the wrong way to think of it, that true crime as a genre exists "at the expense of" the victims, who are not spared by our not engaging with their stories. Perhaps attempting to make sense of our various Trials Of The Century lets us do better in the future.

So that's the grand abstract. The sordid concrete is this: as with everything, eighty percent of the OJ-Simpson-case niche of true crime is steaming summertime garbage, badly written, self-aggrandizing, irrelevant, outright false, or some noxious combination. An even-handed, direct accounting of the Simpson trial feels by comparison like an act of courage, and one written by an attorney turned legal analyst, who witnessed the entire trial but has no agenda beyond that and is plain about his own involvements and opinions, is a breath of fresh air. Toobin's book is not perfect, but the prose is crisp and well-paced, and he doesn't get bogged down in sideshow grandstanding the way the trial and its court officers consistently did.

It's also a good companion to American Crime Story, in terms of double-checking things the series includes that you don't remember or wonder whether dramatic license is being taken, or whether the portrayal of, say, Robert Shapiro is Toobin or Travolta or a mixture. But it's a fine book on its own, a straight-ahead account of the trial and at the same time a window into the time and atmosphere. Toobin covers all the legitimately important issues, explains why others shouldn't have muddied the waters and where the prosecutors went wrong, and gives his own take on the crime and the verdict without histrionics (may Bugliosi rest, but he could get exercised about the Simpson case to a damaging degree).

Is This An Extension Worth The Branding? Absolutely. Toobin is withering on the subject of Simpson flunkies like Kardashian and Huizenga; persistent in describing Simpson himself as an illiterate narcissist with no real idea of how he was perceived; disappointed in the arrogance and incompetence of Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden respectively; frustrated with Lance Ito's starry-eyed changeability; and not above a very occasional bitchy "this is how we lived" aside. It is respectful of the victims, in tone and content; it's informative and a fast read.


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