To counter the pervasive influence of religion in our mountain hometown, my father once loaned me his copy of Mark Twain’s satirical Letters from the Earth. A decade later I encountered Twain’s barbed commentary on a famous line from the Sermon on the Mount. To a character who claims that God would care for a poor kitten because “not a sparrow falls to the ground without His seeing it,” Twain has his skeptic respond, “But it falls, just the same. What good is seeing it fall?” America’s greatest humorist has always been its greatest skeptic. How startling, then, to find the same man so generous toward the work of spiritualist mediums in Deborah Blum’s Ghost Hunters, a portrait of 19th-century interest in what we would call the occult.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).