BOOKS: A CASE OF JURISIMPRUDENCE

JONATHAN HARR TURNS A LEGAL MORASS INTO RIVETING DRAMA

JAN SCHLICHTMANN WAS THE SORT OF lawyer who inspires anti-lawyer jokes. He was arrogant, humorless and sleekly vulpine in his $1,000 suits, $65 ties and Porsche 928. Jonathan Harr was a baby-faced magazine writer in old jeans, beat-up boots and a rumpled sports jacket who did his best work when blending with the furniture.

An unlikely matchup. But with Schlichtmann's cooperation, Harr has turned a sprawling, complex liability case into a suspenseful narrative full of intellectual surprises and bold-faced characters. Based on Harr's fly-on-the-wall reporting, A Civil Action (Random House; 500 pages; $25) chronicles a lawsuit brought in 1986 by eight...

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