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Marine Lieutenant James N. Sutton died on the grounds of the Naval Academy on October 13, 1907, and the Marine Corps would never be the same.
This is the true story of an Oregon mother's crusade to save her son's soul from the stigma of suicide and to confront venerated military institutions in her search for answers about her son's death. From the corridors of power to common city streets, Americans were fascinated by accusations of drinking, gunplay, romantic rivalry, cover-ups, wounded honor, and ultimately murder in Annapolis. Splashed across the front pages of newspapers nation-wide, the Sutton case commanded the attention of members of Congress, high-ranking military officials, renowned attorneys, the Cardinal of the American Catholic Church, and America's foremost psychical researcher.
Touching on lives great and small, A Soul on Trial is a rich portrait of Progressive Era America. Part murder mystery, part ghost story, and part courtroom drama―the book follows the stories of Rosa Sutton, her daughter Rose, and three Marine Corps lieutenants whose futures were at stake as the Naval investigation unfolded. It is a riveting tale of the power of the press, the secrecy of the military in times of crisis, and the lives of young officers whose private battles were often as difficult as their professional ones.
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Robin R. Cutler has spent most of the past two decades as a public historian both at the National Endowment for the Humanities and as president of two nonprofit organizations. She holds a doctorate in history from Columbia University and taught history for eleven years in universities in New York City. Cutler was the project director and coproducer of ROANOAK, an Emmy-nominated dramatic miniseries for PBS, and the producer/writer of the award-winning PBS documentary Indian America: A Gift from the Past. Ten years ago she discovered the extraordinary primary sources that make it possible to explore the century-old case of Jimmie Sutton's death for the first time. She lives in New York City. You can visit her website at http://www.RobinRCutler.com/Review:
This is an intriguing tale of the death of a young Marine Corps officer, a military cover-up, and a mother's crusade that brought it to the nation's attention. The Sutton murder mystery fascinated reporters, members of Congress, high-ranking military officials, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and even spiritualists. Engagingly written, A Soul on Trial is an extensively researched and astutely analyzed account of a riveting episode from the turn of the last century that is relevant for us today. (John Whiteclay Chambers II, professor of history, Rutgers University, and author of The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era)
Robin Cutler has written a lively and gripping account of a pivotal era in American history. Modern readers will identify with her timeless themes―citizens confronting their government, and a mother's love for her son―as they are drawn into this true tale of drama and intrigue. (Nathaniel Fick, author of the New York Times Bestseller One Bullet Away and former Captain, First Reconnaissance Battalion, United S)
Robin Cutler's A Soul on Trial is a gripping mystery story as well as an outstanding example of current social history at its best. This wonderfully fresh and lucid book offers much to the general reader as well as the specialist, since it is a truly insightful fusion of social history, the study of religion and spiritism, the history of military justice, and 'history and memory' inquiries into truth-telling and myth-making. I recommend this book enthusiastically! (Donald J. Mrozek, professor of history, Kansas State University, and co-author of A Guide to the Sources of United States Military History,)
This is an incredible story and wonderfully presented. Robin Cutler invites us into a complex tale of an investigation into the internal values and practices of the military, replete with accusations of murder, cover ups, and undue institutional privileges. In the midst of the Progressive Era, we have a mystery worthy of Hollywood. Cutler's book is better than fiction! (Jonathan Lurie, professor of history and adjunct professor of law, Rutgers University, and author of Military Justice in America)
Thanks to Robin Cutler's meticulous research and talented story-telling, this book is a compelling portrait of America in the early 20th century, a country caught between the honorable beliefs of its past and the driving energy of its future. All of those elements combine to make this a provocative story and a terrific book. (Deborah Blum, author of Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death)
Cutler. . . seamlessly weaves together the proceedings . . . the resulting tapestry never seems contrived or unduly weighted with tangential diversions. (The Oregonian)
A Soul on Trial is a truly arresting book. In the course of her meticulously researched examination of the 1907 death of Marine Lieutenant James N. Sutton, Robin Cutler provides a panoramic overview of American life in the decade before World War I. Rosa Sutton embarked on an unflinching quest to uncover the truth about the death of her son, a quest that raised troubling questions about the role of the professional military in a democracy as well as the power of the popular press in shaping the national agenda. Sutton's ordeal also illumines from a new perspective the vast gulf that separated, and still separates, the ways men and women experience the world. Cutler evinces an insider's knowledge of Annapolis and the naval culture, international in its sphere of action yet at times surprisingly class-bound and provincial in its outlook, in which the Sutton case unfolded. She is a skilled story-teller who weaves the disparate strands of this event into a rich and vivid narrative, one that resonates strongly with American lives today. (Michael P. Parker, author of Presidents Hill: Building an Annapolis Neighborhood, 1664-2005, and professor of English, United States Naval Ac)
A captivating story. (Publishers Weekly)
A Soul on Trial is a fascinating work of nonfiction. . . . A timeless account of the importance of properly conducting initial investigations and military court proceedings. (Marine Corps Gazette, April 2008)
Cutler's well-written and painstakingly researched account is a page-turner with surprises throughout. (Oregon Historical Quarterly, Spring 2008)
Exhaustively documented, A Soul on Trial is a gift to the expanding archives of Marine Corps history. Cutler's mastery of detail is noteworthy for one without apparent personal military experience. . . . A superbly evocative description of a crime and a time. (Leatherneck, 8/1/08)
Cutler has made a substantial contribution to the histories of the navy, the Marine Corps, and the Naval Academy. . . . This is an exhaustively researched case study, yet at the same time it is so captivating, dramatic, and vivid that readers will feel as if they are sitting in the inquiry room sweating through the humid Annapolis summer with the hearing's participants. This book could easily become a screenplay, and it is narrative history at its finest. (Journal of American History, September 2008)
[This] intriguing story is enhanced by some revealing looks at the culture and politics of the period. (U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings)
A Soul on Trial is a good read, a well-researched account of an overlooked and sensational controversy, and a promising example of how to examine and contextualize, rather than just to cite, newspaper sources from the past. (American Journalism: A Media History Journal)
In this excellent historical narrative, Cutler sheds light on many aspects of the social, cultural, military, and legal history of the Progressive Era. Her appreciation of the historical context combined with good control of the legalities at stake make this intriguing story about the Sutton case hard to resist. A Soul on Trial exhibits a nice feel for the new roles of women in the early 20th century. Cutler also offers us a detailed portrayal, drawn from impressive digging into archival documents, of the culture and traditions of the Marine Corps. Always a closed fraternity, we see in the Corps' handling of the media scrutiny regarding Jimmie Sutton's death that everything old is new again. A super story about military justice and the way military culture and civil society relate to one another. (Thomas C. Mackey, professor of history, University of Louisville, and author of Pursuing Johns: Criminal Law Reform, Defending Character and Ne)
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