Simon Baatz is an award-winning historian and author and presently holds a joint appointment as an Associate Professor of History at John Jay College and at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of the critically acclaimed For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago (Harper). His many awards for his teaching and research include the Canadian Council Teaching Award, Wellcome Trust Research Grant, British Academy Research Grant, and a Research Fellowship at the American Philosophical Society.
A seasoned speaker, Baatz has presented his work at conferences and venues in the United States, Central America, and Europe. In the United States, he has spoken at Harvard University, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, New York University, Johns Hopkins University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Institutes of Health. He has spoken at the University of Westminster (London, UK), Catholic University of Louvain (Leuven, Belgium), Universidad del Sagrado Corazon (Puerto Rico), University of Trento (Trento, Italy), University College (London, UK), and the Ecole Polytechnique (Paris, France). His presentations are ideal for historical and law societies, religious organizations, in addition to true crime conventions and conferences.
For the Thrill of It tells the true story of the infamous 1924 murder by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb of a 14-year-old child – a murder committed solely to experience the sensation of killing another human being – and the subsequent trial featuring Clarence Darrow. Darrow defended both Leopold and Loeb in the courtroom and succeeded in avoiding the death penalty. Loeb died in Stateville Prison in 1936 after an attack by another prisoner and Nathan Leopold won his parole in 1958. The case lived on in the popular imagination. F. Scott Fitzgerald had followed the case in the newspapers and had hoped that his next book would be based on the murder – but his wife’s mental illness prevented its completion. Alfred Hitchcock used the story in his classic film Rope, and Orson Welles gave a brilliant performance as Clarence Darrow in the movie Compulsion. The Leopold-Loeb case has become an indelible part of American history, a horrific tale of murder by two teenagers who could never bring themselves to express remorse for their act.
Baatz has previously published two books: a study of agricultural innovation in eastern Pennsylvania and a history of the New York Academy of Sciences. He has written many scholarly articles and reviews in the history of American science and medicine. His work has appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, Journal of American History, Times Literary Supplement, Science, and many other publications.
Baatz has taught American history and the history of science at universities in Britain and the United States. In Britain, he taught at the University of Sussex and the University of Exeter. In the United States, he has taught at the University of Maryland, George Mason University, the University of Pennsylvania, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He received his undergraduate degree in physics and philosophy from the University of York in England, a master’s degree in the history of science from Imperial College, University of London, and a Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Pennsylvania.
Praise for For the Thrill of It:
“Altogether absorbing. . . . Mr. Baatz, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, has done meticulous research, and he writes extremely well. . . . His book on the Leopold and Loeb case is the best we’ll have for a long, long time.”
—New York Times
“Simon Baatz’s For the Thrill of It is likely to be the definitive work on this infamous crime and the dramatic trial of its perpetrators. It is impressive in its research, even-handed in its tone and immensely readable. . . . [An] excellent book.”
—Wall Street Journal
“For the Thrill of It is meticulous and thorough, and it puts the case in historical perspective as a clash between two conflicting views of criminals and crime, one espoused by Robert Crowe, the state’s attorney, and the other by Clarence Darrow, who represented Nathan Leopold and was the most famous American lawyer of his day, perhaps indeed of any day.”
—Washington Post Book World
“Simon Baatz’s For the Thrill of It is the kind of book that can ruin late-summer vacation plans. It’s a riveting non-fiction thriller that will turn you into an activity-hostile recluse who shouts, ‘Go away and let me read!’… What makes Thrill of It so exceptional is the way Baatz balances all the elements: the killers, the crime, the police, the media and the trial’s impact. Baatz probes with fresh insight the ever-fascinating 1924 thrill kill of a 14-year-old boy by Leopold and Loeb.”
“Baatz’s thorough research, and particularly his analysis of the flaws and strengths of the medical and psychological testimony offered by the defense, are singularly impressive. He tellingly dissects Darrow’s crude (to us — they seemed quite modern and progressive in the 1920s) attempts to explain the crime as a freakish result of glandular imbalances or psychological scarring.”
—U.S. News & World Report
“This story never fails to astonish.”
“[A] masterful book ... Both Crowe and Darrow were capable of surprises, and the judge himself, John Caverly, pulled off the biggest surprise of all ... In addition to his meticulous research, the author knows how to tell a story.”
“For the Thrill of It is a page-turner that you’ll have trouble putting down … A carefully detailed work that is likely to be definitive. It’s immensely readable, filled with drama and suspense.”
—Chicago Jewish Star
“For the Thrill of It is a thrill in its own right, not only for its spine-tingling subject matter but also for its meticulous research and relentlessly powerful prose. In telling the story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, Simon Baatz has given us a gripping murder mystery and a compelling courtroom drama that just happen to be true.”
—John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Eden’s Outcasts
“Richly illustrated and highly readable, For the Thrill of It offers a startling new interpretation of the infamous Leopold-Loeb case. Simon Baatz has written a definitive account that corrects longstanding errors and myths. The result is a tale of privilege and arrogance, forbidden sexuality, and human tragedy that is consistently enthralling.”
—Nancy C. Unger, author of Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer
“The story of the Jazz Age thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb has never been told in so gripping a style. A significant work of historical scholarship that reads like a page-turning thriller, Simon Baatz’s masterly book now stands as the definitive account of this legendary case.”
—Harold Schechter, author of The Devil’s Gentleman
“In 1924 Clarence Darrow set out to save Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb from the gallows after they had confessed to the murder of a young child. Simon Baatz’s superbly crafted book tells the story in an eminently readable and accessible style. The Leopold-Loeb case has finally found its historian. For the Thrill of It will be the standard work on this infamous crime for decades to come.”
—Ronald L. Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, University of Wisconsin, and author of The Creationists: From Scientific Creation to Intelligent Design