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Shelf Life

In 'Broken Justice' Kenneth C. Edelin likens the denial of women's reproductive rights to a '[form] of slavery.' In "Broken Justice" Kenneth C. Edelin likens the denial of women's reproductive rights to a "[form] of slavery." (TOM LANDERS/GLOBE STAFF)

Case revisited

In 1974, Kenneth C. Edelin, an African-American doctor finishing his residency training at Boston City Hospital, was indicted on a charge of manslaughter. The indictment concerned an abortion he had performed on a 17-year-old girl; the alleged victim was her fetus. After a six-week trial, a jury convicted Edelin. In 1976, the state Supreme Judicial Court reversed the verdict.

For 30 years Edelin struggled to write a book about the case. Last year he retired from the Boston University School of Medicine to finish it. "Broken Justice: A True Story of Race, Sex and Revenge in a Boston Courtroom" is his gripping account of those tumultuous times. Before the indictment was handed down, Boston City Councilor Albert "Dapper" O'Neil had convened hearings aimed at ending abortions at the city hospital. Edelin also draws on memories of accompanying his girlfriend to New York in 1962 for an illegal abortion.

Edelin, who remains supportive of a woman's right to an abortion, writes in the book that "the scar on my soul [from the manslaughter conviction] has never gone away."

Smoot and consequences

Oliver R. Smoot was an MIT fraternity pledge in 1958 when he laid his 5-foot-7-inch body down - again and again, end to end, across the Harvard Bridge. He and his fellow pledges had been charged with measuring the bridge between their fraternity house in Boston and the campus in Cambridge. Painting marks at every 10 Smoots, they determined that the length of the bridge was 364.4 Smoots, plus or minus one ear.

The initiation rite earned the Smoot as a unit of measurement a place in history. Smoot himself went on to an illustrious career in the field, retiring recently as the president of the International Organization for Standardization.

This week Smoot will return to MIT from his home in San Diego to celebrate the publication of "Smoot's Ear: The Measure of Humanity," by Robert Tavernor. The book is a survey of measuring systems devised by humans over the last 2,000 years.

The publisher, Yale University Press, and Smoot's fraternity are co-sponsoring a talk by Tavernor. For details, check the events calendar at

Stump the author

Anne Bernays and Justin Kaplan, adding a novel twist to PEN New England's annual celebration of local authors who have published books in the past year, will quiz a panel of writers about literary trivia. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Gym in Radcliffe Yard, Cambridge. All are welcome.

Coming out

"The Bone Garden," by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine)

"Playing for Pizza," by John Grisham (Doubleday)

"The Choice," by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)

Pick of the week

Ellen Jarrett of Porter Square Books, in Cambridge, recommends "Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice," by Janet Malcolm (Yale University): "A mixture of biography and literary criticism, 'Two Lives' is a fascinating portrait of two women living on the leading edge of a cultural tide. Their lives spanned some of the most transformative decades in history, and they befriended the likes of Picasso, William James, Thornton Wilder, Ernest Hemingway, and Henri Matisse."

Jan Gardner can be reached at

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