Cover image for Last man standing : the tragedy and triumph of Geronimo Pratt
Last man standing : the tragedy and triumph of Geronimo Pratt
Olsen, Jack.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [2000]

Physical Description:
500 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
E185.97.P73 O47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



With the epic scope ofA Civil Action,Last Man Standingis an unforgettable chronicle of the twenty-seven-year struggle to break a conspiratorial abuse of power and free one of America's most famous political prisoners. In 1968, twenty-year-old Elmer Gerard "Geronimo" Pratt returned from Vietnam with a chest full of medals and a Purple Heart into the most heated racial climate in American history. Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, Pratt enrolled at UCLA, where the Black Panther Party was busy recruiting. Propelled by a diverse group of African Americans, the Panther agenda was a volatile mix of black rage, black pride, altruism, idealism, and violence. Under the charismatic leadership of Eldridge Cleaver, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Bunchy Carter, Pratt rose to the rank of Deputy Minister of Defense and became leader of the Los Angeles Chapter. The Panthers did not go unnoticed by J. Edgar Hoover. In the era of enemies' lists, his FBI drew up its own list of Panthers to be "neutralized" and began a systematic counterintelligence program to undermine black solidarity. Geronimo Pratt headed Hoover's list. When an FBI informer within the Panther party agreed to testify that Pratt murdered a young woman at a Santa Monica tennis court, his days as a free citizen came to an end. If not for the unlikely alliance of a brash African American defense attorney (Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.), a radical Irish Jewish law student (Stuart Hanlon), a Protestant minister (Rev. James McCloskey), and the indefatigable Pratt-his spirit unbroken by eight years in solitary confinement-a horrifying miscarriage of justice would never have been rectified. As riveting biography, courtroom drama, and just plain narrative nonfiction,Last Man Standingis certain to take its place among the finest works of American judicial history.

Author Notes

Jack Olsen is the author of thirty-one books & the winner of many awards, including the Edgar & the National Headliners Awards. A former bureau chief for "Time," he has written for "Vanity Fair," "Life," "People," "Paris Match," "The New York Times," & "Reader's Digest." He lives on an island in Puget Sound with his wife & children.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Olsen pumps much force into the classic narrative form in his presentation of the heroic story of Elmer Gerard "Geronimo" Pratt, who was the "world's longest-held political prisoner [after] Nelson Mandela had been freed." Geronimo was imprisoned for almost 27 years, spent 8 of those years in the hole, and survived many suspicious attempts on his life (e.g., his cell left unlocked, at night, while he was in solitary confinement). How did he survive, keep his sanity, and remain standing tall? In the beginning, there was his family--Geronimo's tough-as-nails father, Jack Pratt; his beautiful, devout, and intelligent mother, Eunice; and his siblings. Olsen sketches this family life with much attention to the revealing detail in each anecdote, and he thus conveys a vivid picture of family virtue and courage. Geronimo went off to Vietnam and emerged a hero tougher than John Wayne, for his character traits were not scripted. He seemed a natural. When he returned from saving (and taking) lives and accumulating medals, he should have been accorded the privileges of Audie Murphy or Sergeant York. But that didn't happen. Pratt returned to find the U.S. embroiled in social upheaval and considered it his duty to join the black revolutionaries. Given his background, such a choice did not go unnoticed. This is a book full of heroes and villains. Olsen, former bureau chief for Time, doesn't miss much in highlighting the dramatic points in a highly charged, active crusade to free Geronimo undertaken by a charismatic and skilled Johnnie Cochran, the radical Irish lawyer Stuart Hanlon, and scores of dedicated activists. Countering their effort were the villians of the piece: Richard Kalustian (L.A. district attorney and later Superior Court judge), Julius Butler (the informant), the LAPD, several Black Panthers, and the FBI's COINTELPRO. It's a riveting story that doesn't let up even after the last page is read. --Bonnie Smothers

Publisher's Weekly Review

One part Kafka and one part Orwell, the story of Geronimo Pratt's conviction and imprisonment, for a murder committed while he was 350 miles away from the crime scene and under FBI surveillance, is a textbook case of abuse of the American criminal justice system for political ends. Raised in small-town Louisiana, Pratt served two distinguished stints in Vietnam (earning a Purple Heart) before becoming a leader of the Black Panthers in Los Angeles. Visible and articulate, he was targeted by the FBI's counterintelligence programÄand soon was set up and convicted for a highly publicized 1968 Santa Monica murder. At trial, where he was represented by the now-famous Johnnie Cochran, evidence was suppressed (and later destroyed), witnesses were intimidated and perjury was suborned. His case became an international cause c‚lŠbreÄbut the details of Pratt's struggles have not, until now, been readily available. Olsen tells Pratt's story with a compelling narrative grace. Drawing from a mountain of court records and other documentary evidenceÄas well as on the memories of Pratt, his family and his lawyers (both Cochran and his young colleague, Stuart Hanlon)ÄOlsen takes us from the early days of Pratt's imprisonment, through his appeals, and up to the day when his conviction was finally overturned and he went free. (By then, he'd served more than 26 years in prison, several of them in solitary confinement.) Rigorously researched, skillfully organized and passionately written, the book lays bare long-obscured facts about Pratt's case, as well as ugly truths about the conditions of prison and a grave miscarriage of justice. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Olsen is a journalist and prolific author who writes in the segmented style of a playwright as he chronicles the life and times of Geronimo Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who was spurned by his peers and framed by the authorities for a murder he did not commit. Pratt served 27 years behind bars until a persistent and determined coalition of clergy and lawyers (including the famed Johnnie L. Cochran) was able to dig up enough fresh evidence to spring him. The book focuses on aspects of the Pratt case that are common to the imprisoned innocent: the contamination of secondhand confession testimony and inflated eyewitness identifications, in this case extracted by bad cops and overzealous prosecutors. Added to this mix is the notorious status of the Black Panthers in 1968. As Olsen jumps from scene to scene, the egregious excesses and misinformation campaigns of the FBI, the LAPD, and the district attorney and the federal government's inter-agency effort to discredit the Black Panther movement become manifest. The book is a classic expos of how an innocent's rights can be swept under the rug of politics and power. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DPhilip Y. Blue, NY State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.