is it better to watch the movie or read the book to get a good idea of what the scopes trial was like?
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Depends on which version of the movie. The older version does a better job of portraying the carnival like atmosphere of the original trial. The town basically decided that a trial that would draw some national attention would be good for the local businesses. The newer version with George C. Scott does not do as good a job, in my opinion. The book does an excellent job of developing the town as a secondary character.