Just Mercy follows the trend in my reading lately- I seem to keep digging to the center of where human life can break your heart. However, the beauty of this book is in the hope that it brings through the story of incredible injustice.
Just Mercy is more than a book about death row.
But if I was to explain it in a couple of sentences, death row and the death penalty would certainly play into the description. A lot of my friends are do-good lawyers, at least that’s what I call them. They’re smart cookies- they went to places like Harvard, but have chosen to work with those who need the help the most- those who need retraining orders from abusive partners, those trying to get visitation to see their kids, and those who have trouble filling out the forms for a divorce because it isn’t in their first language. I’m always inspired by the work my friends do.
I was pointed toward this book when I asked my Instagram peeps to recommend anything they’d read that they couldn’t put down recently. I was coming to the end of A Little Life and afraid that I’d never love a book as much ever again. (I still am, which is probably why I’m reading so much non-fiction lately. It feels like a different category) This one was suggested with the description “could not put it down. Could not sleep.” That was what I was talking about.
I see why they felt this way. This book is directly about life and death. And even more than that, it’s about morality and what we have empowered our legal system to do. I’m not going to make this a political review, but it does make you realize you can’t take a stance on the death penalty in the abstract once you read these stories. I have thought about this a lot, as one of my do-good lawyer friends has done a lot of prison advocacy work, including time working on death row while in law school. There are two sides to this (and probably many more, truth be told): how you feel about the death penalty if every time we could be 100% certain that the person being executed was guilty and then there is the death penalty with the justice system as it is.
Reading Bryan Stevenson’s book, and other books in the vein of revolution against any system or societal norm that isn’t working, is inspiring on a number of levels:
- There is the David and Goliath storyline- that of a small, underfunded but passionate legal group making an incredible difference to hundreds of people who would have been executed for absurd reasons. This same legal group even reaches the Supreme Court numerous times with its work.
- Anyone who needs to believe that hard work and a powerful dream can make something happen, this is your book.
- Anyone who wants to make change and its afraid it’s going to be a long haul, this one is for you too. If you’re tired, burnt out, and crawling on the floor but you still so much want to believe that what you’re doing is worth it- check this one out.
- History nerds will enjoy appearances by Rosa Parks, and exposes on bits of history many people (including me) hand’t ever learned about in American History class.
- And if you like to get wound up about unfairness, this is for you, too.
I think reading Just Mercy has the power to make you a better person. There has been a lot of press about reading fiction as a way to increase empathy. I absolutely believe in that. But I think when a book really gets to the heart of nonfiction it can do the same thing. I’m sure a novel about any one of the cases discussed in Just Mercy would be moving and incredibly powerful. At the same time, there is something about the power of all of these stories together that gave me a new picture and a new depth of awareness of this topic that I wouldn’t give up. I think nonfiction can inspire empathy just as much, if done well. This one is.
Please do share if you’ve read Just Mercy in the comments below. What did you think? Did it make you think differently about anything? I’d love to know how it impacted you. I’ve thought about it so much since finishing this week. Before I start pushing it on friends and family, I’d love to get the conversation going here.
Also! The Secret Library book club is now up and running. We’re having a great time over there. Any Footnotes subscriber is welcome to join. We’ve just started on this month’s book, Playing Big, so if you’d like to join in, sign up for Footnotes and request to join the group.
One last question for you- have you read anything lately you couldn’t put down? I ALWAYS want to hear about it! Reply in the comments or e-mail me at caroline[at]book-dr[dot]com. I can’t wait to hear from you!