Fault Lines Summer Reading List 2016
June 22, 2016 (Fault Lines) — It’s that time of year again, to kick back, open a cold one and read a book. What book? Glad you asked. Here are the recommendations of our Fault Lines contributors.
Justice in Indian County by Sari Horwitz
If you are an American Indian woman living in “Indian country,” you had a 1 in 3 chance of being abused. If your abuser was not Indian, he could not be prosecuted. The tribes were not allowed to try non-Indians, and even if they could, they could only sentence them to a three-year term (and most were limited to one-year sentences). In most states, the state and local government do not have jurisdiction on reservation land, and the federal government won’t prosecute.
Horwitz spent a year investigating the loophole that allowed non-Indians to commit crimes against Indians, particularly Indian women, without danger of prosecution. She covers some of the changes in the law, and the authorization for three tribes to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence offenses.
The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova
This is a tough one to pick, because I love learning about con artists and scams, but in the end I think “The Confidence Game” by Maria Konnikova is worthy of your time and attention. Most books on deception, con artistry, and scams only teach you the ins and outs of a con game. Konnikova goes deeper into the psychological roots of deception and shows you how and why even the smartest people fall for scams.
This is a tough read, because when you delve into Konnikova’s work you might see techniques that have used on you. Despite that, it’s an effective course in why successful deception, why those who earn a living from scams and cons, manage to do so on a consistent basis, and leave the reader with a solid framework of how to understand the way their mind is “played” by scammers and con artists in the future.
An honorable mention in the field of “Learn the art of the scam” is “Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking” by Chris Hadnagy. Focusing on language and phrasing from hackers like Kevin Mitnick, Hadnagy shows how easy it is for someone to hand over personal data to a criminals without even realizing it. In an age where our government can’t even be trusted to protect its own employees’ personal data, a book of this sort is definitely a must-read.
Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton
Mémoires of a rape victim and the accused. Jennifer recounts the events of her rape, her identification of her attacker, numerous court proceedings, convictions and appeals, only to find that DNA cleared Ronald after years of incarceration. Ronald recounts years of trials and appeals as well as life in prison. For all the flaws in the system, there is redemption and a solid friendship born of the tragedy. Unlike most innocence books, its uniqueness is found by the inclusion of both stories: the victim and the innocent accused.
Defending the Damned by Kevin Davis
A description of the life and work of PDs in the Murder Task Force unit of the Cook County Public Defenders. In addition to the legal stuff, there’s a decent character study of one of the lawyers there, and does a good job of showing what it takes to play the game at that level. As screwed up as indigent defense is in this country, capital defenders in proper PD systems tend to be the elite, and they’re more likely to actually be given the time and resources to defend their clients properly. (Obviously, there are exceptions.) Nevertheless, this book manages to take an inside look at capital defense without veering into either sentimentality or despair.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
As I noted in my review of Just Mercy, Stevenson is a “graduate of Harvard Law School, founder and Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Professor of Law at NYU, arguer of cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, grantee of serial honorary degrees, winner of a MacArthur Foundation genius award, recipient of the Olaf Palme Prize, America’s Nelson Mandela. I could go on.”
Stevenson is extraordinary. If you have the opportunity to hear him speak, run with both feet. (Oops, forgot the trigger warning for the lame and halt and peg-legged.) But so is his book. Part memoir, part stories of those he has represented, those for whom he’s fought. Its particular narrative focus is Walter McMillian, wrongfully convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, awarded (in a lawsuit) substantial compensation for, essentially, having been framed by the local sheriff, then having that compensation ripped away by the Supreme Court. But the stories about McMillian, about the others, and about Stevenson himself, all lead to this:
We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I appreciate that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and — perhaps — we all need some measure of unmerited grace.
If you’re only going to read one book on criminal-justice-related issues this summer, make it Just Mercy.
Professor Duckworth, a cognitive psychologist and winner of a “genius” MacArthur Grant, has devoted much of her professional life to the study of grit and developed the Grit Scale to measure grit. Long before her book was written I wrote about her work in a law review article on the Eight Traits of Great Trial Lawyers. She and I became friends and she sent me a complimentary of her book when it was published earlier this year. It is a fabulous read and she is a terrific writer and storyteller. It’s one of my top five favorite books of all time.
On Killing by David Grossman
I’m going with Dave Grossman’s mostly-debunked classic On Killing. This is a self-indulgent book, written by a retired U.S. Army LTC who trained soldiers to kill, but never did it himself. It was published in ’96, at the height of the Clinton-era crime panic, and it’s full of “superpredator” and “video games kill!” rhetoric. Depending on your age and political views, you’ll find those parts quaintly amusing – or just annoying.
Methodologically, the book’s a disaster. Grossman meanders, repeats himself and never learned how to cite. For his main thesis, that modern training incorporates a form of brainwashing to get soldiers to kill at all, he relies in large part on the made-up claims of WWII-era U.S. Army combat historian S.L.A. Marshall.
So why am I recommending it? First, it’s a great read. Grossman’s an engaging writer with a gift for making his claims, which are really pretty radical, look like common sense. Second, along with all the speculation, there’s a solid core of insight into the psychodynamics of killing. From desensitizing soldiers to the enemy’s humanity, to the role distance plays in getting men to kill, to our intense aversion to sticking a blade into people (preferring to bludgeon or shoot,) Grossman makes a lot of interesting observations.
Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned by John Farrell
I recommend “Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Dammed” for this year’s FL summer reading. Yes, it may be a cliché for a criminal defense lawyer to recommend a book on Darrow, but this is as good as it ever gets for this iconoclast. No book on Darrow has ever come close as this one.
From the beginning, author John Farrell shows us the heroic and tragic qualities that made Darrow the quintessential criminal defense attorney. This book portrays Darrow as a political muckraker when outside the courtroom, who went from having nothing to having everything, to having almost nothing at all in the end. For the benefit of law nerds like yours truly, the book is replete with transcripts (please read and re-read Darrow’s sentencing argument from the Leopold and Loeb case, a forensic masterpiece) and press accounts from Darrow’s most (in)famous cases.
Part of Darrow’s legacy can be summed up by one of his childhood buddies when he was asked about funeral arrangements for Darrow: “Funeral Service? I thought they’d just toss him off a cliff.” Pissing them off until the end, throughout his life Darrow lived and breathed the defense of the accused.
*Also, should anyone want to delve further into Darrow’s cases, the University of Minnesota has complied a digital collection of material from his trials. The collection includes trial transcripts, affidavits, and exhibits. Dig it!
Dutch Shea, Jr. by John Gregory Dunne
My buddy Jay Cooper was a great storyteller, public defender, and friend. He died young. His short life left a long impression on a lot of people. He left me in particular with my favorite lawyer book.
Jay recommended I read John Gregory Dunne’s novel Dutch Shea, Jr. I bought, read it, and have thought about it nearly every day since. It’s politically incorrect, full of colorful characters, and captures the life of a trench lawyer perfectly. It’s about a lawyer at the bottom of a long fall from grace, who screws up a lot. But Dutch Shea, Jr. has a code. And for all his screw ups, I like his code.
This book should be depressing. But it’s not. It has one of the finest, yet most unsatisfying, endings I have ever read. Every time I read Dutch Shea, Jr., I am left with a sense of wonder at the job I picked and maybe just a little bit of the arrogance and pride that comes from spending all day doing the legal equivalent of a street brawl.
Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes
One could be forgiven for thinking that such an ambitious goal for a book will ultimately fail in fact and as prose, yet Rhodes succeeds at both. The book captures your interest on several levels. It doesn’t read like a scientific book nor is simply a biography of Lonnie Athens, the criminologist whose theory is explored here by Rhodes. The book explains Athens’ motivations, his research methods, and his conclusions while weaving it together with familiar popular crime stories. So, even if you don’t even up agreeing with Rhodes and Athens, it’s still an interesting read.
Athens’ primary conclusion that people become violent through a process. He believes that regardless of whether there is some inherent (genetic) capacity for violence and murder, Athens contends that the violentization process is ultimately what gives birth to murderers. He considers it universal and essentially ironclad. In addition, Rhodes explores how that the theory is necessary but insufficient to give rise to murderers because siblings can go through the violentization process but still diverge in later behavior.
Those involved in the criminal justice system, in particular, may find Athens’ methodology more useful than some of his fellow sociologists do. His method is a qualitative one built on induction. These methods combined with his theory of violentization will give those in the criminal justice system a framework to discuss shared experiences and observations about the “bad guys” we’ve seen case in and case out. You may not totally agree with him, but you’ll probably conclude that Athens is closer to being right than anyone else out there.
Rhodes is a Pulitzer prize winning author and the story-telling here shows that he deserved it. I give it two snaps, a twist, and a kiss.
Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiaya Hartman
I heartily recommend “Losing Your Mother: A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route” by Saidiaya Hartman (New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007). This book is better informed than Roots and not nearly as smarmy. Here is a sample quote:
Slavery had established a measure of man and a ranking of life and worth that has yet to be undone. If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery — skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration and impoverishment.
The author, a black woman who has a Ph.D. and teaches at Columbia offers dynamic insights into such things as the myth of “African Americans” and the failed attempts at returns to Africa. “Losing Your Mother” is a metaphor she uses to describe the effects of the losses of freedom, tribe, land, family and country suffered by those who were captured, transported and sold as chattels and the enduring effects on their descendants and, perforce, on our society as a whole.
Another observation she makes is that black Americans do not ask one another, “Where do you live?” Instead they ask, “Where are you staying?”
Want to discuss or take action against the disproportionate number of black Americans arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned? This book will illuminate your vision.
The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue by Daniel Vaughn
When I think of criminal law, I think of dead meat. And when I think of dead meat, I think of Texas barbecue. I also think of beer, but I do that all the time anyway, and there really aren’t any books I like about beer. Even if there were, they would be unfulfilling. I would write more but now I’m thirsty and, well, what’s a drink without a nosh?
Sure, this recommendation might be partially due to the fact I haven’t read a book that didn’t have to do with parenting or child psychology in about nineteen months, but this book has some insights that are very applicable to the world of criminal defense. It’s much easier to deal with the temper tantrums various judges, prosecutors, and even other defense attorneys throw from time to time when you understand the root and establish a plan in advance regarding how to address them.
Learning how to assess temperament is invaluable, as is developing techniques to soothe a colleague who’s acting out. While toddlers and certain problem lawyers might not be exactly the same, it’s still a book that tries to teach you how to deal with self-centered and inflexible people with short attention spans. I think we can all agree there are plenty of those in the courts system. Highly recommended.
Maximum Insecurity: A Doctor in the Supermax by William Wright M.D.
Maximum Insecurity: A Doctor in the Supermax chronicles eights years [of] practicing general medicine at Colorado’s maximum security prison after Wright found that retirement from medicine was driving him (and possibly his wife) nuts. The book is wonderful.
It is hysterically funny, insightful, and very human. Most of all it provides a transparent, but worldly, glimpse into the practice of medicine in a prison where the patient population consists of especially serious (and often loopy) offenders, where the prison bureaucracy strives mightily to act as dysfunctional as the screwiest of inmates, and where the physicians, assistants and nurses undertake to treat with compassion, but not judge, or burst out loud laughing at the machinations of, an odd and sometimes dangerous lot. It was “Runner Up” in the General Non Fiction category at the 2014 Hollywood Book Festival.
Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss
Greed, vanity and pride. Do you think this “second” story of Gertrude McFuzz isn’t an allegory? McFUZZ?!? I mean, do I have to draw a picture? And exactly what gender identity goes with Yertle? There’s no one named Yertle in Georgia, if you catch my drift.