A Harvard law professor explores the meaning of justice and invites readers on a journey of moral and political reflection, “to figure out what they think, and why.”
Does a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder “deserve” the Purple Heart? Should the U.S. government formally apologize and make reparations for slavery? Is it wrong to lie to a murderer? Following the taxpayer bailout of the company, are executives at insurance giant A.I.G. still entitled to their bonuses? Should a professional golfer afflicted with a severe circulatory condition be allowed to use a golf cart during tournaments? Are you obliged to surrender your criminal brother to the FBI? Although Sandel (The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering, 2007, etc.) concedes that answering the many questions he poses, bound up “with competing notions of honor and virtue, pride and recognition,” is never easy and inevitably contentious, it’s necessary for a healthy democracy. “Justice,” he writes, “is inescapably judgmental.” Using three approaches to justice—maximizing welfare, respecting freedom and promoting virtue—the author asks readers to ponder the meaning of the good life, the purpose of politics, how laws should be constructed and how society should be organized. Using a compelling, entertaining mix of hypotheticals, news stories, episodes from history, pop-culture tidbits, literary examples, legal cases and teachings from the great philosophers—principally, Aristotle, Kant, Bentham, Mill and Rawls—Sandel takes on a variety of controversial issues—abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action—and forces us to confront our own assumptions, biases and lazy thought. The author has a talent for making the difficult—Kant’s “categorical imperative” or Rawls’s “difference principle”—readily comprehensible, and his relentless, though never oppressive, reason shines throughout the narrative.
Sparkling commentary from the professor we all wish we had.
Stinging account of a questionable 1986 death penalty case by the lawyer who tried to get it overturned.
By the time Smith (Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay, 2007, etc.) became involved in the case of Kris Maharaj, the once-wealthy Trinidadian businessman of Indian heritage had been convicted and sentenced to death in Miami for the murder of a former business partner and his son. Smith received a request to examine the conviction from British diplomatic officials. Despite an already overwhelming workload at his New Orleans public-interest law firm (which seeks justice for indigent defendants victimized by unfair trials) and the lack of a budget to pay him, Smith said he would investigate. He sensed quickly from reading the trial transcript that Maharaj had been railroaded. While gathering evidence, Smith pieced together a grim scenario of a conviction based on the machinations of a crooked homicide detective, cheating prosecutors, biased forensic experts, a dishonest judge and appellate justices determined to uphold it no matter how strongly new information suggested Maharaj's innocence. Worst of all, the author determined that the defendant's original trial lawyer had been grossly incompetent and may have intentionally lost the case because of threats made against his family. As the chronicle ends, Smith sees no realistic hope for exoneration, even though he can present an alternative solution that involves South American drug dealers (who had nothing to do with Maharaj) and includes the identities of the actual murderers. In the author’s view, the case is a glaring, but by no means unique, example of massive flaws in the American criminal justice system.
A wrongful-conviction saga different from most others because there is no justice at the end.
A celebrated criminal lawyer's tell-all memoir about the tumultuous years he spent defending supposed Florida "baby killer" Casey Anthony.
Anthony hired Baez in 2008 to defend her against allegations of child neglect of her daughter, Caylee. At the time, Baez, assisted in this memoir by Golenbock (Glory in the Fall: The Greatest Moments in World Series History, 2010, etc.), was just a "rookie lawyer" who had only been admitted to the Florida bar in 2005. What seemed like "just another case" quickly emerged as a possible murder trial. Complicating matters was the fact that investigators caught Anthony telling elaborate, and ultimately untrue, stories about her life that made references to a host of imaginary friends and acquaintances. Consequently, on the basis of unsubstantiated evidence Baez believes Orlando police leaked to the media, the legal system sought to convict the young mother “in the court of public opinion.” Using her apparent untrustworthiness as its point of departure, the prosecution proceeded to build a case against Anthony based on appearances rather than truth. It claimed that Anthony had done nothing but party for a month before finally admitting that her daughter was missing; that the smell inside Casey's car came from human remains rather than the decaying pizza remnants actually found in the vehicle; and that hair discovered in the trunk came from Caylee's dead body. Sensing that the case was not as simple as the prosecution had made it seem, Baez slowly gained Anthony's trust and pursued hunches that she was not only innocent, but also the victim of sexual abuse.
The author’s determination to complete a case that at times drove him to despair and brought him to the edge of bankruptcy is admirable, but the meticulous detail occasionally verges on excruciating.
With the assistance of Burke (co-author: The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur, 2008), Hopwood delivers an unusual tale of punishment and redemption.
The author is frank and regretful about his youthful decision to rob five banks in the vast area around his small Nebraska hometown. When his crime spree unraveled, he wisely took a plea offer, resulting in a 12-year federal prison sentence. Without diminishing his own culpability, Hopwood writes affectingly of the prison experience: “It is beyond strange to be in such a place and feel your life freezing over, like a sci-fi story where you lie down in your rocket, not to return until everyone you know is old.” Although he was nervous about the intricate social behaviors required to survive in prison, he was luckily transferred from the kitchen to the prison legal library, where he discovered an aptitude for decoding court decisions. He also realized that helping his fellow prisoners with their appeals gave him a sense of moral balance. Improbably, one such filing, concerning a dubiously obtained confession, went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Hopwood worked with high-powered attorney Seth Waxman to prepare the ultimately successful argument. He also found time to strike up a long-distance romance with a beautiful but troubled girl from home. The author’s success helped him stay straight after his release, when he found employment at a printer of Supreme Court briefs. The prose is clear and thoughtful, vividly illustrating the grim absurdity of life in prison, and most readers will root for Hopwood’s attempts to follow a different path. However, some readers will tire of the author’s proselytizing tone with respect to his rediscovered Christian faith.
Will appeal to fans of legal thrillers and stories of redemption.
A veteran journalist focuses on a grisly murder case to explore the legal issues that commonly arise in our ongoing national debate about capital punishment.
In 1982, the stabbed, beaten and bloodied body of widow Dorothy Edwards was discovered stuffed in a closet in her Greenwood, S.C., home. Within 90 days, a local African-American handyman, Edward Lee Elmore, was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. The dim-witted, mentally retarded 23-year-old insisted from the beginning on his innocence. However, following appeals, two more juries said he was guilty. A talented, relentless handful of appellate attorneys—including one, Diana Holt, whose turbulent life story is book-worthy by itself—argued over a period of 22 years that Elmore had been deprived of a single fair trial. Aside from the defendant’s minority race and poverty, predictable constants on any state’s death row, the lawyers turned up a series of disturbing irregularities, some of which occur in any capital case, all of which applied to Elmore: the sloppy crime-scene investigation by law-enforcement officials; their mishandling, mischaracterizing and perhaps even planting of evidence; the ineffective assistance of trial counsel, who failed to interview key witnesses and to vigorously test the state’s evidence; the inexperience or imperiousness of judges failing properly to instruct the jury; the zeal of prosecutors, more desirous of victory than of doing justice, who withheld possibly exculpatory evidence. The story also features jailhouse snitch testimony (recanted), arguments over DNA testing and a tantalizing, circumstantial case against an Edwards neighbor. Pulitzer Prize winner Bonner (At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife, 1993, etc.) weaves all this together with discussions of pertinent Supreme Court opinions, capsule tales of other, relevant capital cases and sharp mini-portraits of the case’s lawyers and judges. A last-minute stay of execution and a 2005 writ of habeas corpus that successfully argued Elmore could not be killed under the Supreme Court’s 2002 Atkins decision, prohibiting execution of the mentally retarded, spared him from the electric chair. He remains in prison.
A powerfully intimate look at how the justice system works—or doesn’t work—in capital cases.
A courageous FBI agent recounts his battle against a corrupt law-enforcement culture that protected one of the nation’s most notorious criminals.
By the time he was ordered to Boston in 1980, Fitzpatrick had already distinguished himself, handling 1960s KKK bombings in Mississippi and uncovering crucial evidence relating to the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, but putting the Boston FBI office on the “straight and narrow” proved impossible. Fitzpatrick and novelist Land (Strong at the Break, 2011, etc.) trace the breakdown of discipline and order there back to the ’50s and the beginning of the furious effort to bring down La Cosa Nostra. Out of greed and ambition, agents went “native,” choosing their “Boston Irish roots…over loyalty to the organization.” In exchange for what turned out to be worthless information about the Italian gangsters, they leaked to and protected Irish mob chieftain James “Whitey” Bulger and his right-hand man, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, allowing them literally to get away with murder. Fitzpatrick understood immediately that Bulger should have been an investigative and prosecutorial target, but during three frustrating years he couldn’t “close” him as an informant. Pushback from colleagues, prosecutors and superiors with too much to lose—“Don’t embarrass the Bureau” was the overriding imperative—cost Fitzpatrick his job and his starry-eyed belief in the FBI’s efficiency and honor. The author’s assessment of the Boston Bureau has been vindicated in a series of civil and criminal trials, but he convincingly argues that the corruption ran much deeper than the single agent convicted. After more than 25 years on the lam, Bulger was recently arrested. Will Whitey sing? The FBI must tremble at the prospect.
An alarming, depressing tale of how law enforcement lost its way, how the insidious line between cop and criminal can be so easily obliterated.
Highly detailed account of a teenaged criminal who eluded law enforcement for two years.
Travel journalist Friel became fascinated with Colton Harris-Moore when he and his wife relocated to the seemingly peaceful residential island of Orcas in the waters off Washington State. Harris-Moore, born in 1991, grew up on Orcas and knew its terrain intimately. By age 10 he was stealing from local businesses and homes. Caught occasionally, he served time in juvenile detention before starting a new crime spree focused on stealing and flying private airplanes, even though he had never completed pilot training. When Harris-Moore could not successfully steal an airplane, he stole pleasure boats and automobiles. As his brazen thefts spread to other islands and then to the mainland, law-enforcement agencies felt certain they could capture Harris-Moore. They were wrong. He often escaped on foot, outrunning police despite his insistence on going through life without wearing shoes (hence his moniker "the barefoot bandit"). Those bare feet and his height caused Harris-Moore to stand out, but he seemingly did not worry about disguising himself. The bulk of the narrative provides sometimes-overwhelming amounts of information about Harris-Moore's crimes and his escapes. Friel also examines his subject’s haphazard home life, his loving but often inept mother, his unpopularity in school and his apparent desire to go through his young life as a loner. The author eventually became involved in the search to locate Harris-Moore, adding a mostly effective first-person element to the saga.
A remarkable crime saga that could have been 100 pages shorter.
Ambitious, vibrant true-crime narrative from the dangerous deserts of Southern California.
Stillman (Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, 2008, etc.) seizes on the too-common flashpoint of a police officer’s murder by a marginalized individual to examine larger social changes, embodied by the unusual locale of the Mojave Desert. In 2003, desert hermit Donald Kueck shot Deputy Sheriff Steve Sorensen after a brief confrontation on Kueck’s property. The ensuing weeklong manhunt was one of the largest law enforcement operations in recent history, involving local, state and federal agencies determined to bring Kueck to justice, lest he set an example for the desert’s “eccentrics, ex-felons, [and] fugitives.” Stillman intersperses this narrative of pursuit with chapters that offer a panoramic examination of tangential elements of the story, and this approach pays off in providing a thorough consideration of a place and character set that could be easily caricatured. One sad thread involves Kueck’s son, a doomed punk rocker representative of a larger population of neglected youth in California’s hardscrabble “Inland Empire.” Kueck comes off as a menacing and complex figure, a struggling, antisocial dropout who was nonetheless well read, skilled and capable of kindness to others. Sorensen gave up a stereotypical “surfer” adolescence for military and law enforcement service; he’d partnered with a few established residents in the rural desert community to push back against the entropy and violence that ultimately claimed him. Stillman’s prose can become heated—the deputy “was blazing a path behind a badge and a wall of will”—but she does an admirable job building a full portrait of this beleaguered landscape by looking at individual characters, including Sorensen’s aggrieved fellow officers and the eccentric ruffians who compose the hermit and punk subcultures, which Kueck and his son embodied. The result is lyrical and intense, if slightly unwieldy, with aspirations that suggest influences including Joan Didion, Cormac McCarthy and James Ellroy.
A dynamic synthesis of Western saga, true-crime thriller and California-based transformation narrative.
Perenyi, who barely finished ninth grade, illustrates how he became America’s top art forger.
When the author met Tony Masaccio, who lived in a building called the “Castle” near the author’s hometown of Fort Lee, N.J., Perenyi was a blank slate just waiting for someone with chalk. The Castle was a center of cosmic energy where dozens of people showed up for Masaccio’s parties and long, lost weekends. When he discovered his talent for art, Tom Daly, a local artist, took Perenyi under his wing, sharing his artistic knowledge and encouraging his eager student to learn by copying great works. A book about Han van Meegeren, a Dutch art forger, taught the author the basic principles of forgery, and a job working for a conservator allowed him to hone his talents. Visits with Daly and Masaccio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the auction rooms of New York City gave Perenyi all he needed to begin producing his “Flemish” paintings. He began with Dutch paintings and moved on to American art and then British sporting pictures. He never copied known works, but he developed an eye for what inspired the artists and created paintings that they could very well have done, always using authentic materials. His eager buyers ranged from local shops to the great auction houses of New York and London.
Readers will be captivated as they follow the development of this remarkable talent over a 40-year career.
Exceptional memoir by the most famous of the West Memphis Three.
In 1993, Echols (Almost Home, 2005) was convicted, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., in the case of the sadistic sex murders and mutilations of three young boys in the woods around their hometown of West Memphis, Ark. The state’s case was based almost entirely on the confession wrung out of Misskelley, who, writes the author, had the “intellect of a child” and who recanted soon afterward. Witnesses’ testimonies to Echols' “demonic” character sealed the defendants’ fates. Baldwin and Misskelley each received life sentences; Echols, perceived to be the ringleader of an alleged “satanic cult,” was sentenced to death. Over the next decade, an HBO trilogy of documentaries on the case, collectively titled Paradise Lost, helped spark an international campaign to free the West Memphis Three. Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Peter Jackson were among the celebrities who became personally involved in the case; thanks to their efforts, and especially those of Echols’ wife, Lorri, whom he met during his prison term, the three were released in August 2011. Those bare facts alone would make for an interesting story. However, Echols is at heart a poet and mystic, and he has written not just a quickie one-off book to capitalize on a lurid news story, but rather a work of art that occasionally bears a resemblance to the work of Jean Genet. A voracious reader all his life, Echols vividly tells his story, from his impoverished childhood in a series of shacks and mobile homes to his emergence after half a lifetime behind bars as a psychically scarred man rediscovering freedom in New York City. The author also effectively displays his intelligence and sensitivity, qualities the Arkansas criminal justice system had no interest in recognizing during Echols’ ordeal.
Essential reading for anyone interested in justice or memoir.