Concise, convincing arguments against the continuation of capital punishment in America.

A DESCENDING SPIRAL

EXPOSING THE DEATH PENALTY IN 12 ESSAYS

Essays from one of America’s most prominent death penalty abolitionists.

In authoritative and scholarly yet largely accessible language, Bookman—director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation and veteran capital defense attorney who has contributed to Mother Jones, the Atlantic, and other publications as well as numerous editions of the Best American Essays series—evaluates a dozen cases that expose glaring injustices endemic to the system. Mental illness and its (mis)diagnosis is clearly one of the problem areas, as demonstrated by the chilling case of Andre Thomas, who, inspired by a demonic delusion, murdered his family in a psychotic rage in 2004. The author argues against the death penalty in cases where a severe “intellectual disability” is readily present and medically verified, and he points out that because each state’s laws vary, so do the fates of their felons. Bookman delineates situations where capital punishment is not only unjust, but upheld through an overlooked breach of process and based on convoluted evidence, an unstable criminal, or racially tainted conclusions. The author spotlights cases plagued by prosecutorial misconduct, judicial override, and racially biased judges and jurors, and he details situations in which the convicted party received the death penalty through the improprieties of skewed perspectives. He also probes the history of—and general hesitancy about—the execution of women and shows the danger of impaired representation. “In the same way that alcoholics see things more clearly when they stop drinking,” he writes, “death penalty cases often come into better focus when good lawyers take over from bad ones.” As a staunch death penalty abolitionist, Bookman creates a clear, comprehensive portrait of a broken system, and the cases he highlights make for fascinating reading. The author acknowledges that while executions and death sentences have decreased significantly, there remains a great amount of work to see it “grind to a slow and painful halt after an accumulation of wrongs.”

Concise, convincing arguments against the continuation of capital punishment in America.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62097-654-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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