University of Wisconsin–Madison

Just Mercy: A Book Review

Trying to write a review for Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is difficult. Not because I don’t know what to say, but because it has likely been said already, and by more seasoned book reviewers. I’ll give it my best shot, but first some background on the selection of the book.

As many of you know, Just Mercy was chosen as this year’s Go Big Read Book after it was submitted for consideration by Dean Raymond. Now, thousands of undergraduate students, in addition to law students, will have a great opportunity to learn more about how the American justice system works, or as the case may be, often does not work.

Just Mercy’s central story about Walter McMillian is equal parts heartbreaking and absurd. That an innocent man (still a flawed man, but as Stevenson points out, everyone is flawed) can be subjected to such harsh and ridiculous treatment is painful to read about…but it also feels very necessary, especially for law students and others working in the legal field. Interspersed throughout the books are other chapters discussing other shortfalls in the American justice system, such as children as young as thirteen being sentenced to life without parole, essentially a death sentence. Reading about how these teens, or in some cases pre-teens, found themselves on a path that was out of their control was close to terrifying and made for a great but troubling reading experience. Getting to know these people and learn how they persevered through tough times really made these chapters a highlight of a very good book. For me, these stories all drove home the point that Stevenson made in his foreword: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

Mr. Stevenson has dedicated a good portion of his life to helping people that many would rather forget. We have all heard news reports about drug trafficking, kids tried as adults, and seemingly open and shut cases and probably shook our heads, either at the crime itself or the degradation of society. However, more than anything else, Just Mercy illustrates that there are stories and tragedies behind many, if not all, of these crimes. It can be tough to keep compassion and justice in mind when dealing with crime and the death penalty, but Stevenson plainly and decisively illustrates why it is so important to do so.

I urge you to read Just Mercy as you work your way through law school, if for nothing else than a perspective on how the criminal justice system can be abused or ignored. However, you will likely get much more than that out of this book.

Bryan Stevenson will be on campus on October 26th for a free talk at Union South at 7pm. Earlier in the day, Mr. Stevenson will also be speaking at the law school earlier on October 26th. Watch the law school’s website for more details.

Submitted by Kristopher Turner on September 28, 2015

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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