Evocative Evisceration Of Everyday “Evidence”. In this text, Katwala shows the origins and history of the polygraph “lie detector” device that has been banned from many courtrooms due to its unreliability yet which lives on in the American zeitgeist. Katwala tells the tale via narrative nonfiction that places the reader in the center of the action and cases in question, then follows the principle players throughout their lifetimes as they try to justify their life’s work. In the process, Katwala does a tremendous job of showing how truly unreliable these devices are, and even includes a brief discussion of more modern successor technologies such as brain wave scanners. Anyone interested in the American justice system absolutely needs to read this history of this long-debunked zombie junk science. Indeed, the only negative here is that the bibliography is scant at just 12% or so of the narrative, compared to a more common 20-30% in my experience, and thus the single star deduction. Very much recommended.
Compelling Arguments Need Better Documentation. This is another of those nonfiction tales that uses a singular case as its overall narrative structure, but also looks to several other cases and events related to the overall thesis of the text. The overarching case is a brutal murder out of 1980s Washington DC where several black kids where wrongfully convicted of a murder they could not have committed, and where police and prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence that resulted in these kids spending decades behind bars. Dybdahl then expands out to show that while this case was particularly egregious, it is also far from uncommon. Indeed, it is almost banal in just how common the abuses at hand truly are, causing one (later disgraced for unrelated reasons) judge to even call it an “epidemic” within the last decade prior to publication of this book!
The problems here are related yet distinct enough to my mind to warrant a two star deduction. The first star is lost due to the small bibliography, something that could potentially be corrected prior to actual publication of this book roughly three months after I sit to write this review of this advanced reader copy. Coming in at just about 15% of the overall text, this is short of the 20% – 33% that is more normal for works such as this one, and well short of the 40% – 50% that I *prefer* to see in such texts.
The second star is lost specifically because the claims herein are not as well documented as they need to be to make these points something that opponents cannot simply dismiss.
Make no mistake – I actually have been following this general issue (though not the specific cases at hand) for quite some time and nearly completely agree with the author’s points and recommendations. But as the author points out often, there is quite considerable opposition to these ideas in the minds and actions of the very people who could most correct these injustices – and the only way to really be able to attempt to convince such opposition of our correctness is to more fully document our case. Thus, I always appreciate books such as this one – I simply need it to be much more documented. Still, for the ideas it presents and how it actually presents them, this is still a book that needs to be read by every American. Thus, it is very much recommended.
Timely Conversation Needs Even Better Documentation. The timing of this book, releasing just a week before Election Day in the United States, could perhaps be *slightly* better – a month earlier would have allowed it and its ideas to be discussed more during the final days of the campaign. And to be clear, this book does in fact present a mostly compelling argument and certainly a wrinkle on the American justice system that needs to be more openly examined and more critically debated by those who can actually change things – the various elected officials and bureaucrats who create and implement the very rules in question. The only truly noticeable objective-ish problem with the text here is that while the documentation provided is on the low-ish side of average in my experience (23%, compared to 20-33% being average), there is a *lot* of hand-waving, undocumented claims, that could have used much better documentation. These claims may in fact be accurate – but they needed sources rather than just claims, and for those more ardently opposed to the proposals here, the added documentation to these claims could be crucial in defense of Anderson’s points and proposals. Thus, the one star deduction here. Still, this book truly does add yet another necessary wrinkle into an already truly complicated discussion, and for that reason it is very much recommended.
A Lot Going On. This is one of those books that has a lot of extra plot stuff going on outside of the central mystery. There is a decent examination of what happens when a halfway house opens up in your neighborhood, there are various guards/ cops doing various naughty things, there is the friendship between a reporter and an activist – an activist who happened to get a job inside the house. In other words, enough side stuff to maybe justify the 400 page length of the novel… but the side stuff tends to detract from and/ or muddle the central mystery. So if you’re a reader who prefers a more “clean cut” tale with fewer side jaunts interwoven… I can see where you might rate this tale lower on a subjective scale (and let’s face it, despite my *attempts* at some level of objectivity, *all* reviews are *entirely* subjective). For my own attempting-to-be-as-objective-as-possible purposes, there wasn’t really anything here truly *wrong* to hang a star deduction on, and thus it gets the full five stars. With its quick chapters and multiple perspectives, this is actually a book that seemingly “reads” shorter than its actual length would indicate, and the rather novel concepts here combine with this storytelling style to make this tale one that can easily be read in small chunks – which turns even a book of this length into a potential vacation/ beach read. Very much recommended.
Interesting Concepts Yet Disjointed Storytelling. This is one of those books where there is nothing objectively wrong with it, and yet it also feels a bit disjointed. Separated into several parts, it could likely have been better separated into a trilogy, with the events of Parts 1 and 2 in one book, 3 and 4 in a second book, and 5 in a final book. Then you could expand each section out beyond what was presented in even these 400 pages (since you’d arguably need at least another couple hundred or so for a third book) and really make the effort to take a good tale into the stratosphere of being among the best in scifi. Overall the specific application of time travel here was one I hadn’t seen in any form since the early 2000s era Jet Li movie The One, and even here the specific direction Riddle applies is unique in my experience and intriguing overall. Ultimately this is a good tale and well told, it just seemed like it could have been better with a different editing approach. Very much recommended.
Avowed Anti-Capitalist Screed Still Highlights All Too Real Issues. And these issues absolutely need to be more openly discussed. If you dismiss the blinders to anything other than the set premise and worldview the author comes to this research with and look at the points he raises instead, this is a solid examination of at least some of the ways the central Appalachia region of (primarily) Kentucky / (some) West Virginia / (some) Virginia has transformed from being driven by a coal economy to now being driven by a prison economy – largely on much of the exact same land. With a bibliography clocking in at 38% of the ARC I read *even with* the author conducting much of the research and interviews himself, the scholarship within his worldview is largely beyond contestation. This truly is one of the most well documented ARCs I’ve come across in nearly 800 books (across all genres, fiction and nonfiction). Ultimately the star deduction here was because the author never leaves his particular biases to even make strawmen of opposing views, much less actually examine whether they may explain the issues at hand better than his own views do. Still, for what it is, this truly is a remarkable text that covers a particular topic that few others do. Very much recommended.
Scant Documentation Makes A Weaker Case. First, I generally agree with the author’s overall points here, even while disagreeing with his more leftist slants on a lot of his recommendations – unionizing prison inmates among them. But even in cases such as here where I generally agree, I have a history of judging a book based on the actual merits of the actual arguments and verifications therein, and this book simply doesn’t hold up. Its Bibliography (at least in the Advance Review Copy form) is barely 15% of the text, which is about half the norm and maybe 1/3 the length of the Bibliography of truly well documented treatises. And while the author’s career experience as a litigating attorney can account for some of it, even here – provide at least some documentation for your claims, so that those who *don’t* have that background can verify them. But the lack of documentation is the primary argument here for overall lack of persuasiveness. Furthermore, another star was deducted for ultimately not satisfying the overall premise as laid out in the description – which admittedly is a combined effort of both author and publisher, and not always in the author’s hands. Still, the description here proposes that the book argues that plea bargaining “produces a massive underclass of people who are restricted from voting, working, and otherwise participating in society”… and while Canon occassionally makes reference to this, he never really establishes that particular line of reasoning here. Indeed, for *that* side of the criminal justice system there really are a few other vastly superior texts that have released over the last few years. Instead, Canon more takes these as a given – again, with little documentation – and argues – with little documentation – that plea bargaining is the chief cause of this. As stated at the beginning of this review, while I *generally* agree with this line of reasoning, I simply expect a better documented (and ultimately more evenly argued) presentation of this, particularly in a book released to a wide audience, including those who may be predisposed to *not* agreeing with the argument for any number of reasons. Still, ultimately a worthy read that at least adds yet another voice to the conversation, and for that reason it is very much recommended.