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.
This review of Tremors In The Blood by Amit Katwala was originally written on December 6, 2022.
Current (420 Day 2022) Description Inaccurate. Read As Memoir. If you go into this book expecting what the current description claims the book is – a take down of all drug laws by a lawyer who knows them well – ummm…. you’re going to be severely disappointed. As pretty well every review earlier than my own notes. If you go into this more as a memoir with some generalized points about why legalization of all drugs would make for a more just world – with scant documentation, accounting for only 10% of the ARC text -… you’ll be more satisfied with this book than had you believed the current description. The text here is truly more about Margolin and her parents – her dad being one of the more famous/ infamous drug criminal defense lawyers in the US – than any other central issue, though the drugs Margolin uses and she and her dad defend others using in court are never far away. Overall, this is more of a primer text for those who may not be familiar with many of the complete legalization arguments to see how they play out in the life and mind of one particular LA-based drug lawyer. If you’re looking for a more detailed examination of the arguments and their pros and cons… this isn’t that text. Still, for what it is this is a worthy read that can at least add a degree of nuance to the overall conversation, and for this it is recommended.
This review of Just Dope by Allison Margolin was originally written on April 20, 2022.
Another Critical Book For Those Seeking To Understand The American Justice System. This is yet another critical book for those seeking to understand the full scope of all that is wrong with the American justice system and how we got here, along with Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow (referenced herein, with solid points about where Alexander goes wrong in her presumptions), and Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law’s Prison By Any Other Name. Whereas Balko looks at police militarization, Alexander looks at mass incarceration, and Schenwar and Law look at probation and parole, here we look at the critical phase *between* arrest and conviction – the various and severely punitive pre-trial punishments and plea bargains. It is within the scope of this particular problem that Hessick shows just how large and pervasive this particular problem is – to the level that even as many often acknowledge its shortcomings, it is often protected as a means of not “overburdening” the courts! (A tip for “lawmakers”: Rescind 10 laws for every 1 you pass. That would go quite far in reducing the burden on the courts. #ijs 😉 )
Truly a remarkable and shocking work, and one that every American needs to read. Very much recommended.
This review of Punishment Without Trial by Carissa Byrne Hessick was originally written on August 22, 2021.
Very Similar to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow But Focusing On Immigration. This book directly references Alexander’s work at a couple of points and is told in a similar style and with similar strengths and weaknesses. Namely, it builds a well documented case, but uses more anecdotal “evidence” as its primary narrative structure. I rate it slightly above Alexander’s work because it doesn’t have quite as glaring a blindspot as that other work. Specifically, while Alexander’s work regarded race above all other factors, Das’ work here shows the truly wide scope of immigration control in the US, from its earliest days working as much against Europeans as anyone to its more modern incarnations targeting first Chinese and other Asians to the fairly ubiquitous in current regimes of pretty well everyone. By and large, how you feel about Alexander’s work will mirror how you feel about Das’, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Das’ pocketbook since Alexander’s work is so often discussed and cited even so many years after publication. Recommended.
This review of No Justice In The Shadows by Alina Das was originally written on February 13, 2020.
Alarming and Yet Also Hilarious. Even as someone who was once a political activist with some fairly high level (if State, rather than Federal) access to the halls of legislative deliberation, this book was pretty shocking in revealing just how much of a mess the American legal system truly is. While the author himself is clearly in favor of some form of ideal government that works, this book just as easily makes the case that anarchy would at least be preferable to the current system. Yet throughout, the author’s acerbic wit is what makes the book such an enjoyable read – even as the critiques it makes show just how depressingly dreadful the current US legal system really is. Very much recommended reading. Just maybe try to do it in a place where plentiful alcohol is readily available. 😉
This review of The Nonsense Factory by Bruce Cannon Gibney was originally published on April 23, 2019.